Kia Magentis

Kia has never had much of a reputation for building big saloons - but a new Magentis might just change that.

The new Magentis is a massive improvement over its predecessor, and yet more evidence that Korean makers are getting ever closer to the standards set by the European class leaders. We'll have to drive it with UK-spec suspension settings to see if it can beat more mainstream rivals, but early indications are promising.

Kia has never had much of a reputation for building big saloons - but a new Magentis might just change that. The heavily revised model replaces the current version in April, and finally looks like matching the appeal of the firm's smaller cars, such as the Picanto.

Designed with European buyers in mind, the Magentis shares its platform with Hyundai's Sonata, and has a neatly proportioned, rounded appearance.

The rear is claimed to have been inspired by the likes of Volkswagen's Jetta, while inside the cabin is reasonably sporty. Trim quality is the same as that of the Sonata, which is disappointing, but much of the switch-gear is different and there's a more individual feel to the detailing.

There's space for five inside, with high-spec models getting comfortable, electrically controlled front seats. And although the Kia's 2,720mm wheelbase is 10mm shorter than the Son-ata's, front and rear seat passengers will find they have plenty of room.

Badged the Lotze in its Korean home market, the Magentis is available with a choice of three petrol engines - a 131bhp 1.8-litre, 142bhp 2.0 and 164bhp 2.4. Our test car was powered by the 2.0-litre unit mated to an automatic transmission, but a new six-speed manual gearbox will be offered in Europe. Throttle response is sharp and the auto gearbox comparatively smooth, while the engine feels strong, with 0-62mph arriving in 11.5 seconds.

More impressive is the handling, which is a cut above the Sonata's. The steering is nicely weighted and our test car's electrically controlled suspension was extremely impressive. Pressing a button on the dashboard firms it up, making the Kia more fun to drive. In its normal setting, it rides smoothly over rough roads.

Prices have yet to be announced, but the Magentis is unlikely to cost much more than the Sonata, at around £16,500 for a well equipped model. First impressions are that Kia could have a credible upmarket saloon in its line-up for the first time.

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