From £18,945
Handsome, spacious, well-priced Kia Optima is easily good enough to measure up – in the right spec

Our Verdict

Kia Optima

The Kia Optima has looks, practicality and value on its side. But in a class of talented models, it is an also-ran.

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What is it?

The Kia Optima family saloon, which launches in the UK next month. And it’s an ominous sign for this Korean car-maker’s key European rivals. Kia now has attractive, credible, well-priced models on offer in all of Europe’s main new car market segments, in Picanto, Rio, Cee’d and new Optima – three out of four of which are only twelve months old or younger.

What’s it like?

The Optima continues Kia’s rich vein of form. After a morning test-driving right-hand drive versions in rural Hampshire, it’s clear that this family saloon has athletic and well-rounded handling that’s entirely compatible with British roads, as well as good-mannered refinement to match its apparent practicality, decent material quality and assertive good looks.

Although there’s only one engine on offer for UK buyers, there are several model trims – and, on the evidence of our early testing, you’ll be rewarded for picking the right one.

The engine is Hyundai-Kia’s 134bhp 1.7-litre turbodiesel. It suffers with the same poor low-rpm throttle response that we identified in the Hyundai i40 Tourer. That much can be expected, considering the smaller-than-normal swept capacity. Largely forgiven, too, on account of the real world fuel economy the Optima returns (better than 45mpg on a mixed route), and the engine’s quiet, smooth, torquey and more responsive performance above 2000rpm. This is an engine you quickly learn to keep on a gentle rolling simmer when brisk progress is called for. That’s also no chore using the substantial, staccato gearshift.

In the way in which it rides and handles, the Optima slots in at the more sporting end of the D-segment spectrum, alongside the Ford Mondeo, Mazda 6 and Peugeot 508. It rides with an abiding impression of taut vertical body control, and handles with keen responsiveness to the steering wheel, very little body roll and a well-judged balance of lateral grip from the front and rear axles that includes very little understeer. There’s a core competence in quiet shock absorption and a certain amount of longer-wave bump compliance in the car’s dynamic makeup, too – although other saloons in the class offer a more comfortable motorway gait. Still, the handling and ride compromise that Kia has struck will be an alluring one for those who like to feel connected to the road and engaged by the driving experience of their everyday family four-door.

It matters which version of the Optima you plump for. The trim levels start with a sub-£20k ‘1’ model with air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control as standard. Two identically priced mid-spec editions will make up the bulk of fleet sales – ‘2 Luxe’ and ‘2 Tech’ – and we’d recommend the latter for several reasons. ‘2 Tech’ spec does without Kia’s panoramic sunroof, which otherwise eats into an allotment of interior headroom that is moderately scarce by class standards anyway. ‘2 Tech’ spec also gets Kia’s excellent Infinity audio system and touchscreen sat nav as standard.

More crucially, ‘2 Tech’ gets smaller alloy wheels than the ‘2 Luxe’ version, fitted with slightly chubbier Hankook rather than lower-profile Nexen tyres, on which the Optima rides, handles and steers in noticeably more fluent, precise and highly developed fashion. On the wider 18in alloys and Nexen tyres, the ‘2 Luxe’ Optima steers with unwelcome weight and compromised smoothness and accuracy. The car’s ride is also slightly more noisy and unsettled on the larger alloys.

Should I buy one?

If you don’t, you should certainly have a damned good reason. Equipped with care, this Optima is an undeniable equal of some of Europe’s long-established, highly accomplished saloons. With sporting handling, distinctive styling and abundant value for money on the Kia’s side, in fact, it’s not difficult to imagine the open-minded giving up a VW Passat, Vauxhall Insignia or Ford Mondeo for one. Not difficult at all.

Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi 2 Tech

Price: £21,695; Top speed: 125mph; 0-60mph: 10.2sec; Economy: 57.6mpg; Co2: 128g/km; Kerbweight: 1559kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1685cc, turbodiesel; Power: 134bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 239lb ft at 2000-2500rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Comments
36

11 January 2012

there is so much to like about this car, so please Kia, can we have one with a nice engine too?

I know the majority of sales will be to the fleets, but there are those of us who still buy cars with our own money, and buy cars we actually like ratehr than what costs the least tax.

I also wonder how much discount is available. A quick look at autoebid shows a diesel mondeo can be had for £15K, so unless they are going to discount hugely, it might also end up looking very expensive. That will be a turn up for a Korean car.

11 January 2012

Impressed, very impressed.

I must admit, I didn't think it was going to review as well as it did considering the initial drive reports I'd read. The real surprise has to be the ride and handling and it's positive comparison to cars like the Mondeo and Mazda 6.

The only shame now is engine choice is so limited but I sincerely hope Kia will look at remedying this.

Great looking exterior, almost Saabesque interior, this car is more desirable than it's i40 sibling.

Now, if they could fit the rumoured 200bhp petrol engine that is supposed to be finding it's way in to other Kia models......

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

11 January 2012

Not sure about KIA at the moment. As every new model is released they seem to slip further off my radar.

In there desire to match the europeans the have become invisible and with the pricing now matching the opposition I am not really sure why you would want one over a more established rival.

This happened with Toyota in the 90`s, they take a big leap forward but keep value pricing over a generation to ensure sales, then pricing goes up and the cars talents stay pretty much on par with the opposition, desirability drops as a result.

And a 7 years warranty is a nonsense, drop 2 years and bring breakdown cover uo to 3 years, much more useful.

DKW

11 January 2012

I'd like to have been told about the higher spec versions as well, but perhaps I need to cough up for the magazine to read about that. No info on Kia's website yet. It's true they are no longer significantly cheaper than European models once discounts are factored - it's a mark of Kia's confidence that they see themselves as a respected brand.

11 January 2012

[quote TegTypeR]Now, if they could fit the rumoured 200bhp petrol engine that is supposed to be finding it's way in to other Kia models[/quote]

That would be ideal

11 January 2012

needs a petrol engine - then i would look - no interest to me as i do 5000 odd miles a year so diesel is out of the question!

Yep the 200bhp one would interest me for sure.

11 January 2012

Positive result of a car in a market sector Renault are about to leave behind when they drop the Laguna.

Will the South Korean built Samsung SM5/Renault Latitude be sold in its place when Renault wake up?

11 January 2012

The main problem with Kia (and Hyundai) is the inflexibility of their trim options - "if you want this, you get that". Probably done for economy of scale, but you have to compromise considerably to get some desired options.

11 January 2012

[quote sierra]

The main problem with Kia (and Hyundai) is the inflexibility of their trim options - "if you want this, you get that". Probably done for economy of scale, but you have to compromise considerably to get some desired options.

[/quote] Yes, like that hideous 80s 2-tone leather. This looks just like a Datsun 160B to me.

11 January 2012

[quote Autocar]

The Kia Optima family saloon, which launches in the UK next month. And it’s an ominous sign for this Korean car-maker’s key European rivals. Kia now has attractive, credible, well-priced models on offer in all of Europe’s main new car market segments

[/quote] What did I predict would happen to the next generation of Korean cars, two years ago? They have caught up faster than I anticipated. All they have to do now is to offer a similar range of engines, specifications and colours as the mainstream European or American makers and Kia and Hyundai will be almost untouchable, although I anticipate price rises in the near future.

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