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The march of the Korean brands continues unabated, and the Smart-looking new Optima is another example of why Kia, and its parent brand Hyundai, have been making such inroads, first into the retail sector and now increasingly into the business car market.
The upper medium saloon market isn't large, outside of the premium brands, but Kia is looking for half of its 2000 units coming to the UK this year to find homes with true fleet end-users.
But the car's also important in both proving Kia has a complete product offering, and as a halo presence to increase brand awareness and help boost the volume models such as the Ceed, Sportage and Rio.
The Optima range is pretty straightforward, with one engine and only the saloon bodystyle. A choice of three trim levels, called 1, 2 and 3, is offered, with the most popular expected to be the 2, which splits into Tech and Luxe. The former offers kit such as standard satnav, 17-inch alloys and an audio system that's uprated compared with the 1 trim, while for the same cost the Luxe swaps that spec for exterior styling tweaks, stunning 18-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof and iPod connectivity. The Tech is likely to be more popular with business users, so it's the model driven here.
The 1.7-litre diesel is decent for efficiency without threatening the class leaders at 128g/km and an official 57.6mpg. The engine isn't the most refined in the class either, but offers performance in line with its 134hp and 0-62mph time of just over 10 seconds. Stop/start is standard, and it's a useful system that will leave the engine switched off for longer than that of some rivals - we managed more than 90 seconds before it had to fire up again.
To drive, the Optima seems to fall somewhere between the sporty and comfortable camps.
On the inside, Kia's roots as a Budget brand are evident with some of the harder plastic around the centre console, although the spec is good in this mid-range model, which is necessary given it costs more than a Ford Mondeo Zetec of equivalent power. A little more comfort on the standard leather seats wouldn't have been a bad thing either. The boot size is par for the class, but in places there are bits of uncarpeted bare metal on show, again a sign of a budget background.
Whole-life costs have yet to be confirmed, but Kia's residual values have been increasingly competitive so, with the transferrable seven-year warranty and low volumes, we wouldn't expect them to be prohibitive.
The Optima will appeal to those looking for something different, with its classy looks belying and likely to lift the Kia brand. It's not perfect and could be cheaper, but it is well-equipped and offers more evidence that Korean brands are improving and becoming competitive on their own merit rather than the previous generations of price-led products.