Kia has upped its game considerably over the past few years, in both the design and engineering quality of its products, and recent Kia models have earned much greater respect than the cheap-and-cheerful cut-price Kias of old. Yes, in the case of the Kia Optima, you can be forgiven for dismissing the new mid-size sedan as a repackaged Sonata, in which there is more than a little truth, but here’s a bigger one, the Kia Optima is better.
It’s unlikely that you need to be reminded of the now famous ‘Tiger Nose’ grille which adorns every modern-day Kia. Fortunately, the designers haven’t stopped there because the Optima is eye-catching from every angle. The Optima sits low on the road, with a wide stance, deep bumpers and side sills that give the car a ‘pumped-up’, sporty look. Adding further visual appeal are the LED daytime running lights, and of course the streamlined profile with chrome highlight running from the A- to C-pillars. The verdict is still out on the styling of the 18-inch alloy wheels, however, which look a little too ‘bling’ and as if Kia may have been trying a little too hard.
While the exterior may well grab your attention and turn the heads of other road users too, it’s the interior and all that comes with it, where the Kia stands out. From the moment the doors close with a good quality thud, you can’t miss the improved levels of refinement, generous space and many storage spots, including a generous 505-litre boot. Soft-touch plastics and imitation wood inlays on the door handles and around the gear selector, make for nice touches. The leather and cloth combination trim is also of reasonable quality and the front seats are electronically adjustable (8-way for the driver and 4-way for the passenger), as well as offering heating and cooling functions.
In-Car Entertainment comes in the form of an eight-speaker sound system with radio/CD/MP3-player that offers good sound quality and is easily paired with your external music device via, USB, Bluetooth or a cable included for your Apple device. The list of luxury and convenience features is impressive to say the least, with some of the stand-out items including: a reversing camera with image display on the interior mirror; anti-dazzle rear view mirror; rear parking sensors; six airbags; keyless entry; cooled glove box; and a panoramic sunroof as an option (add R10 000).
The xenon headlights make for a clear view of the road ahead at night, while the white backlit details of the drivers instruments are always easy on the eye. The only obvious reservation of the interior is that the driver’s tends to rest against the hard edge of the centre console, which could prove a niggle for some. Overall, however, the Optima offers a luxurious and comprehensively equipped cabin that, while not yet up to the levels of quality materials used in more expensive rivals, is built above expectation, with low NVH levels as added proof.
Overseas markets offer the Kia Optima with a choice of three engines – a bi-turbo diesel, a turbocharged petrol and the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre, inline, 4-cylinder petrol model we have in South Africa. Kia SA say they are already testing some of these engines locally, but don’t have an estimated time of introduction at this stage. For now though, the 2.4-litre engine goes head-to-head against similarly powered rivals like the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Suzuki Kizashi.
With 132 kW at 6 000 r/min and 231 Nm of torque at 4 000 r/min, the Optima has adequate power for its size, but you’ll need to work the 6-speed automatic transmission if you’re in a hurry. The engine and transmission work smoothly together and a sequential mode, as well as paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, allow the driver to dictate the desired gear. Over 340 km of mixed driving conditions, the Optima averaged 10 L/100km and while Kia claim an average of 8.7 L/100km, this real world figure is acceptable. Although Kia claim a top speed of 210 km/h, the Optima isn’t a car that likes to be hurried along. While the transmission may be smooth most of the time, it certainly doesn’t keep up with the rate of change required to quickly navigate a mountain pass. The steering doesn’t enjoy enthusiastic driving either, as it remains too light at higher speeds at which point more kickback becomes evident too. That being said, the Optima isn’t designed to be a sports saloon and, driving at more sedate speeds, it becomes evident that Kia have improved the steering markedly in terms of its linear response and over zealous self-centering tendencies.
In terms of ride and handling, well it’s already clear that the Optima isn’t one for spirited driving, but fortunately it does cruise with pleasing levels of comfort. Despite the engine being quite vocal when spinning at higher revs, the NVH levels are good, with no creaks, rattles or excess wind noise to speak of. The multi-link suspension does a fair job of absorbing road imperfections, but the sharper edges can be felt on occasion. As mentioned, Kia seem to have improved the steering and it’s now a more consistent experience that’s not too over-assisted.
While none of the Kia Optima’s attributes are particularly striking in their own right – apart from the styling – the synergy of the car is. It looks good, it has enough power, cruises comfortably and offers a generous amount of space. Then there’s the list of standard equipment that leaves you wanting for nothing and is usually the preserve of far pricier metal. It’s won’t scare any of the premium brands in terms of quality materials and ultimate tactile qualities, but at the same time Kia have come of age in terms of substance. Their pricing, however, is still as good as it’s always been – at R315 000 (with optional panoramic sunroof) few can match the Optima on value.
What we like…
- Keen pricing.
- Styling and interior space.
- Packed full of kit.
What we would like…
- The foot-operated system is a nuisance – give us a conventional parking brake, or electronically operated one.
- To turn off the ringtone-like welcome sound when you start the car – it gets tedious.
|Base Price||R305 000|
|Warranty||5 year / 100 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||2 359 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||132 kW @ 6 000 r/min|
|Torque||231 N.m @ 4 000 r/min|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 9.5 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||210 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||8.7 l/100km (claimed combined)|
|CO2 Emissions||207 g/km|