The Optima name may be unfamiliar to Europeans, but the latest car is the third generation of Kia’s global saloon. Badged as the Magentis in the UK, the original 2001 model was supremely well equipped for the money, but it was as dull to look at as it was to drive. The 2006 follow-up was a better effort, but it wasn’t until the 2008 update that the car finally began to make a gentle, no-nonsense impression on value-conscious buyers.

Towards the end of 2011, we suggested that, with the arrival of its new Rio supermini, Kia had established a brand identity based on cars that were moderately pleasant to look at, moderately pleasant to sit in and moderately pleasant to drive. Damning with faint praise, perhaps, but not so long ago that approach would have been sufficient to make waves in the staid saloon-sized D-segment. Not any longer.

Wary of the fiercely competitive (and unashamedly aspirational) executive market above it, mainstream manufacturers have spent the past decade turning their starchy four-door stock options into veritable blue chips. If Kia hopes to win buyers in this saturated marketplace, the new Optima will have to live up to the current high standard and give fleet buyers a reason to switch from the established class leaders. Quite a challenge, but the car has already established itself as the top seller in Korea and has apparently garnered quite a lot of attention in the US. Time to find out if its fledging reputation is deserved.

Top 5 Mid-size execs

  • BMW 5 Series
    Superb engine and cabin, but ride and handling let the side down

    BMW 5 Series

    1
  • The second generation Jaguar XF

    Jaguar XF

    2
  • Audi A6
    The Audi A6 is a car that delivers in every area

    Audi A6

    3
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
    The E-class more than lives up to traditional Mercedes values

    Mercedes-Benz E-Class

    4
  • Lexus GS
    The Lexus GS is unusual in the part of the market in not offering a diesel option

    Lexus GS

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Kia range

Driven this week

  • Car review
    27 July 2016
    Facelifted roadster ushers in a new generation of turbo V6 AMGs
  • First Drive
    27 July 2016
    Special-edition Twingo is packed with kit for a reasonable price, but a practicality deficit and a gutless engine leave us feeling cold
  • First Drive
    26 July 2016
    An expensive but entertaining, intriguing and very usable road-going track car whose rarity may eventually underwrite its high price
  • First Drive
    26 July 2016
    French fashion brand Givenchy has come together with DS for a special edition DS 3. Is it now any closer to the class leaders?
  • 2016 Audi Q7 e-tron
    First Drive
    26 July 2016
    Plug-in hybrid Q7 promises economy of 156.9mpg and BIK rates of 10%. It’ll take you a while to recoup the £10k premium over a standard Q7, though