From £18,945
The Kia Optima blends high equipment and high value in a roomy, fine-looking package, but manual diesel isn't always on the case

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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5 December 2011

What is it?

Shame about the bland name, shared with a now-obsolete clothes-washing liquid from Waitrose, because the Kia Optima deserves better. In Korea, where it was launched two years ago, it’s called K5, but the international branding feet went cold.

Anyway, this Mondeo-sized four-door – the wagon version, unwanted by the biggest markets of Korea and the US, won’t arrive till facelift time, if at all – is a handsome, striking machine with a fierce nose, deep flanks and a wedgy stance.

For the UK it comes with just one engine option, with both the petrol engine and two flavours of hybrid being denied to us. We get the 1.7-litre, 134bhp turbodiesel as used in the Hyundai i40, a car not as similar to the Optima under the skin as you might have expected. The Kia is longer, its greater wheelbase adding rear legroom; a closer relative is the US’s Hyundai i45.

This engine comes with a choice of six-speed gearboxes, a regular manual or a torque-converter auto with steering-wheel paddles for manual intervention.

What’s it like?

Asking a relatively small engine to pull nearly a tonne and a half of Optima with vigour could lead to disappointment, but it rises to the task with refinement and potentially excellent efficiency – just 128g/km CO2 for the manual with the standard EcoDynamics package, essentially a stop-start system.

The only snag with the manual is the enormous turbo lag when accelerating from low speeds, despite the variable-geometry turbo, prompting more downshifts than you'd normally expect in a torquey turbodiesel.

The auto masks this lag well, downshifting when needed and doing so smoothly even when you're pressing on. It's thirstier, though, as the 158g/km CO2 figure confirms. The auto comes with an electric parking brake, but we are delighted to report that the manual retains a normal handbrake to the great benefit of close-quarters manoeuvrability.

Electric power steering is becoming the norm in this class, but the Optima's system has quite a natural feel, credible weighting and a crisp on-centre response. This hefty car might not have quite the cornering bite of a Mondeo but it handles tidily, resisting understeer well and controlling its body movements in a fluent, unflustered way. The top model’s 18in wheels look great, but lesser-spec 16s or 17s would be better at soaking up sharp edges.

Trim levels are 1, 2 and 3 spanning a £20,000 to £25,000 price range, the last of these including full leather, a sat-nav with rather vague directions, a glass roof with two electric blinds, a self-parking system and much more. Even level 1 has most of what you’d reasonably need, and all versions have a handsome, well-finished interior free of cheap fittings and nasty textures. There’s lots of rear-seat space and a huge boot, while the driving position is easy to tailor with the top model’s multiple electric adjustment.

Not so clever is the automatic sliding-back of the driver’s seat, no doubt designed to benefit those of large girth. It means that those of small stature can’t easily depress the clutch, an action needed before the Optima will start. Nor will the heated steering wheel appeal to those prone to sweaty palms, and we’d have expected the glovebox’s opening action to be damped.

Should I buy one?

Fundamentally the Optima is an excellent effort fully able to compete with Europe’s best in the sector. A wider engine range would boost its appeal, though.

John Simister

Kia Optima 3 1.7D

Price: £24,000 (est); Top speed: 126mph; 0-62mph: 10.2sec; Economy: 57.6mpg (combined); CO2: 128g/km; Kerb weight: 1484kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1685cc, 16v, DI turbodiesel; Installation: front, transverse, FWD; Power: 134bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 239lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual (6-spd auto opt)

Join the debate

Comments
14

7 December 2011

Being a Kia, I would expect it to be cheaper, but then again, it does come across as a premium car. It looks very good, and I do have a soft spot for it.

7 December 2011

[quote Autocar]57.6mpg (combined); CO2: 128g/km; Kerb weight: 1484kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1685cc, 16v, DI turbodiesel; Installation: front, transverse, FWD; Power: 134bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 239lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual (6-spd auto opt)[/quote]

As soon as I first saw pics of this car I loved the styling, and I still do.

I was considering purchasing one in a year or 2 when 2nd hand ones are on the market. It was gonna be between this, an MG6 or a Seat of some sorts.

But the price and performance don't really meet my expectations. Sure, the kia's a larger car, but the MG6 Diesel (when it comes out) will most likely undercut this by about £3-4k and have almost as many toys.

Definately worth a test drive though. I have a feeling it will be similar to drive to the Saab 9-5 I drove earlier this year for some reason - big and soul-less.

7 December 2011

Looks like a nice big reliable car. The sort of thing Nissan gave up on ages ago.

[quote PRODIGY]


Definately worth a test drive though. I have a feeling it will be similar to drive to the Saab 9-5 I drove earlier this year for some reason - big and soul-less.

[/quote]

For some reason I can just imagine this Kia with a Saab 2-bar grille!...

7 December 2011

[quote Autocar]

What is it?

Shame about the bland name, shared with a now-obsolete clothes-washing liquid from Waitrose, because the Kia Optima deserves better. In Korea, where it was launched two years ago, it’s called K5, but the international branding feet went cold.


Anyway, this Mondeo-sized four-door – the wagon version, unwanted by the biggest markets of Korea and the US, won’t arrive till facelift time, if at all – is a handsome, striking machine with a fierce nose, deep flanks and a w...Read the full article

[/quote] I saw the concept version of this model in Seoul Airport 2 years back. It was awesome, and this isn't much different. Good luck Kia, I think you're showing the kind of design bravery that would suit the Jaguar brand. Well done.

7 December 2011

Good looking but slightly disappointing as Kia are still trying to purvey themselves as youthful and sporty and this 1.7 diesel lump seems to impart neither.

Fine, I appreciate they probably won't sell anything other than a diesel in this country but lets have something with a bit more pep please.

 

 

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

7 December 2011

It looks good (much better than the i40), and whilst a little more expensive than i would have expected its still a reasonable price when compared to the likes of the Focus and Civic, both of which will cost more for top models despite being much smaller.

Its a real shame there isnt an engine more likely to appeal to a private punter, or someone who enjoys driving. Actually the ideal engine would be a decent sized petrol six pot, but of course i am 10 years of date.

Its unfortunate Kia refuse to make anything remotely fun, its all very worthy i am sure, but of no interest to me

7 December 2011

Great styling, although Kia appears to suffer from the Skoda image/name problem. Man people overlook perfectly capable cars because of this.

8 December 2011

[quote ej03]Great styling, although Kia appears to suffer from the Skoda image/name problem. Man people overlook perfectly capable cars because of this.[/quote]

OK for woman people, though? :-)

Even if it had a Mazda or Toyota badge I'm sure many more people would consider it. +1 to the Saab badge comment above, too. Personally I love the styling and I'm not a brand snob. Provided it drove well enough I'd consider one as my business wheels.

8 December 2011

[quote Autocar]the manual retains a normal handbrake to the great benefit of close-quarters manoeuvrability.[/quote]

anyone care to elaborate?

8 December 2011

Personally I would much rather own the Vauxhall Astra 1.7D Exclusiv in the Autocar review on the home page at the same time. Seems to do everything the Kia can but better and has a £4K lower list price.

I suppose reasons to prefer the Kia may be reliability and dealers but that wouldn't be enough to sway me.

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