Kia puts driving fun at the heart of its future cars
THE first plank in the South Korean company's plan for overhauling the established mainstream brands which have long been popular with European customers - Ford, Vauxhall, Renault, Volkswagen and the like - was to infuse its cars with some design flair.
The previous Sportage - a Range Rover Evoque for the masses - and the Ceed family hatchback are examples of this design-led approach.
There is an impressive consistency to the Kia 'look', more akin to the studied approach that premium brands like BMW and Audi have cultivated, and while there have been one or two missteps along the way - the latest Sportage's unhappy visage being an example - the company's products are generally among the most handsome in their class.
The cars are also well built, as the company's seven-year warranty attests, and while they are no longer cheap-as-chips, Kia's offerings are sensibly priced and offer value-for-money.
If the design and quality is top-notch, engine and gearbox technology is an area in which Kia, along with its Hyundai sister, once lagged behind.
But double-clutch gearboxes, downsized three-cylinder engines and plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles are now all part of the Kia arsenal, and while some of its remaining petrol and diesel engines can't be called class-leading, there is a clear direction of travel which suggests they will get there sooner rather than later.
Thus far elusive in Kia's metamorphosis has been the fun-to-drive factor. The Proceed GT 'warm' hatch was an effective statement of intent but injecting sporty dynamics into lesser models has proved more difficult.
That, too, is changing. Kia - with Hyundai - poached Albert Biermann, the engineering wizard behind BMW's hallowed M cars, in 2015 and the first fruits of his involvement in making a Kia the sort of car that an enthusiast driver would choose, as well as credible performance models, will be filtering in to showrooms soon.
For Kia, the Stinger GT will represent year zero in the Biermann revolution, while Hyundai's first offering will be the upcoming i30 N hot hatch.
That means the recently heavily revised Optima saloon and new Sportswagon estate are transition cars, a bridge between the recent past when a Kia was usually dull to drive and a brighter future when you will choose one because it is good fun to drive.