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Kia Stinger Road Trip: Celebrating Our 2018 Car of the Year with a Grand Tour Adventure

The inspiration for the new Kia Stinger came from grand touring cars of the 1970s.

These cars took people on long trips from London to Paris or New York to Los Angeles. GT cars have to successfully blend four characteristics that are usually mutually exclusive: They need to be comfortable yet quick, and stylish yet able to carry a bunch of luggage. Cars typically can do one but not the other.

The Kia Stinger is the Korean automaker’s first attempt at a grand touring car that blends style, performance, comfort, and versatility, and they did such a good job with it that we at AutoGuide.com recently awarded it as our 2018 Car of the Year. We celebrated the Kia Stinger’s win by doing exactly what it was created for: a grand tour. We took the Stinger GT on a road trip across four American states. Starting and ending in Las Vegas, we drove it through Utah, Arizona, California, and Nevada. We loaded up the sportback with a full-sized roller luggage, a carry-on, two backpacks, a case of water and had plenty of room to spare.

ALSO SEE: Kia Stinger Wins AutoGuide.com 2018 Car of the Year Award

Driving down the Las Vegas strip, which is the world’s biggest distraction, the Stinger was still able to grab a weird amount of attention. Driving behind a lime green Lamborghini Gallardo, someone shouted, “Hey, nice car!” I naturally assumed they were taking to the Lambo driver, but then they pointed their camera in the Stinger’s direction and gave me a thumbs up. I caught the Lamborghini driver scowling at me from his rear-view mirror.

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Anxious to get out of the manufactured circus that is Las Vegas and stretch the Stinger’s legs, we left Nevada and booked it to Zion National Park in Utah, a common bucket list destination famous for its staggering views and monumental rock formations. Flipping the Stinger into Sport mode, the pre-dawn drive up the curvy mountain roads to see the sunrise at Zion was doubly rewarding. Adaptive headlights made sure I was able to see into the next corner, making the drive in the dark faster and a lot less stressful.

One way to describe the Kia Stinger is as a budget Audi A5 Sportback. Although the A5 is a superior car, most people can’t afford an A5 and the Stinger is able to do a convincing job for much less money. The Stinger GT that accompanied us on our trip was a rear-wheel-drive, twin-turbo V6-powered model with 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque.

The precise and responsive steering, the V6’s healthy amount of power, rear-drive architecture, and well-engineered, balanced chassis made the twisty canyon roads legitimately entertaining to pilot, while the adaptive cruise control and active lane keep assist made long slogs on the interstate much more bearable. Our trip took us from freezing cold and snow to the heat and sun of the desert and the heated and ventilated seats made each climate much more comfortable and we used the USB ports often to keep our devices charged. The head-up display was also handy.

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Through our 2,100-mile trip, the Stinger averaged 23.5 mpg, which is surprising since we were driving as if we were in Cannonball Run, but we made it through our trip without a single speeding ticket.

Two things the Kia Stinger could improve on would be more comfortable seats (although it does have a decent driving position, the seats could be more supportive for long drives), and a better navigation system. The voice recognition can be pretty dim at times and the navigation system seems to be missing some key map information. The Stinger also has too many fake vents, but that’s just a personal pet peeve.

On our drive from Zion to Moab in Utah to see Arches National Park, we were getting tired and stopped at a random rest stop at the side of the interstate to get some fresh air. What met us was even more refreshing than we hoped. An enormous canyon dotted with alien-looking rock formations and trees that were twisted by decades of abuse by the wind were glowing in the golden hour sun. Even compared to Zion and the famous Arches National Park, it was one of the most stunning things we saw and it was completely unplanned, barely a blip on anyone’s radar and definitely not on anyone’s bucket list.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Kia Stinger Review | Kia Stinger GT Review

Heading south toward Navajo Nation to see Monument Valley at the border of Utah and Arizona where the road that the iconic scene from Forrest Gump was filmed, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving the Stinger through a decrepit little town called Bluff in Utah, where we discovered an abandoned gas station and trading post. Sitting out front was a rusty 1950’s Buick Eight with rotted-out tires and the best patina I’ve ever seen. Parking the Stinger next to this relic, it was a stark reminder of how far cars have come in a few decades. And how much Kia has progressed in just a few short years.

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Stumbling onto forgotten little towns and abandoned buildings became quite common the more we drove. Taking an unplanned detour, we found ourselves along the historic Route 66, once a shining gem of America during the post-Second World War boom. Today, much of Route 66 is now crumbling after being rendered obsolete by faster and better-maintained interstates. This left many towns that dotted the iconic route in various stages of decay. Many once-booming towns that catered to travelers doing road trips have been abandoned due to lack of traffic, leaving a graveyard of crumbling buildings, burnt-out and peeling fluorescent signs, and a glimpse of what the U.S. was like in the height of the 1950s. We discovered abandoned diners with sugar and cutlery still on tables but covered in a thick layer of desert dust, retro gas stations with worn down pumps that looked more like tombstones, and even a deserted school and an abandoned mining town.

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Making a random stop on our way back to Las Vegas to end our trip, we drove through a town called Amboy, California. We stopped because I desperately needed to use the restroom, but something about this place was off and a bit spooky. Although we admired the funky but crumbling 1950s architecture and fading signage, we left without thinking too much about it, but later learned that Amboy is officially listed as a ghost town. At one point, someone tried to sell Amboy on eBay and currently, only four people are listed as living there. Amboy was a booming town when Route 66 was at its peak, but people stopped driving through and the town slowly lost its luster. Learning about the history of forgotten places like Amboy and experiencing them in their current state of decay was much more eye-opening to me than any of the National Parks and planned bucket list destinations we visited.

More than 2,100 miles, 44 hours behind the wheel, and countless memories later, two things surprised me the most. The first was how interested people were with the Kia Stinger. Nearly everywhere we stopped — and we stopped a lot — someone was curious about the Stinger, was really excited to learn about it, or just wanted to tell us how cool it was. I have not gotten this type of interest in a car since I drove a Lamborghini. Every time we parked it, went for a meal, got gas or a car wash, went to a rest stop, or were sitting in traffic, people wanted to ask us about it.

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“I had never seen a Kia with Brembos before,” someone at a gas station told us on our way to the Grand Canyon admiring the bright red brake calipers. “It looks like a Maserati, and then I thought it was an Audi. I thought they only made Optimas and stuff.” At a rest stop in Arizona, I exited the restroom to see a group of people surrounding the Stinger. One guy shouted across the parking lot to his friend, “It’s a Kia … it’s like what would happen if Koreans made a BMW.” He told me later that his friend didn’t believe that Kia made performance cars and was even more surprised to find out it had a twin-turbo V6 and was rear-drive. “Kia’s come a long way,” he said before we drove off.

The other surprise was that the best experiences during our road trip weren’t the destinations we had planned, but all the random people we met and strange places we stumbled onto while we were getting there.

The Kia Stinger helped us discover so much during our seven days on the road. Discovering abandoned and forgotten places that are scattered across America along the once grand Route 66 and the stories they hide, meeting the characters in between, and finding beauty in decay brought new meaning to our road trip. The Kia Stinger got us there and the journey wouldn’t have been the same without it. This grand touring car has earned its name and has proven that it’s a worthy road trip companion and a very deserving Car of the Year.

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