I CAN’T help but marvel at Kia. It doesn’t seem long ago that the Korean firm was peddling iffy and impossibly hatchbacks, almost becoming the next Skoda as the butt of many automotive jokes.

But in much the same way Skoda transformed its tattered reputation at the hands of German guidance, Kia has spent the last decade or so trying to convince everyone it is a serious car company with the capacity to make some pretty good cars.

The current Sportage, for example, is great. The Picanto is one of my favourite small cars and I’ve always had a soft spot for its Optima estate.

But the latest car to come from Kia is a sports saloon. In top-of-the-range GTS guise it has the power of a Porsche, the practicality of a Mercedes, the comfort of a Jaguar and the looks of a Maserati.

It also, and this is the really amazing bit, has the handling prowess of a BMW M3. I kid you not. The guy who polished the Stinger’s road manners used to fettle sports saloon royalty for the Bavarians.

So this isn’t a case of Kia trying to walk before it can run. This is a case of Kia saying: “Look, we’re serious now. We don’t just make cars for old people any more, we can churn out a sports saloon worth getting excited about.”

And it is exciting, the Stinger. Even in diesel guise it looks and feels fabulous. I’m not sure about the wrap-around lights or the fake bonnet vents but every other detail is spot on.

The interior is also brilliant. The driving position leaves you in no doubt that you’re about to drive something that’s been properly thought through and, although the ride is almost surprisingly comfy, it really does handle like a sports car.

Even the name is cool – not something Kia is always good at. Kia Pro_Cee’d? Stonic? Soul? Not a great history of names, but “Stinger” is awesome and tells you all you need to know about the newcomer.

So, are you ready to spend (wait for it) £40,000 on a Kia? Well, fair’s fair, you don’t have to. There’s some more basic petrol versions available and a diesel and they’re all really nice cars. But there’s a 365bhp V6 available here with an eight-speed gearbox and handling that you simply won’t believe. So the fruity version is by far the pick of the bunch. Unsurprisingly.

That said, because it’s a Kia even the basic ones are loaded with standard equipment, all come with the usual seven-year warranty, a huge dealer network and residuals look promising.

One thing is does lack, however, is credibility. And that’s its biggest weakness.

There are other problems – the back window is too small, the gearbox is a bit dapsy and the tail-happy handling won’t be to everyone’s taste – but the fact it’s a Kia will be its most obvious downside.

However, as I’ve already tried to illustrate, there’s no shame in buying a Kia now. Cynics will wheel out the usual “yeah, but what happens when someone asks you what you’re driving?” quandry but I personally would feel no shame in telling someone I drove a Kia. It’s not the firm it once was.

Besides, you could simply tell them you drive a “Stinger”. And, take it from me, that will spark interest from even the most skeptical petrolhead.

Honestly, during the week I spent with a top-of-the-range GTS a few people asked me what I was testing at the moment and all of them were fascinated to hear more about it.

Those who saw me in the car made a bee-line for it as I was getting in or out and launched a similar inquisition.

Throughout all this, only one person was bold enough to say “yeah, but it’s a Kia”. (He drives a BMW incidentally).

So I simply scoffed at him, told him how impressed I was and, as I was winding up my window, I knocked it into Sport+ nutter mode and peppered him in grit during a perfectly executed powerslide.

Irresponsible? Yes. Enjoyable? Of course. Enough to convince a BMW fan that Kia is worth taking seriously? Probably not. But if you’re not sold, pop to a dealership and have a go in one. I promise you you’ll be amazed. I certainly was.