The new Kia Optima is the Korean brand’s latest attack on the Japanese establishment. Not since the lack lustre Magentis has Kia had a large family saloon in its line-up, but with the all-new Optima they now have a weapon in their arsenal that is worthy of attention – and this is South Korea we’re dealing with, so there’s no chance of an embarrassing or failed launch.
The appointment of Peter Schreyer as Chief Design Officer has undoubtedly been Kia’s best strategic move in the last 6 years. As soon as the Bavarian designer came onboard in 2006, he made it his mission to rid Kia’s cars of their amorphous design and subsequently introduced the now famous ‘Tiger Nose’. The Optima is the latest example of Kia’s design language, which has been applied to one of its largest passenger cars yet and, on the whole, is a rather appealing result.
Apart from the obvious ‘nose’ referenced above, the Optima’s eye-catching character is supported by its low, wide and solid looking stance. Details that include LED daytime running lights, a streamlined profile with chrome highlight running from the A- to C-pillars, high shoulder line, as well as a rear-end that’s been carved away between the bumper and tail-lights, give the Optima a distinct and eye-catching presence. A sports style body kit is also standard fare compared to some overseas markets, which comprises of side sills, a boot spoiler and 18-inch wheels, although opinions are divided on the styling of the later. Click here to watch Peter Schreyer draw and explain the Optima’s design himself.
As we’ve come to expect with Kias of late, the interior is packed with luxury and convenience features and, in the case of the Optima, plenty of space too. Let’s start with the boot, which offers a generous 505-litres of space and, with the rear seats folded flat in a 60:40 split, is capable of squeezing in even more cargo. The rear seats are also generous in their accommodation, with ample space in all directions and in front, the driver and passenger will find a comfortable position thanks to electronically adjustable seats, which are also heated and cooled.
Undoubtedly spacious then, but how does it use it? The short answer is ‘well’. From a the driver’s point of view the Optima is ergonomic in its layout, with the centre console having been angled in his/her favour by 10 degrees. The rotary dials and switch gear are amicable and we’re certain Mr Schreyer’s previous experience at Audi helps in this regard too.
The luxury and convenience features mentioned earlier do much for Kia’s value for money appeal and with the Optima this includes: leather trim; dual-zone climate-control; a reversing camera with colour interior mirrors display; rear parking sensors; ambient lighting on the centre console and doors; woodgrain gearshift and door switch surrounds; six airbags; eight-speaker Infinity sound system with radio/CD/MP3-player, USB and Bluetooth connectivity; keyless entry and a panoramic sunroof as an option (add R10 000). The list goes on, but you get the point.
Initially only available with a 2.4-litre, 16-valve, 4-cylinder petrol engine, the Kia Optima offers enough power for its size and is on par with competitors in this respect. 132 kW and 231 Nm of torque is channeled through the front wheels via a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine and transmission work smoothly together and a sequential mode, as well as paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, allow the driver to take matters into his/her own hands when overtaking or wanting to use the available revs.
The Optima is based on the same chassis as the Hyundai Sonata, but changes to the suspension and steering give it a different driving experience. Where the Hyundai feels softer, more gentile, the Kia offers more solidity, is firmer and corners flatter. A big part of this is down to Kia Motors South Africa who have tuned the suspension for local roads and drivers, with a bias towards a sportier ride. A short launch route took us on a round trip starting in Ballito, KZN and showed the Optima as being comfortable and competent enough under relaxed driving conditions, although sharper imperfections were apparent in the car’s shuddery reaction over ripples or grates.
We’ll need more time with the car to deliver a final verdict on overall ride quality, as well as the steering, which on first impressions seems to respond a little too quickly and requires constant input to keep the car on the straight and narrow. Previous experience with Kia’s steering in their compact Picanto has shown that it is something to get used to, but remains far from endearing. We have more hope for the Optima, which feels a lot more thorough and substantial in its engineering, not forgetting that the Picanto was runner-up in this year’s SA Car of the Year awards.
The Optima enters a tough market place, but established competitors like the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat should be weary. Possibly the biggest rivalry, however, will be between the siblings themselves, with Hyundai’s Sonata being the closest match in more ways than one. One thing is for certain, it’s an exciting time at Kia, who are slowly but surely making good on their slogan, “The Power To Surprise”.
|Pricing||(incl. VAT and CO2 tax)|
|Kia Optima A/T||R305 995|
Pricing includes a 5-year/90 000 km service plan, 5-year/100 000 km warranty and 3-year roadside assistance plan.