On Autos: Four upscale sports sedans offer varied flavor

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The 2018 Audi A4 trades affordability and maximum horsepower for top-tier refinement and in-cabin technology.

When you look for an entry-level luxury sedan, perhaps the first way to narrow down your list is to consider what level of sporty performance you desire.

Most models in this class fall into the category of “sports sedan” — fast, agile cars that have four-door practicality but the soul of a performance car. You can still get a peaceful cruiser like the Lincoln MKZ or Lexus ES, or even a comfortable, quiet sports sedan like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

But if you know you want to have some fun with your luxury sedan, your options are abundant. So the challenge becomes sorting out which one offers the right flavor for you.

Four recently tested sports sedans emphasize the diversity that’s found in this class today. All start in the $30,000s and can reach past $50,000. All have a choice of four-cylinder engines and six-cylinder engines, boosted with turbochargers. They also have a wide array of advanced safety, connectivity and luxury features.

But the Kia Stinger, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, and Audi A4 don’t look or feel much alike. If you’re interested in cars like these, it never hurts to drive them all. That said, we’d like to help you know in advance which one sounds like the best fit for you.

Let’s start with the least likely premium sports sedan: the Kia Stinger. The Korean budget brand has offered luxury products before, to mild critical acclaim but no commercial success. But the Stinger eschews the boat-like driving dynamics and anonymous styling of past Kia luxury sedans, in favor of head-turning looks and top-grade performance.

The 2018 Kia Stinger blends outstanding performance with a spacious interior and compelling prices.

The tested Stinger GT trim features a 365-horsepower V6, standard rear-wheel-drive and optional all-wheel-drive, from a base price of $40,095. That’s a bargain for any well-equipped luxury car, much less one with so much power. The V6 is smooth and ferociously powerful, though perhaps overkill for city conditions. The base 255-horsepower four-cylinder already packs a respectable punch and starts at $33,895.

Even more impressive than the power is the Stinger’s handling, which is harder to engineer. Ultra-quick steering makes the Stinger responsive even around town, and it has terrific composure as you push it harder.

The Stinger also boasts a spacious cabin for both passengers and cargo. It has a five-door liftback configuration to easily handle large items. On the other hand, its exterior dimensions are bulkier than most similarly priced competitors — so for some city drivers, a smaller competitor might feel more convenient.

A mechanical cousin to the Stinger offers just that. The Genesis G70, from Hyundai’s new luxury brand, offers the same engines and the same lively handling. It’s a compact sedan rather than a midsize hatchback, giving up passenger and cargo room but slipping easily into smaller parking spaces. 

The 2019 Genesis G70 is a smaller, more conventionally styled and slightly more luxurious version of the Kia Stinger.

The G70 also has more conventional styling than the Stinger, and at least based on a quick preview drive, its interior seems to be upscale of the just-OK Stinger. Overall, it gives the feel of an impeccably built luxury car — not only in the cabin, but even more impressively, on the road. The G70’s four-cylinder version starts at $35,895 and its V6 version starts at $44,745.

The Infiniti Q50, like the G70, is a more conventional performance bargain than the Stinger. It has a choice of three turbocharged engines: one four-cylinder and two V6s. The base model, $35,195, has just 208 horsepower; it’s a comfortable, reasonably spacious premium car, but nothing for a car enthusiast. The V6s, though, come in 300-horsepower and 400-horsepower variants — the latter found in the tested Red Sport 400 model. That’s even more than you’d find in the Stinger and G70, reaching toward the top performance models of Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz.

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 offers powerful V6 engines at affordable prices, though less posh polish than some competitors.

But the Q50 shows its age with more dated infotainment options and plain interior decor. And while it Red Sport in particular boasts high handling limits, you’ll get few driving thrills in city conditions. Its main advantage is horsepower for the money — even the Red Sport 400 costs just $51,995, some $20,000 less than you’d spend for a German competitor with 400 horsepower or more.

Overall, the Infiniti is a sensible affordable luxury car in its base version, while its V6s offer lots of power for the money. And with its rear-wheel-drive construction (and optional all-wheel-drive) and composed handling, it is a credible sports sedan. But it’s neither a stunning luxury car nor a standout for driving dynamics besides in a straight line on an empty road.

The Audi A4, meanwhile, offers delicate luxury instead of the Infiniti’s more brute-force performance. Your budget with the Audi goes to superb build quality, tautly controlled ride and handling, and dazzling in-cabin electronics — rather than horsepower.

The A4’s base engine has just 190 horsepower at the base price of $36,975, and it costs $4,500 to upgrade to a 252-horsepower version of that four-cylinder (bundled with an all-wheel-drive system that replaces the standard front-wheel-drive). Yet that latter engine is still powerful enough to achieve zesty acceleration by most standards — if that’s not your top priority, the Audi’s smooth, quiet four-cylinder is more than satisfactory.

The Audi’s interior volume is closer to the Genesis G70 than the roomier Infiniti Q50 and Kia Stinger, making those less expensive models also the better choice for carrying adults in the rear seat. But otherwise, the A4 offers exquisite luxury in a compact package, along with impressive levels of driving enjoyment. It’s definitely a flavor of sports sedan worth trying out.

If you want to see more photos of the tested 2018 Kia Stinger and the 2018 Audi A4 and 2019 Genesis G70, you can visit Brady Holt’s Facebook page. Brady Holt also writes weekly car reviews, too.