Why Kia is playing in the big league now

SO, YOU'RE in the market for an executive saloon? You might consider Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Lexus, Volvo and Jaguar. All the usual suspects, in fact.

SO, YOU’RE in the market for an executive saloon? You might consider Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Lexus, Volvo and Jaguar. All the usual suspects, in fact.

But why not Kia? The Korean brand has made massive in-roads into the affordable car market but now, at last, it is making progress in the luxury car market.

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That shouldn’t surprise you. After all, Sportage and Sorento have proven that Kia isn’t all ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’.

But would you really consider buying a Kia and risking sniggers in the executive car market? Probably not. But you should.

Optima is the best Kia yet. Not the most successful or the best value but as an overall package it is excellent. It’s not beyond criticism – the dash lacks class and the steering is too soft.

But even at almost £30,000 for the test car, you get a lot of car for your money. A similar-equipped BMW or Jaguar would cost thousands more.

So, how does Optima shape up? It’s a neat, straightforward saloon car, just a little longer than an Audi A4. It looks clean and classy – not a work of art but a pretty tidy car.

The test version is a GT-Line S model which means it comes exceptionally well equipped. It has alloy wheels, chrome trim, panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, powered windows, heated seats, heated steering wheel, anti-lock brakes, stability control and a trip computer.

It also has a DAB stereo, Bluetooth and music streaming, USB ports front and rear, Android auto connectivity, satellite navigation, reversing cameras and a wireless phone charger. Anything missing? Hardly.

The electronic parking brake is OK but give me a proper European handbrake any day.

So, what’s it like to drive? Very smooth. Very light. If you’re the sort of demanding driver who wants feedback and sporty steering, this might not be for you.

On the other hand, if you want a car which is easy to drive and has a fine, sparkling engine and vast power across the revs, then you will love it.

It’s hard to think that Optima is now in its fourth generation for the model has barely made a ripple in the UK compared to its stellar siblings Sportage, Rio, Cee’d and co which are firmly established.

If ever an Optima was going to succeed, then it’s this one given that it is so much improved on its predecessors. It is more advanced, stronger, lighter, better designed and has a range of exceptional engines.

Importantly for this market, the ride and handling are now comparable to some of its prestigious rivals. The car maintains its slightly sporty feel, which is good.

When the third generation Optima arrived in 2010 it acted as a catalyst for the “five-year, design-led transformation of Kia’s product range”. Its combination of technology, design and refinement added greater depth to our model line-up and fundamentally changed the way that people saw the Kia brand.

The car is marginally longer, taller and wider. The wheelbase has been extended by 10 mm to 2,805 mm, with the full vehicle length growing 10mm to 4,855 mm. Meanwhile the new model is 25mm wider, at 1,860 mm, and 10mm taller (1,465 mm). These are minor changes but they enable a roomier and more comfortable cabin, with more head, shoulder and rear-seat leg-room and greater cargo capacity.

Would an Audi or a BMW be a better bet? Well, those German brands carry more clout but there is no doubt that this is the best Optima yet to give them a run for their money. If you value a good deal and appreciate that quality doesn’t have to come with an expensive badge, you might find this Kia is a sensible option.

Kia Optima 1.7 CRDI GT-Line S


Price: £29,395. Range starts at £21,295.

Engine: A 1,685cc four-cylinder diesel engine

Power: 139bhp

Torque: 340Nm

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Top speed: 126mph

0-62mph: 10.6 seconds

Economy: Town 55.4mpg; country 68.9mpg; combined 64.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 116g/km

Warranty: Seven year, 100,000 miles