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On looks alone, Kia Optima is a winner.

The four-door Optima saloon has a massive task on its hands if it wants to make a dent into the territory dominated by the likes of Toyota Avensis, Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Opel Insignia etc. but boy; it is a great-looking machine. This is good news as the highly competitive D sector is fleet buyer-driven and image is important to 'Reps' on the road.

Optima's exterior is a beautifully cohesive bit of design. You could stick a Jaguar badge on it and you'd only get a few raised eyebrows. Inside is well-appointed - but not quite as interesting or of such quality as the exterior would suggest. The cabin is spacious and, of course, there is an impressive list of toys available.

There is one engine available in Ireland, namely the 'Euro 5'-compliant 1.7-litre, turbo-diesel, four-cylinder that we know well. Manual and automatic versions can be bought - our automatic test car proved to be disappointing, as the box simply doesn't suit the engine and how we wanted to use the Optima. The 6-speed manual is the only version to consider and it will make up the bulk of sales, especially as it sits in a lower tax band (B). The diesel unit is a little noisy but thrifty. It can return a combined average consumption of 5.1 per 100 kilometres (55mpg) and up to 4.5 on extra urban runs.

On the road the 134bhp front-wheel drive Optima's handling is pretty neutral, but a back-to-back test with a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel Mondeo saw it fall well short of class-leading. Optima's suspension just fails to deliver the level of control that the Mondeo manages. Mondeo rides with a sophistication on the road that rivals can't match (although the Mazda 6 comes very close). Optima isn't short of power, with 325nm of torque produced, but the five-seat car just doesn't encourage you to use the poke it has, let alone take the long way home - shame. Once home you will sneak a look back at the car, as its styling compensates somewhat for its dynamic shortcomings.

Korean carmaker Kia, along with its sister company Hyundai, is currently one of the world's top five carmakers, but unless it gets more bums on seats the brand will remain a well-kept secret here. With the youthful Korean brand people have to test-drive the cars to realise that in many cases they're better than the Japanese equivalent! As with all new Kias there is an industry-leading warranty for seven years that is also transferable if the car is sold on. This, coupled with the rise and rise of Korea as a serious manufacturer of reliable cars, makes Optima a shrewd proposition. Well, almost. Prices start at €26,995 for the entry EX and rise up to €33,195 for the 'Platinum' automatic on 18-inch alloys - so the only thing against the new machine is that is not relatively cheaper than the competition. You can't force buyers to change their perception of a brand, but you can induce them to.

Kia Optima – a great-looking machine.

Michael Sheridan