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Kia vision is far from fleeting

Company sets sights on Audi A4 levels of desirability in family/fleet market for its new Optima, writes Martin Brennan

Kia is re-entering the intensely competitive high volume family/fleet market with an upmarket model that will send shivers down the ranks of the established leaders, Toyota Avensis, Ford Mondeo and VW Passat.

The Optima will replace the Magentis, a model that never really took off and was dropped from the catalogue about 18 months ago, and it has already notched up 200,000 sales outside Europe.

The newcomer has a modern trendy coupe-like design and will have a high specification when it arrives in showrooms in March. The late arrival is because of the world demand for Kia, and sister company Hyundai products.

The Korean company is riding high at fourth place in world car sales rankings behind VW, GM and Toyota, having sold 5.9 million units last year, up 500,000 on 2010.

Excellence in design, build quality and high-level interior trim will bring the Optima up to Audi A4 levels of desirability, Kia managing director James Brooks, believes.

He sees the Audi A4 as the Holy Grail among company representatives in the important business end of the fleet market.

"The Toyota Avensis, which has 35 per cent of this market, is now attracting the over-50s conservative buyer and the other popular model, Ford Mondeo, is ageing," he says. [The current model was launched in 2007, refreshed last May and a new model arrives on the market in 2013].

"All our business with Optima will be conquest sales as we are new in this segment. We also have Passat, Opel's Insignia and Audi A4 in our sights. Nowadays sales reps want an A4 and their managers want to be in a BMW 5 Series. I think very few reps want to drive an Avensis."

He sees the Kia seven-year warranty as a trump card when it comes to fleet managers' final decision.

Optima is longer, lower and wider than the Passat. The sporty profile with a tiger-nose grille, now a Kia family feature, is flanked by daytime running lights. The smart rear end sports a large chrome exhaust. Inside some of the plastics may not have the Audi quality feel but the dash is cleverly oriented towards the driver and the centrepiece is a large seven-inch screen.

The long wheelbase gives extra rear legroom and the boot boasts 505 litres of space while up front driver and passenger get the best leg and headroom in class.

Standard specification will include reversing camera, parking sensors, panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, heated front seats, cruise control and fog lights. The higher specification versions gets heated rear seats and Park Assist and Sat Nav could be options when the final specifications are agreed.

Both versions come with a 136 bhp 1.7 litre turbo-diesel engine capable of 208kmh and a 0-100km sprint in 10.5 seconds. Fuel consumption is a claimed 5.1L/100km. It falls into Band B with 133 g/km of C02.

Pricing is expected to be €26,500 for the entry level model which is about €700 over its Hyundai rival, the i40. The higher price is attributed to the better specification levels.

Behind the wheel in a brief test drive the six-speed automatic transmission version proved to be the best choice. Low levels of engine noise made wind noise noticeable and thesteering was light and responsive. In the manual version gear changing for shorter drivers may become somewhat difficult due to the closeness of the gear lever to the high centre armrest.

Sunday Independent