Your face is pressed against the glass, as in a Dickens’ novel, and through your cupped hands on the window, fingers poking from threadbare mittens, you spy an Audi RS5 (or BMW M4 or Benz C63s… you get the drift). Your breath fogs the glass and, from the inside shadows, the Dealer Principle, stern faced, raps against the windows, sending you scurrying away.
Blinking, you open your tattered wallet and find a pitiful $70,000. Hardly enough to even sip the coffee in that lit showroom. You stumble backwards and wipe away tears…
… of laughter, of course, as you make your way to a Ford or Kia dealer with a huge grin. Both cars, a Kia Stinger GT and a Ford Mustang GT, in Australia are about the same price (under $70,000 give or take), and both good, budget alternatives for that Gran Turismo feeling!
I’d like to extend a thank you to John McGrath Woden for allowing me to test drive a Ford Mustang GT AND a Kia Stinger GT. Both brands, along with MG, in the one location in Canberra!
Here's the drift...
Make no mistake. Audi’s RS5, BMW’s M4 and Benz’s C63s are wonderful, grand touring cars that can be used to drive long distances at speed and in style, safety, and comfort. They translate to good utility around town for, say, the routine shop or dropping the wee bairns off to school; but when the occasion arises they can, in the words of Sam Dawson, “cross a continent at speed”. In terms of finesse these are GT's par excellence. But they also cost over twice as much as our $70,000 budget.
So, can you have a GT for less?
Turns out you can!
While there exist modern cars that perform well, are comfortable and are under $70,000, e.g. the Golf R, BMW M140i or the Audi S3, for this article I’m going to assume you want that GT “coupe” shape instead of the standard hatchback.
In that vein, I decided to check out the 2018 Mustang and Stinger GTs. Partly because they both have "GT" in their names, partly because I've liked their looks and always wanted to drive both, and partly because they were in the one location, which seems convenient.
So how well do they confirm to their "Gran Turismo" monikers and what reason is there to choose one over the other?
The Looks and Attention
Face it. You could buy a small, rocket hatchback and get straight-out performance, but you're buying a GT because you want that front engine, rear wheel drive experience with the swooping lines coupled to dysfunctional rear seats. Now, while the Stinger's rear seats are useable, both these cars fit that looks and attention criteria.
The Mustang is a 2 door coupe whereas the Stinger GT is a four door with "coupe" style lines. Driving the Stinger seemed to attract more than the Mustang GT, which I thought odd and possibly because, I suspect, people have seen more Mustangs than Stingers on the roads as they've been on sale longer.
One memorable incident occurred as I made my way from traffic lights onto a parkway. I don't know if it was the unfamiliarity of the Stinger's presence or what, but something provoked one Porsche Macan owner, who, as soon as the lights turned green, made a point of racing past me onto the Parkway.
That's a strange reaction to a Kia, I thought. But equally it could have just been a bad day for the driver. Whatever the reason, I lazily kept up with them.
Just to reinforce things.
The Ford Mustang GT, in contrast, tended to draw more smiles and thumbs up than outright: "Oohh, I'm triggered. Ohh, I've got to race you. Ohh, you just wait..." The amusing part is the Mustang's naturally aspirated V8 engine sounded loud, like automative chest beating, but when people turned their heads and saw the Mustang, scowls changed to grins. It's still a popular car.
The Engines; The Stats...
Both cars have decent performance statistics and engines. The Mustang makes 339kW @ 7000rpm (556 Nm @ 4800) which, according to received wisdom since Ford Australia do not quote figures, is good enough to do the 0-100km/h dash in 4.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to about 252km/h, although I strongly suspect there's more -- much more.
The centrepiece of the Mustang is its naturally aspirated, 5litre V8 engine that sounds glorious.
The Stinger has a bit less oomph, with a 272kW @ 6000 rpm (510 Nm @ 1,300-4,500 rpm), but a confirmed 0-100km/h run in 4.9 seconds. It has a reported top speed of 269km/h, which is a little more than the Mustang's limited one. Truth is either car has the numbers to make a very enjoyable track day as well as fulfilling the GT requirements to traverse "a continent quickly."
The Cabin and Drive Train
The 2015 Mustang's odometer had the caption "GROUND SPEED", which intrigued me since the "Mustang" part of it I'd assumed referred to horses... like the one on the grill... and not the P51 Mustang from WWII. Nevertheless, the 2018's Mustang's seems to have lost that "fighter pilot cockpit" approach and uses an LCD screen that changes depending on the driving mode. The modes were "Normal", Sports+", "Track", "Drag Strip" and "Snow/wet".
The Mustang has 10 gears that work so well it doesn't seem like too many. There's optional dynamic dampers, and, all-in-all, the cabin's pleasant and the comfort ride compliant. Despite the plastic shift gears that I couldn't help but notice, Ford have addressed the "cheap interior" criticism of the previous model by making this model appear well presented for the price. The park brake, unfortunately, is still on the passenger's side
If there was any criticism of the Ford's interior is that the array of switches and modes can make finding specific items difficult until one becomes used to them.
On the other hand, the Kia Stinger GT's interior is well executed. Kia's chief designer, Peter Schreyer, worked for Audi and his influence can be seen throughout the interior.
The button layout on the Kia seemed more logical and functions, such as the park distance, were easy to find. The Kia Stinger also came with a HUD that warned one of speed cameras... a very good option.
Very useful in exiting dealer lots...I couldn't find the equivalent on the Ford Mustang but I'm assured it's there
Brakes and Other Bits...
The Kia Stinger was chocker block full of other good stuff. First off, Brembo Brakes...
Brembo and Kia... two words I never thought I use in the same sentence let alone see on the same car
... and the list goes on with lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, driver attention alert (this did not need to get tested!) and adaptive cruise control to name a few.
Ford have upped their game with the Mustang, giving it features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic high beam. Both cars have bluetooth audio, satellite navigation, apple car play and android auto. Also, and what was even better, both cars I tested had launch control, a limited slip differential and bi-modal exhausts.
The Mustang GT was a traditional 2+2 (i.e. back seats for luggage or very small children), whereas the Stinger GT was 4 door with useable back seats that had their own, shared climate zone.
What About The "Touring" Part of GT
Neither car would disappoint. Both were very comfortable to drive and I could see myself driving many, pleasurable miles in either. The driving, handling and steering of both were good, but oddly juxtaposed around the edges between each.
Driving the Mustang in day-to-day traffic felt difficult because I had to reign it back to keep the car at the speed limit. A word I heard used to describe the Mustang's engine desire to surge forward was "predator"; and it truly felt like one that wished to be unleashed. The Stinger, on the other hand, was quite docile in daily driving, but then could be "unleashed" at the drop of an accelerator.
Both have electronic steering racks that worked well at low speeds. However, the steering of the Ford Mustang seemed to become jittery on uncertain roads at the speed limit with the front becoming less connected. The Stinger's steering, in contrast, seemed more planted and, again, the German influence was clearly visible. On acceleration the Stinger just bunkered down and felt more confidence inspiring.
Finally, on the truly dull (but important) bits: both warranties are good with the Mustang GT having a 5 year unlimited kilometre warranty, and the Stinger GT a 7 year unlimited kilometre one. The Mustang's safety rating has improved from 2 to 3 stars and the Stinger's safety rating is a confidence inspiring 5 star.
A good GT needs to be able to carry the luggage for a good get away. At the very least, a hamper, cooled bubbly (because we saved money buying budget GTs, we should be able to afford the French stuff... well, the cheaper French stuff!), and all the kit necessary to make your hotel/motel stays pleasant.
What might surprise some is the Stinger GT is a liftback!
The Mustang does not disappoint and has a good boot capable of taking enough baggage for a good weekend away.
Final Thoughts - Who Would Buy What?
Both the Mustang GT and Stinger GT live up to the "Gran Turismo" moniker on a budget. They are reasonably priced, versatile cars that can be used as day-to-day transport and, when the moment arrives, can transform into comfortable performance sedans that would allow you to traverse at "European speeds", should you be in Europe, or quickly to Australian speeds here.
When I started researching this article, I believed that the Mustang would appeal to young, single people and the Stinger to young couples; but on it appears the cars are being bought by a much wider cross section of purchasers. I've no doubt the Stinger GT's useable back seats might incline it more to young families than the Mustang's austere rear offerings, but according to the salespeople I spoke to, both have broad appeal.
I believe most people would be pleased with either car and the decision to buy or the other would come down to small factors... some may want the V8 sound; some may want the longer warranty.
Final, final thoughts... which would *I* buy?
When I was a younger man, I'd have bought the Mustang. When my children were growing up, I know I'd have bought the Stinger. Now, as an empty nester, I'd be swayed back to the Mustang. This is primarily on looks, although the Stinger's completeness as a package is a drawcard, but I like the long bonnet and the roaring V8. It's a post-mid-life-young-retiree-crisis thing, I think.
Whatever anyone's choice, though, both cars fulfil the GT dream on a budget.