It would be easy to write off the 2018 Kia Stinger as a 2018 BMW 3-Series imitator, but life is never that simple. The 2018 Stinger traces many of the same lines as the 2018 3-Series, and in some cases the Kia does so with more verve and sharper responses.
It is worth noting that the Stinger is Kia at its best, while the 3-Series is the entry to the German brand’s sedan lineup.
Overall, we rate the Kia Stinger at 7.8 out of 10 points, while the BMW 3-Series comes in at 6.7. That’s quite a gulf, but the Kia wins us over for its supple ride, its flexible, roomy interior, its strong engines, and its exceptional value. A well-equipped, twin-turbo V-6 Stinger GT runs about $39,000, money that’ll still have you sitting on vinyl upholstery in a base BMW 320i.
Both the Kia and the BMW have broad lineups, but credit here goes to the German for a range that starts with the lease-special 320i and expands to more powerful 330i and 340i sedans, plus the frugal 328d turbodiesel and the intriguing 330e plug-in hybrid, some of which can even be ordered as wagons.
The Stinger range consists of either a turbo-4 or a twin-turbo V-6, rated at 255 and 365 horsepower, respectively. There’s just one bodystyle, although Kia sells a handful of trims and editions. All Stingers use an 8-speed automatic transmission, but all-wheel drive is a $2,200 upcharge every step of the way.
For comparison’s sake, the 248-hp 330i squares off well against the base Stinger, while 320-hp 340i is a fair rival to the Stinger GT. In both cases, the BMWs have smoother engines that respond quicker to inputs, and we laud the availability of manual transmissions (even if they’ll have to be special-ordered). Still, there’s no faulting the Stinger’s strong V-6 that tugs and tugs with a suitable growl piped into the interior.
When the road turns twisty, it’s the Stinger that proves the surprising champ. Fault here lies with the uninspiring steering tuning in the 3-Series. The Stinger’s tiller doesn’t deliver old-school BMW feel, but it’s quick to respond and wonderfully weighted. Former BMW M engineering chief Albert Biermann signed off on the Stinger, and that’s worth more than just marketing babble.
The Kia’s ride is firm regardless of what’s underhood, but never punishing. Stinger GT sedans with their standard V-6 include 19-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires. BMW doesn’t build that level of grip into the 3-Series from the get-go, but select a more sporty suspension configuration discards its base model’s somewhat springy ride quality. Still, don’t expect every 340i on your local dealer’s lot to be a corner-carver right out of the box. Shop carefully.
The Stinger is a large car, but the BMW 3-Series is hardly the penalty box inside it once was. Kia’s interior design is more imaginative, if less polished in its execution than what you’ll find in the 3-Series—but only by a hair. Both sedans coddle passengers with comfortable, supportive seats and a good view out. Only the Kia includes leather as standard; what feels like leather in the 3-Series may be synthetic. Again, check the options list.
BMW has the edge when it comes to dressing things up. Several interior hues can be accented by a choice of trim finishes that easily best what’s found in the Kia.
When it comes to utility, the Stinger’s hatchback adds some usefulness: 23.3 cubic feet with the rear seats upright, versus 17 cubes in the BMW sedan. But BMW pulls ahead for offering wagon and GT bodies, albeit for a price.
All Stingers feature a crisp touchscreen in either 7.0- or 8.0-inch dimensions for infotainment with standard Apple and Android compatibility. Kia’s software is a cinch to use. We can’t say the same for the 3-Series, although as with most BMW options, infotainment improves the more you spend. The basic setup is a 6.5-inch screen, while an 8.8-inch display is a pricey option that includes navigation. Another $300 nets buyers Apple CarPlay compatibility, but no Android connectivity.
In terms of safety, both cars come equipped with a full complement of airbags from the factory, but their builders charge extra for collision-avoidance tech that many automakers now make standard. On the BMW, features like automatic emergency braking add at least $4,000, but they’re a more reasonable $2,000 on the Stinger.
Ultimately, what seemed like a gamble with the Stinger comes off as a safe bet. It’s a fun, composed sedan with good utility and a great value story, with more personality than the BMW 3-Series. Even the BMW’s available wagon body and alternative underhood options make it a tough sell in the face of a price tag that escalates with options and handling that’s simply not as entertaining. For that, you’ll need to sign up for one of BMW’s fantastic M cars–territory where the Stinger doesn’t compete. At least, not yet.