While the Kia brand remains best known for its affordable cars, its vehicles have increasingly added the ingredient of extra refinement, style and build quality as well. Since 2015, Kia has even sold a $60,000-plus luxury sedan, the K900.

But the Korean car maker never mastered driving dynamics — a more-complex engineering exercise than a long list of standard features or an attractive dashboard. While a number of Kia models have offered a comfortable ride-quality and/or powerful engines, none were pulling off a thoroughly sporty driving experience.

That has changed with the new 2018 Kia Stinger. It’s an all-new midsize five-door liftback with a choice of rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive and up to 365 horsepower. Unlike Kia models that are value alternatives to a Toyota or Chevrolet, the Stinger more closely challenges luxury sports sedans from Audi and BMW, as well as high-powered, mainstream-brand sedans like the Dodge Charger and Nissan Maxima.

Priced from $32,800, with a long list of standard features, the Stinger offers generous interior space and high-grade driving refinement — for driving enthusiasts. It’s also styled to turn heads, especially from the rear end, where the slim slip of a taillight wraps all the way around the back of the car.

The base Stinger has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with 255 horsepower and fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon in mixed driving. That’s in line with a fully-loaded, midsize family sedan like the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu or Kia’s own Optima.

But the tested GT models (priced from $39,250) use a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6, which adds to the Stinger’s appeal as a performance bargain. It rips toward high speeds with user-friendly tenacity, and without the wake-the-neighbors roar of a V8-powered affordable performance car like a four-door Dodge Charger or a two-door Ford Mustang. Gas mileage drops to 21 mpg, though the tested car edged out that rating to manage about 22 mpg in mixed driving. All Stingers request premium fuel.

Whether you choose the merely quick acceleration of the base Stinger or the ferocious V6, every Stinger benefits from uncommonly delightful steering and handling — not just for a Kia, but for any four-door car at nearly any price.

The Stinger responds remarkably quickly to inputs, and the car feels almost glued to the road as you whip the steering wheel back and forth. It’s a rare balance of driving engagement with reassuring composure. Too many premium-performance cars isolate the driver from the road, achieving performance without true fun. The Stinger does it all.

Moreover, it’s a rare big car that sheds all of its bulk on a winding road, meaning you get the interior space of a larger vehicle, yet the exhilarating performance of a light, lithe compact.

You don’t have to love a sporty driving experience to want the Stinger, but that’s where you’ll find its greatest strengths. Like other Kia models, it provides lots of luxury features for the money. And its hatchback versatility means you can fit bulky items more easily than in a sedan. Furthermore, impressively for a performance-minded vehicle, the ride quality is still respectably quiet and smooth, albeit firm.

However, the interior feels more like a moderately upscale mainstream car — again, like the Charger or Maxima, or perhaps a Chevrolet Camaro — than a discounted Audi. The dashboard looks like that of a sports car, especially with the tested red-leather upholstery, but less like a luxury car’s. Moreover, there are lots of parts sprinkled in from lower-end Kia models. You can find a smoother, quieter ride at this price point if that’s your preference.

Meanwhile, a slightly smaller and more conventionally styled sedan from fellow Korean brand Genesis — using the same mechanicals as the Stinger — is hitting dealerships soon. It’s called the G70.

But it’s impossible to overlook the Stinger’s dynamic achievements, especially given that the car has no glaring flaws to detract from that appeal. If you’re interested in a premium sports sedan and are willing to trade a bit of premium for a lot more performance — at a compelling price to boot — don’t miss the new Stinger.

Visit tinyurl.com/stinger-sentinel to see more photos of the tested 2018 Kia Stinger.

Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.



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