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Car reviews - Kia - Magentis - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Impossibly competitive pricing, impressive safety, including ESP, attractive body, pleasant cabin, plenty of features, sweet natured 2.4 engine, smooth automatic, new long warranty, completely unpretentious
Room for improvement
Silly name, leaden dynamics – especially with V6, diminishing returns with EX-L variants, some back-seat road roar, probable low residuals

9 Aug 2006

KIA is kidding nobody.

A reputation for cheapness, low resale values, and doubts about durability are all obstacles that the Korean brand must overcome if the now-factory-owned importer is going to grow in Australia.

The ‘value’ arm of the mighty Hyundai Motor Corporation, Kia has already started to turn its reputation around somewhat in Europe with the Picanto, a likeable sub-Rio urban runabout that meets all the needs of its price-sensitive buyers admirably, and gives a little bit more besides. Expect the Picanto here next year.

Now a similar successful strategy is being rolled out with the replacement for the baroque Optima.

The Magentis is a mid-sized five-seater family sedan that is available with four or six-cylinder power, costs small-car money and has equipment levels to shame many prestige vehicles.

These are exactly the right sort of ingredients necessary for the Magentis to ‘pull off a Picanto’ for Kia in Australia.

And here’s a probable scenario of how it can do it:

Cue value-seeking couple wandering through one of the 133-odd Kia new-car showrooms throughout Australia after perusing the Internet for "4-cylinder + Sedan + Automatic + Air-conditioning + Airbags + ABS + Up to $30,000" (Isn’t the Net the greatest!).

Many different cars came up, but only the Magentis offers ESP stability control for the dough – hence the trip down to the local Kia dealer.

Confronting them is a modern, well-proportioned, attractive and impressively accommodating sedan for the money, moulded in the style of the model-before last Honda Accord.

"Looks pretty good" is probably the general consensus, along with something like "well, while I’m here I may as well sit inside."

Greeting them is an equally up-to-date take on the modern interior. Key attributes include simple instrumentation, an elegant console layout, Japanese quality-feel and finish to all the switchgear, and harmonising trim and colour contrasts.

"Gee, this is a long way from Raelene’s Excel," quips Significant Other.

Adding to the Magentis’ appeal are four accommodating outboard seating positions, although the rear-centre ‘fifth’ is a punishment reserved only for sworn enemies. Perhaps the friendly salesman can insert a joke about it being suitable only for a mother-in-law.

This is as good a place to press the ‘pause’ button, because, at this scenario juncture, you have to ask yourself whether you are going to stick to your limits both financial and behavioural.

The fact is, from behind the pleasant little steering wheel, the Kia’s sheen fades somewhat once you’re on the road and decide to drive it hard.

Stick to the speed limit, however, and the Magentis might just be the car you need, since it is a swift, quiet and soft-riding conveyance.

At highway speeds the front occupants are treated to a fairly hushed cabin experience, but rear passengers are more privy to some tyre roar on the larger-wheeled EX Luxury models fitted with the Michelin tyres.

The 119kW/221Nm 2.4-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine – one of the few mechanical similarities the Kia shares with its Hyundai NF Sonata distant cousin – is a lusty performer, providing plenty of launch urge, while able to access enough mid-range power for easy overtaking abilities, and all without sounding strained or harsh.

In fact it is the better of the two Magentis engine applications, since the 138kW/247Nm 2.7-litre V6 offers only slightly more on-road acceleration and speed, but uses more fuel (less so than any other V6, however, according to Kia), costs more, and makes its mass felt through the steering wheel as a nose-heavy car to handle.

A five-speed automatic gearbox with a sequential-shift function – the only gearbox available on the drive program – is a good thing, with barely perceptible shift changes.

On smooth roads both models turn in with an adequate degree of sharpness and eagerness.

However, the 16-inch Kuhmo tyres like to squeal, while rougher roads can throw the cars slightly off line, with the V6 more susceptible to wheel tugging in the process.

Also, neither delivers anything like the steering feel or finesse of the Mazda6 or Toyota Camry, although – again – the Magentis 2.4 is wieldier than its 2.7-litre sibling.

And forget about driving the Magentis like a sports car on winding roads. It will turn through corners progressively wider the faster you go (although it does grip well), feel sloppy and leave the enthusiastic drivers stone cold.

An enjoyable sporty sedan the Kia resolutely is not – but let’s get real: nobody is going to buy this car to compete against a BMW. But just don’t expect to keep up with a Ford Focus or well-driven Camry either.

We came away from the Magentis feeling good about its exceptional equipment and safety specification. The potentially life-saving ESP stability control alone makes it worthy of consideration, and Kia should be congratulated.

The smart and professionally presented cabin earns more merit for the Magentis, and it even looks good too.

If these, and a low price and high warranty, are all that matter, you may find everlasting happiness in the Kia, with the base four-cylinder Magentis EX coming over as the best by far.

But if you love to drive, or travel on windy or bad roads regularly, we’d look elsewhere – Renault’s Megane Phase II manual sedan also offers ESP and airbags-galore as standard for under $30,000. And we would go the Mitsubishi 380 over the Magentis V6 in a heartbeat too.

Sticking to your limits – this is what the new Magentis is all about then.

Yet it is good enough to let the world know that Kia isn’t kidding around in the mid-sized family car market any more.

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