KIA Optima's impressive styling

The Kia Optima Prestige 2011 has an executive feel.
The Kia Optima Prestige 2011 has an executive feel. Contributed

KIA is the type of brand that makes it hard to be a motoring writer these days.

Five years ago you could count on the likes of Kia to produce something of questionable build quality with soggy driving dynamics all wrapped up in a rather mundane shell. This gave us journos something to really lay into when comparing them to the streets-ahead Japanese or European offerings.

But Kia just keeps on producing winners of late, and with its new mid-sized Optima I find myself waxing lyrical about its impressive all-round ability and design sexiness rather than any obvious failings. Where have all the bad cars gone?

My test car was the Optima Prestige, and in Australia that's the only one available. It comes with a 2.4-litre petrol engine good for 148kW and 250Nm of torque; a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters; full leather interior with heated power seats and a raft of climate, audio and technology goodies.

The trump card is its body style, however. Kia smartly hired a former Audi designer a few years ago and is now reaping the benefits.

The Optima looks good from every angle: tough yet beautiful and thoroughly modern with design nods towards new generation Jaguars, Saabs and Audis, which is no bad thing at all.

The front end is very European-looking, with the ex-Audi artist successfully bringing his old employer's penchant for Daytime Running Lights to the style party.

It's not often you get admiring glances from passers-by when driving modern mid-size cars, but for some reason eyes were drawn to my Optima even more than when I'm in the more ubiquitous but far pricier BMWs and Mercedes-Benz models of this size.

I found the overall drive is just what Kia needs in this car; namely comfortable and enjoyable enough when pushed. The ride can be a tad crashy on poor roads due to its low-profile tyres over large wheels, and it doesn't show true sporting pedigree through the turns in terms of steering and turn-in but that's not really the purpose of the Optima.

Instead, it is an excellent highway cruiser that fits five adults in space and luxury, and by playing through the gears with the paddle shifters I found that the four-cylinder could prove fun enough in the higher rev range.

Considering you can drive this family car away for a smidge over $40,000, the overall quality of the cabin is superb. It really is a car its rivals will struggle to match.

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