Kia, and the actual Optima I drove (if it had feelings, of course), will be delighted to know that I loved the Optima, so I have more than forgiven ‘that’ one for making me miss a junction. In my view, the Kia Optima looks pretty darn good indeed. Other folk seem to appreciate the Optima’s design too, as I got plenty of double-takes during my week with it.
It’s a large car, make no bones about it – which is likely one of the reasons why my eye latched onto the infamous one that evening. Kia’s family ‘tiger nose’ grille is inevitably present and I think it looks at its very best on the Optima. The wide, imposing face, complete with its front LED DRLs (daytime running lights), easily makes it stand out from the crowd in a very positive way. It makes many of the ubiquitous ‘Euro boxes’ look very plain in comparison. One fellow I spoke to in the industry even said the Optima’s front has a bit of Aston Martin about it!
Moving round the car, its side profile is majestic and elegant, in a limo-like way, and I think it has a strong whiff of Lexus IS, LS and new Jaguar XJ about it, particularly as you follow the lines of the car round to the rear corners. Its actual length is 4,845mm, ever so slightly shorter than the Mondeo’s for example, which is 4,882mm, and slightly longer than the Skoda Superb which is 4,838mm. The design of its back-end isn’t the most ingeniously refreshing in the world, but it completes the overall package nicely and certainly looks smart, also fitted with LEDs. The BMW M-car-like side vents are gorgeous and the 17” alloys and Graphite Grey paint job finished this test car off nicely. I really would be proud to own one based on its exterior styling.
The Kia Optima has proved a tremendous, runaway success in Korea where it became the top-selling car, and also in the massive American market. Even the Germans lapped up the Optima, naming it the ‘Best of the Best’ in a 2011 design competition! Kia’s (ex Audi, incidentally!) Chief Design Officer reckons that the Optima’s “clean, stylish and uncomplicated design” is like a “fine Italian suit”. The previous large saloon from Kia was the Magentis (most people will forgive you for not being familiar with the name!). Kia desperately needed a large saloon to compete in the all-important D-segment, especially appealing to business customers. And with the longer, lower, wider and almost coupe-like Optima, with its high shoulders, sportily-shaped C-pillar, flared arches and muscular front-end, I think they’ve produced a very good effort indeed. The Mondeo and Insignia have dominated the mid-to-high-priced D-segment for a good few years and the latest Volkswagen Passat was designed to be ever-more luxurious. But I think the Optima looks every bit as good as these three saloons and for me personally, although it’s a close contest, I would buy the Optima ahead of the others if the decision was based on looks alone. The only exception may be when it comes to the Skoda Superb saloon, which I’ve always had a real respect for design-wise.
An Optimal interior to match?
So what about the interior – does it follow the exterior’s impressiveness or fall short somehow? The door handle is the first thing that gets touched on any car and the Optima’s passed the solidity test with a nice clunk.
The front seats are large and comfortable affairs, this particular spec’ car being fitted with part-leather, part-cloth seats which work really well. They’re just right in terms of comfort, quality and grip. From the driver’s seat, the Optima feels cavernous, with plenty of leg room for taller drivers, a large, airy feeling and a sweeping dashboard.
Kia have tried to make the Optima driver-focused by angling the central console towards the driver – and it works. It’s not dissimilar to the approach of some Saab dashboards from the last decade, the Optima’s being tilted 9.6 degrees towards the driver, with all the major controls within easy reach. The layout is ergonomically very good and the cockpit has a very modern but tasteful feel to it, complete with a large 7” touchscreen TFT display for the sat nav, audio, Bluetooth telephone and reversing camera, along with a 3.5” TFT display (Kia call it the Supervision) for the trip computer and other information.
The ‘2 Tech’ model I was testing for the week was started using a traditional key and Kia have really gone to impressive lengths in incorporating all kinds of ‘welcome’ and ‘goodbye – see you again soon!’ messages into the computer display. Okay, perhaps they’re a bit of a gimmick, but I thought they were a nice touch. I love the way the red needles fade into black when you turn the engine off, and the Optima gives you all kinds of helpful warnings, even telling you when you’ve parked with the wheels at a significant angle. And I know it’s not exactly rocket science, but Kia have highlighted 30mph on the odometer in all their cars, which I find useful in ubiquitous 30 zones.
The manual guise Optima is fitted with a conventional handbrake, which was a bit on the cheap, plasticy side and was like a limp lettuce some of the time, causing a few issues on steep inclines. Incidentally, I’m not the only one who was slightly confused by the handbrake being positioned on the passenger side, feeling somewhat unnatural for the driver. The steering wheel and gear lever could also do with their quality being upped a notch, to really reinforce the Optima’s premium intentions. And the use of both chrome-finish and wood grain finish interior trims may not appeal to all tastes, but these are only minor flaws in an otherwise very good interior.
But moving back onto a positive note, the sat nav worked very well, my Samsung paired to the Bluetooth immediately with no fuss, the reverse camera isn’t exactly a rare feature in modern cars these days but was very welcome in the Optima too as it’s a long car, and the Optima is filled to the brim with heated front seats (the driver’s being 8-way electrically adjustable), dual automatic air conditioning, voice activation, cruise and speed limiter controls and electric folding mirrors. The driver’s seat automatically slides back when you take the key out of the ignition, which some drivers may find annoying but I lived with it perfectly well.
And the piece de resistance is the premium 12-speaker, 550W Infinity (not to be mistaken for Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti) sound system, which is absolutely wonderful! The Infinity system is produced by part of the Harman group, who have for many years developed exceptionally high quality car audio systems for manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, under the Harman / Kardon brand. No less than 11 channels, a very advanced Digital Signal Processor and 12 thoughtfully-positioned speakers come together to provide an aural experience acoustically tailored and tweaked specially for the Optima’s own interior. There’s a mid-range speaker in the centre of the dashboard, two mid-range and tweeter speakers in the corners of the dash, a woofer positioned beside each front and rear occupant and a subwoofer mounted on the parcel shelf. The resulting sound quality is extremely impressive, enough to have kept me sat in the car for 15 minutes after returning home one day, purely listening to the demonstration CD supplied by Infinity! Even with the volume cranked up to the max’, the bass reproduction is very, very good, as are the other frequencies – and you can really notice the effectiveness of each and every one of the 12 speakers used. Only potential buyers with unusually sensitive hearing will be able to tell this apart from a Mark Levinson (as used in Lexus) or Dynaudio (Volvo) audio system, in my view.
Incidentally, when I tweeted a ‘Guess the review car?’ picture of the Kia’s front door card and speaker, most guesses which came back were for a Lexus!
In the back, headroom and shoulder room are very good despite the Optima’s swooping, coupe-like rear design. Legroom was pretty good, but somehow didn’t feel quite as plentiful as in some other cars such as the Skoda Superb. Although not as big as the Tardis-like Skoda Superb hatch with 565 litres, the Kia Optima’s boot is nicely spacious on paper, providing a generally impressive 505 litres of luggage-carrying capacity. This is slightly more than the Insignia saloon, so is overall a large boot but by no means class-leading.
The aperture is nice and wide, making it easier to load wider items in, and the lip doesn’t hinder things too much. For me personally, the boot did look a bit dark and very deep, the latter being a good thing in terms of available space of course – but it did make me feel like I had to stretch forwards more than in many other cars, in order to position items at the back. The other slightly negative thing about the boot is that my eyes were drawn to the exposed bottoms of the speakers along with the wiring, which looked a bit ugly and unfinished to me. And I know no cars like the Optima would ever try to emulate the Volkswagen Phaeton’s revered machined boot hinges, but the tubing running up the Optima’s could have been hidden, perhaps, to make it neater. The rear seats fold 60:40 to open up the available luggage space further. Kia haven’t quoted the ‘seats folded’ space in litres and I didn’t have time to scientifically measure it – sorry!
Overall, then, the Optima’s interior is a very good match for its striking exterior, marred only by some slightly naff plastics and a few areas in which the fit and finish could have been better.
Out on the road
The Kia Optima is currently only available with one engine, a 1.7 CRDi diesel unit, producing 134bhp at 4,000rpm and 239lb ft of torque. It’s a stop-start engine, as manual versions of the Optima all use Kia’sEcoDynamics technology to save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions. If you’re thinking that the Optima’s 1.7Stop & Go diesel engine can’t be up to much, you’re wrong. Okay, there’s noticeable turbo lag and a bit of expected diesel clatter when you really push it in the first couple of gears, but once you move up the gears,the Kia’s engine belies its small capacity and performs very impressively. Around town, on winding A-roads and especially on motorways where Optima buyers will likely spend a large chunk of their time, I really enjoyed the Optima’s performance, which never really struck me as lacking at any point.
The 1.7 CRDi engine is relatively quiet for a diesel on startup and even from cold I felt it compared favourably to many rivals’ powerplants in terms of refinement. Engine noise is very hushed from inside the car, owing to the Optima’s excellent soundproofing, so it should be more than capable of munching its way through regular, long motorway journeys. Cruising along on the motorway listening to the excellent Infinity sound system in a generally very quiet cabin makes for a pleasant experience. Look down at the trip computer and the experience becomes more pleasurable still, when you see what economy you’re achieving. Kia quote the Optima as being able to achieve 57.6mpg combined and I managed to come close to that with 55mpg. For such a large car, this is impressive. Admittedly I had to drive fairly prudently to achieve this, though. But even when pushing the Optima hard and driving with a very ungraceful right foot, I still achieved an average of 46mpg. Performance wise, it can take you up to 60mph in 10.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 125mph.
The steering is quite light, but still capably responsive, tucking into corners quite well when demanded of it. There’s a slight bit of understeer and the front wheels can occasionally lose grip if pushed hard on twisty roads, but the chassis and handling seem very decent overall too, considering that the Optima is targeted at fleet buyers, not B-road stormers. Manoeuvrability is good thanks to what felt like a decent turning circle, along with the reversing camera. I just found that visibility was impaired slightly by the steeply angled C-pillar haunches. Riding on 17” alloys nevertheless resulted in a generally pretty smooth ride, the Optima handling poor surfaces quite well. So despite not setting the world alight with sports-car-like handling, the Optima handles well for a business-oriented D-segment offering. The gearbox was nice to operate and not at all notchy and the brakes seemed good too, as I proved on a winding country road where I needed to brake sharply to avoid hitting a pheasant (phew, I remembered to spell it with an ‘h’ in it!).
The Optima’s target customers will be interested in its most important green stat’, which is 128g/km of CO2 emissions from the 6-speed manual gearbox version. VED puts the Optima in Band D costing £95 in year two, insurance is group 17 and Benefits in Kind for business taxation is 18%. Compared to previous Kia models in this class, like the Magentis, these stats are impressive. By comparison, the 160bhp version of the Ford Mondeo ECOnetic 1.6 I drove for a week at the end of 2001 has BIK of 19% and CO2 emissions of 149g/km CO2. The Passat Bluemotion and the Peugeot 508 1.6 HDi both score better when it comes to BIK and CO2, but the Optima holds its head up high nonetheless. Reliability should prove to be very good, too, as the Optima has more than proved itself in the US and Asian markets. Kia are selling it with their usual 7-year warranty in the UK, to complete your peace of mind.
With a price tag of £21,695, this ‘2’ Tech specification Kia Optima is well priced, considering the huge amount of kit it packs in, with a very decent overall ride quality and good economy thrown into the package. If you want a company or private saloon car which turns a few heads, impresses on many different levels and leaves your wallet quite happy at the end of the day, then the Kia Optima is highly recommended to place on your shortlist, even with its single engine choice. If you want a tiny bit more luxury such as a panoramic sunroof, automatic parallel parking assist, 18” alloys and full leather, choose the Optima ‘3’ at £24,495. I’m fussy when it comes to saloons, but was left with nothing but impressive memories of the Optima.
© Oliver Hammond
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant
Specification of Kia Optima ‘2’ Tech tested
Engine: 1.7 litre (1,685cc) common-rail high-pressure fuel injection diesel with variable geometry turbocharger
Max Speed: 125mph
0-60mph 10.2 seconds
Max Torque: 325Nm @ 2,000 (Nm/rpm)
Quoted MPG: 49.6 Urban, 64.2 extra urban, 57.6 combined
Emissions: 128g/KM CO2
VED Band: D
Insurance Group: 17
BIK Taxation: 18%
Length: 4,845mm, Width: 1,830mm, Height: 1,455mm, Wheelbase: 2,795mm
Luggage capacity: 505 litres with seats up
Max Tow Weight: 1,300kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 70 litres
Chrome front grille surround
Body coloured exterior door handles
Body coloured exterior mirrors and side mouldings
Black high gloss chrome front side fender garnish
Chrome door moulding
Chrome tip exhaust
UV reducing solar glass
Dual projection headlights
Headlight levelling device
Automatic headlight control
Welcome and follow-me-home light functionality
LED daytime running lights
Front and rear fog lights
Black cloth & artificial leather upholstery
Sliding & reclining front seats
8-way adjustable driver’s memory seat
Front heated seats
Tilt & telescopic steering wheel alignment
Leather trimmed steering wheel and gearshift
Wood grain electric window switch panels
Wood grain centre console trim
Artificial leather centre console armrest
Metallic finish centre fascia surround
Chrome finish interior door handles
Dual automatic air conditioning
Automatic defog system
Steering wheel mounted controls
All-round electric windows
Auto dimming rear view mirror
Cruise control and speed limiter
Remote central door locking with fold-away key
Infinity premium surround system with 12 speakers
RDS Radio/CD audio with MP3 compatibility
Shark fin antenna
USB & AUX Ports
7” touchscreen sat nav system with European mapping
Alarm system & engine immobiliser
Drill protector locks
Interior door lock/unlock
Child safety rear door locks
Speed sensing auto door locking
Locking wheel nuts
Twin front airbags
Twin side airbags
Height adjustable headrests
Front active headrests
Seatbelt reminder warning
ISOFIX child seat top tether and anchor fixings
All-round 3-point seatbelts
7-year/100,000 mile warranty (3 years/unlimited mileage)
12 year anti-perforation warranty
7 year manufacturer paint warranty
KIAssist road side assistance (1 year)