Now here's a thing. For the whole seven days and 900-odd miles of this test, I was absolutely convinced that I had only ever driven one previous example of the Kia Magentis. Subsequent research revealed, however, that I had actually driven three, and that two of them had obviously slipped my mind entirely. Knowing this, I'm surprised I was able to remember the current model long enough to be able to find it in a car park.
In my defence I should say that there are few reasons to keep the Magentis in the forefront of one's mind. After all, it's not as if this car is a common sight on our roads. A Kia spokesperson recently described Magentis sales to me as "pitiful", and a look at the precise figures confirms this: the car's most successful year in the last six has been 2005, when 1124 were shifted, and the total for 2007 and 2008 combined was just 444.
Part of the reason may be Kia's marketing of itself in this country as a manufacturer of small cars and SUVs. The Magentis, a medium-sized family saloon, is neither of these, so it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the range in the UK. But although it's by no means a great car - not even close - it's far better than the sales figures suggest.
The Magentis has had an odd history. When it was launched, it was available only with a 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine (which incidentally gave it a refined feel that led several journalists to consider it at the time as an inexpensive alternative to a proper luxury car), but this has since been deleted on the grounds that absolutely nobody wanted it. A two-litre petrol engine also came and went, and now the only power source you can have is the rather splendid 148bhp two-litre turbo diesel also fitted to several other Kias.
This engine is probably the best thing about the Magentis, which in most other respects is a reminder of the days when the main reason for buying any Kia was that it didn't involve spending much money.
Compared with everything else the Korean company produces, the Magentis looks and feels old and cheap, with downmarket interior plastics and a wobbly gearlever (and, in the case of the test car, a passenger door mirror whose electric adjustment had already given up the ghost) contributing to the generally gloomy atmosphere. Compared with other D-segment models - let's say the Ford Mondeo or the Mazda6 - it seems like a cracked fossil of some prehistoric invertebrate that even the keenest geologist can't get excited about.
But. Yet. However. The fact is that I have become rather fond of the Magentis. My initial impressions were not great, and at the start of this test I was prepared to grumble incessantly about the car. By the second day I'd realised I wasn't actually doing any grumbling, and thereafter I gradually came to the conclusion that I wouldn't mind if Kia forgot about this Magentis the way I had forgotten about the last two and left it with me for another few weeks.
Why? Well, for a start, after some recent tweaking by Kia's celebrated design chief Peter Schreyer, it actually looks quite good in an old-fashioned sort of way - certainly better than it did after its 2003 facelift, which was just appalling, and better too than the overly-chromed original.
The ride and handling, while nowhere near class-leading, are also an improvement over those of previous Magentises; there's a little too much bumpiness on some surfaces, but body movements are generally well controlled, and there is a certain amount of fun to be had on deserted country roads.
And then there's the space. Although the Magentis, as a saloon car, doesn't offer the same versatility as a hatchback, the boot has a capacity of 425 litres, and as with a hatch you can fold down one or both parts of the 60/40 split rear seat to take that figure up to 500 litres. There is also an enormous amount of space for rear passengers - when the driver's seat is set as far back as it will go there is still plenty of room for someone well over six feet tall to sit behind it.
Problems? Well, one of the selling-points of the Magentis back in the old days was that it didn't cost very much, but at £17,295 (or £1000 more for the four-speed automatic version, which I can't imagine to be very jolly) it does now. And it's not going to be especially cheap to run, with combined fuel economy of 47.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 158g/km - meaning annual VED payments of £150 now and £155 from April 2010. Other two-litre diesels of similar size can do significantly better than that.
All in all, the Magentis is a car I would find it difficult to recommend to anyone, but that doesn't alter the fact that I liked it a lot more than I expected to. Whether I will still be able to remember it a couple of months from now is a different question entirely.
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