Kia admits that its previous offering in this class, the Magentis, never had the credibility to take the fight directly to these rivals, however, its confident the Optima has what it takes to succeed.
Whats it like to drive? When we drove the Optima abroad, we felt it was capable and likeable. Sadly, things arent so rosy on the scruffier road surfaces that you find in the UK.
The ride feels firm and unsettled at all speeds, which means that most journeys especially long ones are more of a chore than they should be.
Whats more, the Optimas cruising credentials are further undermined by the considerable road noise that enters its cabin.
Dont think that you get enjoyable handling to compensate, either. The Optima grips quite well in corners, and body control is reasonable, but youre robbed of any fun by the numb, slow steering.
All versions are powered by a rather rough-sounding 1.7-litre diesel engine, which produces 134bhp and 239lb ft of pull. It delivers lively performance when youre sitting between 2000rpm and 3500rpm, but feels decidedly flat if you stray outside of this narrow sweet spot.
Whats it like inside? This is where things start to look more positive. Theres loads of space upfront, and while rear headroom is no better than average, rear legroom is generous; a passenger can sit behind a tall driver with no danger of their knees touching the seat in front.
The Optimas 505-litre boot means theres lots of luggage space, too, which is just as well because the rear seat backrests lay at a steep angle when folded down.
Life is pretty good in the drivers seat thanks to the wide range of adjustment on offer. Meanwhile, the dashboard curves around you, so that all the controls are within easy reach.
As a bonus, the controls themselves are all big and easy to hit, although theres rather a lot of them and some could do with clearer markings.
More of an issue is the disappointing perceived quality. There are a few soft-touch panels on the dashboard, but elsewhere you find too many unappealing surfaces and rough edges.
The Optima is far from the plushest car in the class, then, but it does come with the reassurance of a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Should I buy one? The entry-level 1 model is quite temptingly priced at 19,595, and it comes with everything you need, including alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and stability control.
On the downside, Kia dealers arent usually generous with discounts, and were not yet sure how strong the Optimas resale values will be traditionally, big Kias have suffered from heavy depreciation.
As you progress further up the range, prices start to look less competitive, although these higher-spec versions do come stacked with kit.
Second-rung 2 models are available in two flavours both have climate control, part-leather upholstery, powered and heated seats and a reversing camera, but 2 Tech versions have a 12-speaker stereo with sat-nav, while 2 Luxe models swap those for various styling touches and a panoramic glass roof.
Range-topping 3 models get the lot, along with full leather trim and keyless entry.
All manual models also have a stop-start system, which helps towards average fuel economy of 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 128g/km. However, some key rivals have these figures beaten and, importantly, sit in lower company car tax bands.
The optional automatic gearbox is best avoided because average fuel economy falls to 47.1mpg, while emissions climb to a painful 158g/km.
The Optima provides sharp looks, lots of kit and plenty of space, then, but so do many rivals. To make matters worse for Kia, many of those rivals feel classier, are better to drive and will probably end up costing you less in the long run.
What Car? says