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First drive: Kia Magentis - on sale June

Kia

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Review

The D-segment represents a very small proportion of Kia’s business in the UK. As a value-orientated, young brand it rightly puts its focus on the small family car and SUV markets.

Its next D-segment car, this all-new Magentis, goes on sale in June. Kia Motors UK managing director Paul Williams expects to sell 1,100 units in 2006 and first full year sales to total 1,600 units. This will be around 50% up on the outgoing model’s annual volumes.

Two petrol-engined variants will be available initially: a new Theta series 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit with continuously variable valve technology producing 143bhp; and a revised 186bhp, 2.7-litre, 24-valve V6 Delta engine, as currently offered in the Hyundai Coupé.

In July, Kia will add a 2.0-litre CRDi turbodiesel with 139bhp – a first for the manufacturer’s saloons. This is a modified version of the same engine offered in the Sportage SUV. With oil-burners taking 65% of all D-segment registrations, this is an essential development for the Korean brand. The turbodiesel is expected to become the biggest selling Magentis.

The V6 gets a five-speed auto transmission as standard, whereas the four-pots are manual (five-speed for petrol, six-speed for turbodiesel) unless buyers temporarily lose their minds and choose the four-speed auto option available to both – it’s neither smooth nor responsive.

The range will encompass two specification levels, LS and GS. Although Kia won’t yet give precise equipment details for the UK cars, standard features on LS should include black cloth trim, 16in steel wheels, adjustable steering column, front and rear electric windows, CD-player and air-con.

The higher-spec GS, standard on the V6, will gain alloy wheels, footwell lighting, metal-effect trim details, rear seat armrest with cupholders and a centre console with storage box. Options will include powered and heated front seats, climate control, leather trim and cruise control.

Kia hopes the Magentis will score four stars for occupant protection in EuroNCAP crash tests, and has equipped it with dual front airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags as standard. Front seats feature active head restraints to combat whiplash in rear impacts, and rear seats have two ISOFIX anchor points for child seats. Standard driver aids include ABS with electronic brake force distribution, and ESP and rear parking sensors can be specified from the options list.

New Magentis will be priced in a new segment. The outgoing model starts at £10,495, rising to £14,495. Expect the new car to start at £14,500 and top £18k for the 2.7-litre petrol. Williams warns dealers that they cannot rely on owners of the current car being an easy sale.

He wants them to steal customers from Škoda Octavia, Citroën C5 and Rover 75, and believes private-hire taxi firms and small fleets are a real opportunity.

“People tend to rubbish the taxi and private hire market but this is a very lucrative market for us with our Sedona MPV and we think it is an important one to expose Magentis to,” Williams adds.

Kia will court private hire with pre-launch previews and extended test loans. “The car is one of those that people won’t automatically have at the top of their shopping list so it has to be exposed to them.

“If they drive it and live with it, they will be delighted,” says Williams.

Behind the wheel

If customers stick with the standard manual transmission then both the petrol and turbodiesel four-cylinder cars make reasonable runabouts. Reasonable is certainly the word, though, as Magentis doesn’t justify good, and excellent is a long way off.

The Magentis is much improved in terms of styling and finish, but the driver won’t forget this is a medium saloon done on a budget. The ride is comfortable, but the handling is disconnected, and with a full compliment of passengers any of the engines will work hard.

Minor misalignment of dash panels in the CRDi we drove was put down to pre-production issues, to be rectified by launch. Let’s hope so, because if a customer has tried an Octavia, the Kia dealer will need some magic tricks to win the sale.

Strength: Value, space, comfort
Weaknesses: Soggy handling, lacklustre performance
Opportunity: Taxi use could build reputation for reliability
Threat: Higher price could drive customers elsewhere
USP: Magentis: the Korean for ‘executive’
Price: From £14,500 (estimate)
Engines: 2.0-litre petrol, 143bhp; 2.7-litre petrol, 186bhp; 2.0-litre CRDi turbodiesel, 139bhp (from July)
Transmission: Five- or six-speed manual, four- or five-speed auto
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.1-11.7 sec; top speed: 121-136mph
Efficiency: 30.7-47mpg 162-220g/kg CO2
Rivals: Škoda Octavia, Hyundai Sonata, Citroën C5

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