Listen—can you hear it? Like The Hum, shouts about the end of the traditional sedan are impossible to ignore. But now that 2018’s final sales numbers are in, so is the fact that Americans bought nearly 17,000 Kia Stingers in 2018, a strong showing from a brand-new model with four doors and performance aspirations. So is the Stinger here to stay?
Let’s get the necessary caveats out of the way first. First and foremost, the Kia Stinger isn’t a sedan in the proper sense, but rather a five-door liftback in the vein of the Audi A5 Sportback or the Tesla Model S. Kia Motors also doesn’t break out Stinger sales by trim, so there’s no way to know how many of those 16,806 sold were top-tier GTs packing the company’s 365-HP twin-turbo V-6.
Still, it bodes well for the Stinger that Kia was able to move just under 17,000 units despite the fact that it’s a new model in a shriveling segment put forth by a marque with approximately zero motorsport heritage. It doesn’t hurt that the Kia Stinger is a pretty damn good car, as we’ve highlighted before, with its comfortable interior, lively chassis, and subdued muscle backed up by the automaker’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Stack it up against the direct competition and the Stinger’s promising start looks even better. One of the straightest comparisons is the $45,000 Audi A5 Sportback, which doubles as the Stinger’s chief inspiration. Audi sold 26,000 A5s in 2018—but it also doesn’t break down sales by individual body style, meaning that total number is boosted by the coupe and convertible variants.
We’re not suggesting people are straight up cross-shopping the Audi and the Kia, which starts at a mere $33,000 (albeit with the weaker four-cylinder engine). Rather, the numbers suggest there are buyers out there who are seeking that “traditional” driving experience with a few mid-premium touches at a lower price point.
So what of the other midsize German four-doors whose entry-level models have typically filled that role? BMW moved 44,578 3 Series in the U.S. in 2018, while Mercedes sold almost 55,000 C-Class sedans, coupes, and convertibles. Shifting to its home continent, it also trails entries like the lukewarm Acura TLX (30,468) and aging Infiniti Q50 (34,763). Obviously, the Kia Stinger still has a ways to go.
But that doesn’t mean its 16,806 sales are irrelevant. Far from it—in an industry where the SUV/crossover market share is projected to pass 50 percent next year, an entirely new car going against the grain and actually making a measurable impact is impressive. That’s doubly true when the company behind it is trying to outrun its crapcan-laden history at the same time. Remember, this is Kia we’re talking about.
A fully-loaded $50,000 Kia Stinger is still a hard sell. But its starting price puts it within the range of a well-equipped Optima sedan, of which Kia sold over 100,000 in 2018. Could the Stinger really take off with a few strategic pricing tweaks? It’s possible. It’s also possible that Kia is content for the car to act as something of a halo model to mostly bring bodies into dealerships. Time will tell what the second act of the Kia Stinger holds—just know that the first one has gone surprisingly well.