KIA WANTS IN ON THE SPORT SEDAN. And for good reason. Four-door performance cars have historically worked wonders for brands. Look at Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, and you’ll find a sport sedan at the core of each’s prestige and credibility. The payofffor enthusiasts, of course, is great cars-we still devote gallons of ink to a new M3 or C63.

Minor technicality: The iconic, brand-shaping sport sedans like the ones above-a 1997 BMW M3, a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16, and a 2000 Audi S4-are German. Kia is not. Also, note the years. All from last century, before the market developed an insatiable appetite for crossovers and SUVs. The Germans still sell plenty of sedans, but others have invested large sums of capital for less favorable returns. (See: Cadillac ATS, a fine four-door that managed one-fifth the U.S. sales of the 3-series last year.)

The new Stinger aims to turn back time and cheat geography. The ingredients appear up to the task. The car rides on a new, rear-drive platform (all-wheel drive is optional), shared with the upcoming Genesis G70, which is built by Kia affiliate Hyundai. The engine is mounted longitudinally, in classic sports-car fashion, which helps this Kia achieve near-50/50 weight distribution. The car starts under $35,000-a sweet spot for first-time premium-car buyers-although a well-equipped GT surpasses $40,000. That trim brings a twin-turbocharged V-6 with 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. The GT2 spec we tested starts at $50,100 and comes with a limited-slip differential and driver-assistance features, along with interior upgrades. The Stinger isn’t actually a sedan in the four-door sense-there’s a hatch in that long, sloping roofline-but no one thinks of a Porsche Panamera or a Tesla Model S as a hatchback, so let’s move on.

It’s more than the Stinger’s hatch that recalls the Panamera. The low and tapered roofline, the pronounced rear fenders, and the dramatic distance between the front axle and the windshield give the Stinger an expensive appearance that transcends its price. There are a few jarring bits, like the black-chrome-colored piece behind the front wheels that is more Cuisinart than car, and the narrow reflectors that wrap onto the rear fenders. In every color but our test car’s HiChroma red, the reflectors look like an open wound. But Kia designers, led by German Peter Schreyer, who moved from Audi a decade ago, have absolutely nailed the proportions and shape.

Looks are certainly part of the sport-sedan formula, but vehicle dynamics are more important. After 30 years at BMW, Albert Biermann left his job as head engineer of the M division and joined Hyundai and Kia in late 2014. The Stinger is a product of Biermann and his team.

In search of roads that separate authentic sport sedans from marketing materials, we headed into the Angeles National Forest and the canyon roads overlooking L.A. The route, a mix of Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest highways, looks like a failed lie-detector test on the Kia’s eight-inch navigation screen. Under the pressure of the first few tight corners, the Stinger starts to break a sweat. There’s softness to the chassis that is absent in the best sedans from Germany. Turn into the corner with the quick steering rack (2.2 turns lock-to-lock), and the nose rolls over as the Stinger squirms and jiggles in response to the sticky tires loading up. Switching the electronically controlled dampers to their stiffest setting helps, but the soft springs remain. Push past that initial imprecision, and the Stinger will settle in for the fight. The aggressive Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires remain hushed while resisting understeer and providing safe grip-0.92 g on the skidpad. The quick steering makes the car seem to chomp into corners, but the forces fed back through the leather-wrapped wheel reach your fingers with a numbness similar to that of Novocaine wearing off.

Read more on Road & Track.