NORTH HOLLYWOOD, California — Kia makes a beeline for the Sportback market with the premiere of the 2018 Kia Stinger.

The Kia Stinger joins the midsize 5-door hatchback class occupied by such members as Audi S5 Sportback, BMW 440i Gran Coupe and V-6 Porsche Panamera seated in the front row.

Kia’s rear-drive newcomer also enters the Gran Touring (GT) arena with Stinger 2.0T and Stinger GT 3.3T models — each available with upgrade versions and all-wheel drive.

Stinger 2.0T is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers 255 horsepower while the Kia Stinger GT 3.3T delivers 365-hp from its 3.3L twin turbo V-6 power plant.

Both are managed by an 8-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

I tested the Stinger GT 3.3T equipped with all-wheel drive over the curve-laden Angeles Crest Highway through hill country outside Los Angeles.

Stinger’s rear-biased AWD system is a silent ally on twisty roads automatically sending up to 50-percent of power to the front wheels for surefooted grip under spirited driving conditions.

Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport and Custom driving modes tailor a different setup for throttle response, steering feel, transmission shifts, adaptive suspension and stability control.

I utilized the Sport mode and paddle shifters for a driver-directed corner carving experience to maximize engine power and minimize braking with torque vectoring (AWD) for superb handling and control.

Brembo high-performance brakes come standard on Stinger GT.

Inside, Kia Stinger boasts a 5-occupant cabin with ample room to accommodate four adults. However, Stinger’s sloping sportback roofline challenges headroom for rear seat riders over six-feet tall.

GT’s front and rear seat cushions are nicely bolstered with supple upholstery to keep all comfortably in place for a trip across switchbacks or cross country. Knee, hip and legroom is generous front and back.

Stinger’s gauge cluster and instrumentation is simple with straight forward displays that are easily read at-a-glance.

An available 720-watt 15-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system surrounds all occupants with soothing concert hall fidelity.

Cargo capacity behind the back seat measures 23.3 cubic feet. Folding the 60/40-split rear bench down exposes 40.9 cu-ft of carrying space.

The 2018 Kia Stinger ranges from $31,900 to $49,200 across its five model lineup. AWD runs another $2,200. Add $900 for freight.

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