Every year, motoring journalists take part in the equivalent of speed dating for road testers, when we all gather at a private test track and sample the current ranges of all manufacturers.
Hundreds of cars are provided for testing, ranging from £250,000 Bentleys and top of the range Porsches to the latest superminis, electric cars and even 44-tonne trucks.
Despite the temptations of more exotic breeds, I spent much of the day driving volume or budget brands to benchmark them against our Kia Optima.
The result? In my view, the Kia is a worthy equal for volume brands and far superior to many other budget alternatives.
Kia is a global car production powerhouse at the moment and it shows in the Optima’s build quality and performance. In the UK, the Optima may only be destined to see 1,500 units this year, as a brand Kia is reporting some astronomical growth figures, both at home and abroad.
For example, Kia Motors America had best-ever full-year sales of 485,492 vehicles in 2011. Its market share in the USA has risen for 17 straight years, including a 78-percent increase since 2008. Sales of the Optima are running at about 15,000 a month.
Here in the UK, Kia sold 5,971 new cars in June, a 17% year-on-year increase. Year-to-date sales are up by 22.7% and more cars have been sold in the first half of 2011 than in the whole of 2008.
I have searched for chinks in the Optima’s armour and they are few and far between.
As a saloon, flexibility is limited. It does have a split-fold rear seat, but the opening to the boot is too small to prove useful if you are trying to buy long, bulky items.
Secondly, our test car costs in excess of £20,000, which is pretty serious money. However, a review of wholelife costs on www.fleetnews.co.uk shows it can hold its own.
Our Kia costs 35.42 pence per mile. An equivalently priced Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Zetec Business Edition costs 35.92ppm.
The Kia has a better residual value, but loses some of its lead through slightly higher SMR costs.
To show how confident Kia is about its products, you need look no further than its website, where owners are invited to submit their own reviews.
So far, it is rated 8.8 out of 10 and owners saying they are generally happy. Several commented on lower than expected fuel economy, but based on my own experience I would argue that is down to the owner, not the car.
Another comment related to some road noise at speed, which I would say is lower than rivals, and one owner marked Kia down for not providing a warning triangle, first aid kits and fire extinquisher.
These are hardly deal-breakers and signs that Kia’s sales success is sure to continue.
By John Maslen