'When you’ve got to live with a car, there’s a lot to be said for niceness'

Porter ruminates over that intangible quality that makes some cars so much more pleasing than those without: niceness

Richard Porter opinion

You know the hardest thing to engineer into a car? Niceness. All that other stuff – ride, handling, engine response – that’s all very fiddly, but you’ve got CAD/CAM units and data and target parameters to aim for before completing with some seat-of-the-pants tuning. Niceness is a harder one to define. It’s a warmth and a pleasantness that makes you enjoy spending time with a car, and that’s the sort of thing that can’t be put onto a spreadsheet. 

I was thinking about niceness the other day while driving the new Kia Stinger. You’ll have heard about this one, I’m sure. It’s Kia’s rear-wheel-drive sports saloon (which is actually a hatchback) and the company’s attempt to shake off an image of well-warrantied sensibleness by doing something un-Kia-ish, like one of your mates taking time off from his actuary job to learn pole dancing. For a first attempt at such a thing, it’s really very good. But it’s also far from perfect. The engine, as is normal for most V6s, doesn’t make a particularly delightful noise. The steering is dead-eyed and, like many electrically assisted systems, does weird and seemingly random things with its own weighting. The brakes aren’t as bitey and firm underfoot as I’d like, even though they’re from Brembo. The interior isn’t of a material quality to match medium-sized rear-drive cars from Germany and it insists on playing rather too many bongs and tones including a jaunty jingle that comes in when you switch off the engine and which invariably clashes with the music still coming out of the stereo. 

> Click here for more of Richard Porter's evo Columns

If this sounds like a long roster of gripes, I should add that it’s still shorter than the list of things the Stinger gets right. The ride is pretty good, for example, and the driving position is low-slung and terrific. Some of the plastics feel a bit rental car cacky but the actual build quality is excellent. The key is an unusual shape so that the locking button is like a remote firing trigger for some kind of missile system. And while the engine’s sound isn’t especially charming, you can’t fault its strength. This is a quick car, as you’d hope with 365bhp, but it’s the delivery that makes it good and specifically the smooth, easy way it can muscle its way to more speed. Then there’s the handling which is generally tidy and easy-going, especially for a hefty thing that’s somewhere in size between a 3- and a 5-series. But on damp roads it’s also surprisingly frisky, in an amusing way. With a long wheelbase and a slippy diff, it can be edged into gentle slides in a manner that never threatens to pucker the leather on the driver’s seat. It’s a friendly car. A surprisingly fun car. It is, frankly, a nice car. 

Part of this niceness comes from the way it drives, and part of it from what it’s like to live with. It’s rarely noted that Kias are deeply unannoying cars. They should make more of this in their marketing. Their interiors are always well laid out with big, logical buttons and stereo/nav systems that don’t make a meal out of hooking up to and then maintaining a link with your phone. Here’s an example of the thoughtfulness that makes them un-irritating; in many cars you’re streaming, say, a podcast off your phone and it’s one of those ones that seems to have been recorded off Skype at the bottom of a well. So you can crank up the volume and then when you switch back to the radio it splits an eardrum. But the Stinger remembers the last radio volume level to avoid doling out a sudden deafening. In the evo universe you might think this of no importance compared with the on-limit off-camber tread shuffle characteristics, but in day-to-day living this sort of detail matters. Not enough to make you like a car in itself, but delightful when set against the backdrop of an effortlessly muscular engine and a happy, funtime chassis. The Stinger really is nicer than the sum of its parts. It looks good, too. In the time I was driving it, I was surprised to find unsolicited coos of admiration from strangers became a daily event. 

Of course, there’s a snag. The price. The V6 Stinger GT S costs just over £40,000. At that money most people will accept less power and fewer toys for a Germanic badge on the front. There’s no doubt that snobbery will be the Stinger’s greatest enemy. As a result, I’m certain a three-year-old example will be worth a great deal less than 40 grand. But that’s no bad thing because if you could pick up a Stinger for buttons, it would be a tempting thing. It’s not necessarily better than some of its familiar rivals but it is nicer. And niceness is a hard thing to get right.

Richard Porter is the pen behind @sniffpetrol, script editor on The Grand Tour and our longest-serving columnist.

Most Popular

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring – rear profile
Porsche 911 GT3

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK

The Touring pack has returned, combining the 992 GT3’s set-up with more understated looks
15 Jun 2021
The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive
evo archive – LaFerrari truck extraction – stop!
Ferrari

The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive

How do you get a £1million hypercar out of the back of a delivery truck? Very, very, slowly…
15 Jun 2021
BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance
BMW M5 CS – front cornering
BMW M5 saloon

BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance

Nonsensical on paper, but sublime in practice. Never has a modern supersaloon been more tactile or more engaging
14 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come
Mercedes-AMG GT53 MY22 – front tracking
Mercedes

Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come

GT43 and GT53 4-Doors receive a refresh while we await the arrival of the V8 hybrid GT73
14 Jun 2021
MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – front quarter
BMW 7 Series

Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models

All-new saloon to feature IC and EV powertrains, but once again it’ll also lead the way aesthetically
16 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021
GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer
GTO Engineering interior
Ferrari

GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer

New details, including the interior, have been revealed about the GTO Engineering Squalo
15 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals 11 June 21
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
11 Jun 2021
Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?
Jethro opinion header
Opinion

Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?

The boot struts have gone saggy and the hatch slams onto my head three times a week, but the Clio Trophy is hard to resist
8 Jun 2021
Forza Horizon 5 confirmed for November 2021 – open-world driving game heads to Mexico
Forza Horizon 5
videogames

Forza Horizon 5 confirmed for November 2021 – open-world driving game heads to Mexico

The open-world Forza Horizon series has become a go-to for car fans, and its fifth installment is just around the corner
15 Jun 2021