After making a speech in Trafalgar Square condemning the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, I drove to Portsmouth in the new Kia Magentis and boarded a ferry for Bilbao. Now there's not many motoring correspondents who could say such a thing as that: to me it has a whiff of the inter-war years, of memoirs that start: "After saying goodbye to Leonard and Virginia Woolf and having sex with them both I motored down to Spain in the 8 Litre Delahaye Superbe where I volunteered for the International Brigade to fight against Franco. Within the week I was in command of a regiment of surrealists on the Aragon front, our artillery mostly comprising giant clocks pulled by teams of trained lobsters."

Certainly, on first impressions if you were planning to hit the roads of Spain for a few days to try and escape the horrors of the world, the natural choice would not be the Kia Magentis 2.0 Diesel.

Before it was delivered I had read some unflattering reviews of the car, complaining about the gruffness of the engine and the quality of the ride and, indeed, at first on the ferry among new Range Rovers, at least one Aston Martin and one bright yellow Corvette, I felt embarrassed about what I was driving. After all, one of the last cars I test drove - the Mercedes S600 - cost nearly 10 times what the stubby little Korean goes for.

Yet once I was on the Autovia south of Bilbao I began to warm to the Magentis. The seats that had initially felt unsupportive provided decent comfort and the plastics of the plain dashboard seemed a good enough place to be sitting in front of. In fact, after a while it was something of a relief not to have some complicated i-drive computer system telling me how many cows I'd passed in the last 15 seconds or a seductive sat nav siren whispering in my ear, trying to persuade me to drive the wrong way up a one-way street.

Slipping through the accurate gearbox until I was into the long, loping top gear, I headed for the hot south. In the drizzle of a Basque morning the Magentis felt as planted as any fancier car I've driven over the last few years.

On the motorway the ride seemed absolutely fine to me - smooth, with little wind noise or road rumble - and the plucky 2-litre diesel was as happy as Lorenzo to cruise all day at the legal limit of 120kph.

Suddenly there was a definite old-skool feel to the trip: it was just me, six gears, air con and my wife on map-reading duties. Sure, the unbuilt-in stereo does look a bit cheesy I have to admit but once tuned to RNE 3, the eccentric Spanish national station which plays hip-hop, flamenco, Balkan folk music and indy pop seemingly at random (one Saturday afternoon I heard them play the same Lennon and McCartney song 27 different times in versions recorded by 27 different artists before I drove into a wall), I was as happy as could be.

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