Kia Magentis

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Price from: £19,000
Top speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 9 seconds
Consumption: 47mpg
CO2 emissions: 135g/km
Best for: the open-minded
Also worth considering? Ford Mondeo, Seat Exeo, Skoda Superb

Not so very long ago Kia were known for making a little car called the Pride, an old Mazda design that the South Korean company had acquired the rights to. They came in bright colours and were fitted out with whitewall tyres, very much past the pace by the 1990s. Kia was firmly "budget".

Times have changed, and now Kia wants to challenge the mainstream European brands, even the premium marques – and the company has recruited one of Audi's senior designers to that end. It used to be that a Kia car could usually be identified by the fact that its front end was distinctive – distinctive in the gargoyle sense, that is. Nowadays it is easy to spot one because they have given their cars a "family face", a sort of vertically pinched mouth, and the influence of the Audi designer in the lines of a new generation of their cars is apparent.

As in the next generation Magentis. Dig those wheels! Check out those elegant, coupé-ish, muscular lines! This is easily the most handsome car the firm has produced. OK, that may not be saying much, so perhaps one should say that it is the best-looking mid-market contender on the UK market, or it will be when it arrives next year. Even if it was rubbish to drive, to use the technical automotive term, it would still stack up simply because of its sheer good looks, especially the more "bling" versions with those huge alloys.

But is it rubbish to drive? On brief acquaintance, no. Performance and handling seem competitive, helped by sophisticated multi-link suspension at the rear, though it's maybe lacking quite the same urge as the best of the Mondeos, say. The cabin is pleasingly sombre and classy, though I would have preferred that they didn't use plastic "chrome" for the interior door handles, and spent a few Korean won on giving us the real thing, which would look and feel nicer. I also found the Magentis a little unrefined when pressed hard; it made the "wrong kind of noise" if I can put it that way, as I've never complained about the loud metallic screams that fly out of an V8 AMG-prepped Mercedes-Benz, say.

The new Magentis will also be up there with the likes of the Lexus in technology – heated steering wheel, rear-view camera, premium sound systems and a lane-changing warning system are promised. There may even be a fashionable hybrid to sit alongside an all-new 1.7 litre diesel and 2-litre petrol options. This is a Kia you could be proud of.

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