This is the newest version of the D-segment Optima. Tasked with competing against the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat, it must also tempt people away from the ever-popular crossover.
Saying that, Kia reckons plenty of people are still after a big saloon car. Its research suggests that 10 percent of new cars sold will still come from this category even a few years down the line. With that in mind, it’s a market share worth fighting for.
It would seem that revolution has become evolution for this new model. Up front is the familiar ‘tiger nose’ grille, albeit reshaped and with a little more chrome.
The headlights and bumper gain a bit more definition, while at the back the tail-lights are wider than before and now LED.
Cheap-feeling interior plastics and far too many buttons didn’t do the old car any favours, while on the move refinement and driving dynamics were below par.
With this in mind, Kia has increased the wheelbase by 10mm, the width by 25mm and the height by 10mm. The bodyshell is made with 50 percent more high-strength steel than before, while the use of structural adhesive is up by a whopping 450 percent.
This increases torsional rigidity by 50 percent, helping safety, refinement and handling. There are also different bushes for the cross members, an additional lower link for the rear suspension and plenty more soundproofing.
Under the bonnet, both the saloon and sportwagon use the familiar 1.7 CRDi turbodiesel, now with an additional 5bhp and 11Ib ft. More important, this twist is available 250rpm further down the rev range than before, at 1750rpm. For the first time there is also a hybrid version of the saloon powered by a 202bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine alongside an electric motor.
There’s also a smorgasbord of active safety features available, such as lane-keeping assist, an around-view monitor, active cruise control, auto braking, a rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.
Like the old model, it’s still a handsome saloon that offers bags of space inside. Unlike the old model, it now steers and rides with aplomb and feels much more like a quality item inside.
Sure, it’s no Passat, but with prices kicking off at less than £22,000, that’s not a surprise. Importantly, any solid, scratchy plastic is banished to areas you won’t often touch, and it at least looks decent enough.
The dashboard and door bits you do come into contact with are all pleasingly squishy, while buttons have a solid action when pressed. Only the knobs for the heater and stereo feel a tad flimsy.
The button count is most definitely down, although some controls around the gearlever aren’t the most intuitive. At least both 7.0in and 8.0in versions of the touchscreen infotainment system are easy enough to navigate and appear to be free from lag. Sat-nav is standard, while a 10-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo comes with the 8.0in system.
The seats both front and rear are comfortable whether they were covered in cloth or leather, the latter trim feeling like a decently thick and waxy hide. There’s plenty of seat adjustment for the driver, too, and even with a six-footer up front, leg room in the back is exceedingly generous.
On the equipment front there are three trims to choose from for both the saloon and sportswagon, with the PHEV getting its own trim.
Choose the entry-level 2 trimmed Optima and you will find 17in alloys, electric windows, heated and folding door mirrors, hill start assist and parking sensors on the outside, while inside there is dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, Bluetooth, DAB radio, cruise control and USB ports in the front and rear.
Upgrade a level and it will adorn your Optima with 18in alloys, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and steering wheel and Kia’s safety technology, while the range-topping GT-Line S equips the car with a sporty bodykit, dual exhaust, rear diffuser and adaptive LED headlights on the outside, and luxuries such as rear sunblinds, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, a 360-degree camera and wireless phone charger on the inside.
The PHEV saloon gets its own trim level which includes adaptive LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, cruise control and a faux leather upholstery, alongside Kia’s fully-loaded 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with 10-speaker Harman and Kardon stereo set-up.
Behind the wheel, you immediately notice the improved refinement of the diesel motor. You still get a bit of vibration through the floor, but there’s little to none coming through the controls.
Noise is also greatly reduced throughout the rev range; you do still hear it at higher crank speeds, but the tone is nowhere near as coarse as it is in other models using the same engine. Not only is it quieter but it also pulls meaningfully from as little as 1250rpm. It’s never brisk at 10.0sec to 62mph, but it is more than adequate almost all of the time.
There is an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is smooth in operation but does raise the 0-62mph sprint to around 11 seconds. It also increases CO2 emissions from 110g/km to 116g/km. Economy is 56mpg for the manual and 53.5mpg for the auto.
The suspension is still on the firm side, but this seems in keeping with the sporty saloon remit. Body control is good while roll is kept to a minimum. You do feel bumps through the cabin though, especially sharp-edged expansion joints.
The ride overall is fairly compliant, however, there is a niggly edge which leaves the Optima vulnerable to being caught out by an uneven surface.
The old car’s strengths remain but the low-rent cabin, industrial-sounding powerplant and questionable handling have been banished.
There’s no question that the interior is comfortable and pleasant, while it’s almost possible to get lost in the rear of the cabin. The thing that currently stops us from giving an outright recommendation is the ride. Too often a car that seems perfectly acceptable on European roads just can’t cope with what the UK can throw at it.
The Passat may be classier inside and the Mondeo dynamically superior, but the Optima seems a good all-rounder. There’s a lot to be said for the £1000 saving over the Ford - and a seven-year warranty, too.