About the only thing anyone could say about the just-superceded Kia Optima was that it offered a lot of features at a good price. It was categorised as a lot of car for the money, but no-one who valued dynamics and handling prowess would have had anything flattering to say about it. In many ways it epitomised the Kia of old, with slightly outdated looks, and a general air of yesterday’s car. But the Kia that is emerging in 2006 is a very different brand from the one you’d have found two years ago.
Like those of sister Korean brand Hyundai, the new Kia products are challenging the best that Japan can produce. Kia’s Rio hatchback (especially the Sport model) and new generation Sportage compact SUV have drawn favourable media comment, and have seen the brand’s credibility soar. Kia is now about to ehance that credibility with the replacement for the lack-lustre Optima.
The new car, the Magentis, is essentially the same as Hyundai’s successful and well-regarded Sonata, though the Kia has individual styling. That styling is a little conservative and bland – especially at the front end – for our tastes but we’ll reserve judgement until we spend more time with the car. That said, the lines are neat and integrated and will offend no-one. The Magentis is bigger than the Optima, and offers a large list of standard equipment.
Engine choices are a 2.4-litre four-cylinder and a 2.7-litre V6, both petrol-powered. Pricing starts at $33,150 for the 2.4-litre: the V6 is $37,990. Both have five-year/100,000km warranties.
We drove the cars only briefly on the media introduction in Auckland, but they impressed with an air of solidity and thoughtful design. Handling was predictable and reasonably sharp, though once again we’ll reserve judgement till we can sample the Magentis over a much longer distance. But on initial acquaintance the car looks to have real potential and to be another positive step forward for a marque that is gaining credibility at a rapid pace.
What you get
The 2.4 has velour cloth upholstery, and the V6 mixes leather with suede inserts. Both models have full climate-control air-conditioning systems with pollen filters.
The keyless entry central locking system for the four doors and boot incorporates an anti-theft alarm. Also standard are power windows, rain-sensing automatic windscreen wipers; audio and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel; a rear park warning system; and an audio system. The V6 gets a six-disc Compact Disc changer along with Infinity speakers. It also has an electrically-operated sunroof as standard.