Kia has come a long way over the past few years -- but if you're still skeptical, you're not alone. Despite vastly improved products, the Korean upstart has yet to achieve widespread acceptance like Honda or Toyota.
But given that every model comes with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, there's really no reason not to take one for a test drive -- and there's a good chance you'll be pleasantly surprised. Here are a few that really stand out among their peers.
The first thing you'll notice about the Optima is that it's a strikingly styled car. Current Kia president Peter Schreyer was formerly the design chief at Audi, and his influence is clear in the Optima's crisp, Euro-trendy lines. But Kia's bread-and-butter family sedan is much more than just a pretty face. Under the hood, the base 2.4-liter engine pumps out 192 horsepower and gets close to 35 miles per gallon on the highway, while the optional 2.0-liter turbo ups the ante to 274 hp -- and still gives you a healthy 31 mpg. Inside, the dashboard design and materials are decidedly upscale for this segment, while backseat legroom is almost limo-worthy. Throw in Kia's usual value-packed pricing, and you've got one of the very best family sedans on the market.
The Soul entered its second generation for 2014, and that's a big deal, because it wouldn't have made this list the first time around. Funky styling has always been a pro for this little hatchback, but there were too many cons at first -- including a cheap-looking cabin and crude driving dynamics. The latest Soul was sent off to finishing school, however, and the results are astonishing. We now rank the Soul's interior materials and design on par with Volkswagen (that's high praise), and its ride is both smoother and quieter than before. Practically the only thing that didn't change much was the sedan's one-of-a-kind exterior, though even there the new model has more of a premium look than its predecessor. You'll be amazed by how much Soul you can get at a reasonable cost.
On the other end of the spectrum, the K900 is a full-size, rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan designed to compete with the cream of the crop, and it's a lot more convincing than we expected. Sharing many of its mechanical bits with the new-for-2015 Hyundai Genesis, the K900 goes down the road like the executive-express Mercedes-Benz S-Class, yet it's priced like the midsize E-Class. We're especially fond of the optional 420-hp V8, which turns the K900 into your own personal freight train when you punch the throttle. As for the cabin, it's the genuine article, from its sumptuous upholstery and top-notch technology features to its first-class rear compartment. It's not a stretch to think of the K900 as a Lexus LS 460 at a steep discount -- that's how highly we think of the brand's first true luxury car.
Kia was playing catch-up with established makes for many years, but the reality today is quite different. The company now offers competitive vehicles in practically every mainstream segment, and it's also gunning for deep-pocketed buyers with a legitimate luxury product. With its reinvention nearly complete, it's definitely time to reconsider what Kia brings to the table.