There must be some kind of mistake. The email asked me to head down to Silverstone and try Kia’s new track car…
I know Kia has been trying to liven things up with the Stinger and a range of GT-badged cars, but a track car? Intrigued, I went down to Northamptonshire to find out more.
It turns out that the car in question is the Stinger GT420, an early pre-production Stinger that, for various regulatory reasons, is coming to the end of its life. Rather than simply crush the car, the team at Kia has set about converting the 3.3-litre GT-S model into a track weapon.
The obvious changes to the car wouldn’t have taken much development; the removal of most of the interior, including the rear seats, sunroof, stereo system, half the electric windows, and almost all of the dashboard saves weight, while a special Lite Blox battery saves 22kg alone. For safety’s sake, a roll cage and a pair of Sparco race seats have been put in, adding some weight back, but the end result is this track car weighs 150kg less than it used to.
There’s also a front splitter, a rear diffuser and ducktail tailgate spoiler, with some extra ducts and vents around the car to keep things cool.
Less visible is what’s gone on under the bonnet. That 3.3-litre twin-turbo engine now produces 422bhp (up from 365bhp) thanks to a few changes to the ECU, some HKS spark plugs, a K&N air filter to allow smoother airflow to the engine, and a Milltek Sport exhaust that skips the catalytic converter and sounds magnificent. A beefed-up oil cooler has been bolted to the eight-speed automatic gearbox so it can cope with the increased demand.
Eibach has provided new springs, and Mando dampers have replaced the previous adaptive system from the standard car. Negative camber has been increased, while a new crossmember and strengthening bars are in place to improve rigidity. Both front and rear anti roll bars have been increased in thickness, too. Finally, the brakes have been tweaked, with six-pot Brembo calipers behind 19-inch OZ Racing Leggera alloy wheels. Those rims now have sticky Pirelli Trofeo-R tyres fitted.
Why has Kia gone to this much effort? Officially, it’s because they can. It’s been an after-hours project that’s involved countless people, including testing across European circuits, but it’s for nothing more than a bit of fun. Or so Kia says…
I get the keys and fold my considerable frame inside the now tight cockpit, the side protection beams really eating into the room available. Once unfolded and strapped in with the five-point harness, it’s oddly familiar. The usual Stinger view is there, but with some bits missing. Glancing left, there’s just bare metal, which gives the game away a little, while visibility through the rear-view mirror is obscured by the endless scaffolding that makes up the roll cage.
Fire up the engine and a metallic scream is emitted from the exhaust. It’s not a pleasing, V6 burble, but something more potent. It’s a statement, rather than simply an efficient way to allow gases to escape.
Pulling onto the circuit, you’re aware that the GT420 is still a heavy car. If the regular car is around 1,850kg, this one will still tip the scales at 1,700kg, and while an extra 60-ish horsepower is welcome, it’s not life changing. Still, it’s undoubtedly quick, and gallops down the Hangar Straight well into three figure speeds, the exhaust note dominating inside the cabin as it comes alive past 4,000rpm.
Braking is interesting, as there’s a slightly unpredictable level of resistance. The transition from firm stopping to gentle trail braking is easy enough, but starting gentle and then requiring more retardation is a little less linear. Easy solution? Bang the anchors on hard every time.
So far so good, but not necessarily something to get too excited about. And then you turn into a corner…
That’s where the Stinger GT420 comes alive. There’s a delicacy and balance to the car that feels almost unnatural. The front end bites hard, making it easy to find the apex and aim straight for it, the GT420 responding well to the minute changes you make on the way in and through a turn. There’s body roll, certainly, but it doesn’t interfere and is kept well controlled, allowing the suspension to do its job and keep the car doing exactly what you want it to. There’s not much feel through the steering wheel, but the sensory overload elsewhere communicates enough of what’s happening to make it feel pleasingly direct.
When tyres do finally lose grip, it’s the rear that goes first. With such a long wheelbase and so little weight over the rear of the car, the resulting slide is graceful and easily controllable with nothing more than a slight movement of the wheel. You can lift off the throttle a little and bring it back in line, but where’s the fun in that?
In perfect weather on the freshly tarmced Silverstone circuit, the GT420 was superb. Undoubtedly other cars will be quicker, but none of the Ferraris or Porsches sharing the track with us ever overtook the Kia. The stiff suspension might not work quite so well on some other circuits, such as the famous Nurburgring, and the bulk of the car could cause it some issues at the likes of Cadwell Park, but on this day it was perfectly matched to the location.
It demonstrates just what Kia can down when let loose with a small budget and some free time. Imagine what they could do with full factory backing and a development budget. I can’t help thinking the Stinger GT420 is more than a project for enthusiasts within the company, and more a message to Korea that Europe is ready and waiting.
|Model Tested: Kia Stinger GT420|
Range: £32,475 – £40,575
Top speed: N/A
0-62 mph: N/A
Power: 428 PS (422 bhp)
Torque: 560 Nm (413 lb ft)
|Monthly PCP*: N/A|
Official fuel economy: N/A
Road test economy: 5.2 mpg
CO2 Emissions: N/A
Car Tax: N/A
Insurance group: N/A