2021 Ford Mustang GT vs 2021 Kia Stinger 330S

Ford Mustang GT and Kia Stinger 330S
Ford Mustang GT and Kia Stinger 330S

We pit the 2021 Kia Stinger 330S and 2021 Ford Mustang GT against each other for a good old-fashioned RWD GT shootout

Though in some ways it’s ‘yesterday’s technology’, rear-wheel-drive continues to thrive in performance vehicles such as the Kia Stinger (pictured right) and Ford Mustang (pictured left).

If you’re one of the many Australians lamenting the demise of rear-wheel-drive (RWD), you can blame the Mini. Perhaps that’s a long bow to draw, but the diminutive front-wheel-drive (FWD) car, designed in the late 1950s by Sir Alec Issigonis, played a big part in shaping future automotive design and the vehicles we drive today.

Packaging the engine, transmission, differential and drive shafts into one compact unit at the front, and turning it east-west, maximised cabin space. And while it took drivers time to adjust to the engine’s modest power and torque coming through the front wheels, the rest, as they say, is history.

Back in the day, RWD cars offered big advantages. They were regarded as the go-to vehicle for towing a large boat or caravan, and powerful V8s dominated racetracks. Meanwhile, FWD cars, such as the Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo, could be a real handful. The Cordia’s 1.8-litre engine put out a meagre (by today’s standards) 110kW, yet resulted in so much torque steer that an unsuspecting driver accelerating hard could find himself inadvertently changing lanes.

Over the years, FWD cars became larger and better engineered to handle greater power and torque. While we fought on bravely here in Australia with the Falcon and Commodore, consumer tastes changed and sales dropped, including for the RWD cars designed and manufactured here.

However, a few affordable large cars continue to defy this trend, primarily in the performance category. The Ford Mustang and Kia Stinger are the two bestsellers in this increasingly niche market and we recently drove the pair through the Shoalhaven to remind ourselves why driving enthusiasts often prefer RWD.

 

2021 Kia Stinger 330S

Until mid-2017, Kia was best-known for its well-equipped, value-for-money vehicles such as the Cerato and Rio. When the Kia Stinger appeared, it changed perceptions of the brand almost overnight. Here was a car that had plenty of power, good brakes, capable handling and a dash of style.

It’s a big car in the classic GT (grand tourer) mould, with a long bonnet, curved roofline arching towards the rear, and minimal overhangs that mask the fact it’s a four-door rather than a coupé.

A recent refresh included full-length LED taillights, LED headlamps, and a new bi-modal exhaust with larger quad tips. The Stinger already had a five-star ANCAP safety rating and this refresh enhances it with cyclist detection, junction assistance, and improved lane keeping assistance. Inside, Kia’s 10.25-inch touchscreen unit has been fitted, along with a larger 4.2-inch driver info display.

Ford Mustang and Kia Stinger

There are two engines on offer: a 182kW/353Nm 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder in the 200S and GT-Line variants, and a 274kW/510Nm 3.3-litre V6 twin-turbo in the 330S (our test vehicle) and GT. Both are matched to an eight-speed automatic and V6 versions are fitted with a stouter Brembo brake package and limited slip differential.

The interior has a contemporary flavour, with the broad centre console dividing the interior into two distinct cockpit-like zones. Ergonomically, it’s well set-up for the driver and the new infotainment screen blends nicely into the design. Seat comfort is a highlight and, while softer than a sports seat, the side bolstering remains supportive and holds the driver securely through corners. Occupants sit low inside the cabin and forward vision is good, but the fastback design hinders rear vision somewhat.

The 3.3-litre twin-turbo engine is a cracker and maximum torque starts just above idle, peaking at 4500rpm. Though on paper it gives up a fair bit of power and torque, it accelerates more sharply off the line than the Mustang, which has to wind up before it really gets going. That said, once the Mustang jumps into action, five litres of naturally aspirated V8 wake your senses, something further enhanced by Ford’s active valve exhaust. Dial up sports mode and the Mustang sounds fantastic.

The Stinger weighs in at a not inconsiderable 1780kg and contact with terra firma is via 19-inch 225/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) Continental sports tyres. All Kias get the once-over by the company’s Aussie suspension gurus and the set-up chosen for the conventional damper versions is excellent.

The Stinger’s mass is unruffled over rough sections of road and the car absorbs ruts and corrugations exceptionally well. When we drove it up through Macquarie Pass its electric power steering felt accurate and direct and the Brembo brakes had a solid workout, remaining consistent with good pedal feel. On the freeway, the Stinger has an edge over the Mustang in smoothness and quietness and the excellent audio system sounds a lot better.

 

2021 Ford Mustang GT

The late 2015 launch of the Ford Mustang bore fruit immediately, proving a ready-made replacement for the performance Falcons facing extinction with plant closures in 2016. Australia’s on-again and off-again association with the ’Stang (it was officially sold here twice in the past) was finally cemented – and what a car to do it. By today’s standards the Mustang is a fairly blunt instrument, but Ford’s engineers have honed it to perfection.

Like the Stinger, the Mustang offers a four-pot 2.3-litre turbo option. With 233kW and 432Nm, it’s a nice drive, but unsurprisingly the 5.0-litre GT Fastback (our test vehicle) is the star. Since launch, Ford has continually tweaked the Mustang package and in 2018 a new 10-speed auto with paddle shifters and an active valve exhaust system were introduced, along with some extra grunt of 339kW and 556Nm.

A 12.3-inch multi-configurable instrument cluster and 19-inch wheel options debuted in 2019, along with a revised colour palette that drew inspiration from 1960s muscle cars and has names like Grabber Lime and Twister Orange.

Ford Mustang and Kia Stinger

Occupant safety has never been a strong suit for the Mustang, achieving just three stars when tested by ANCAP in 2017, although 2020 models were upgraded with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian protection, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance.

The cabin’s retro switchgear and 1960s-inspired design offers a step back in time and, while the interior works a treat visually, ergonomically it’s a bit hit and miss. The sporty Recaro front seats are the best in the business and you feel as though you have been velcroed into them. Kris Ashton, Open Road’s deputy editor, managed the Houdini-like feat of installing child seats in the rear, but his kids did complain about a lack of leg room.

Around town the ’Stang is a bit of a beast. The bonnet seems to stretch on forever, the large 12.2-metre turning circle is a pain in carparks, and the firmer ride picks up corrugations and potholes noticeably more than the Stinger.

Out of town, however, the car really comes into its own. Punching out of tight corners elicits a thrill and there’s no front wheelspin, torque steer or steering loading up – all the action is at the rear, where it should be. A combination of mechanical slip differential and traction control electronics keep things on their intended trajectory and it’s no mean feat considering how much power and torque are available. Adjusting the drive mode to sport gives more latitude to the rear, and the driver’s smile soon turns into a wide grin.

Final thoughts on the 2021 Kia Stinger 330S versus the 2021 Ford Mustang GT

The Ford Mustang remains one of our favourite cars, especially the R-Spec, and true believers won’t even blink at the firm ride, large turning circle and interior space limitations. At the end of a week’s testing, though, it became clear the Stinger was the more liveable and a better all-rounder. Kia’s offering embodies the classic definition of a GT and, as an interstate hauler, it’s very hard to beat.

by Tim Pomroy, photos by Mark Bean

 

Liked this car comparison?

Members get this and more for free in the Open Road magazine