It’s certainly classier inside. The new dashboard architecture is very pleasant indeed, providing a more premium feel with added satin trim and piano black inserts. An 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system dominates the top of the dash and is well positioned to stop the driver looking away from the road for too long. The screen does reflect onto the top of the windscreen at night, though, which can be distracting. Opting for the automatic gearbox introduces a stylish T-shaped gearlever.
There’s plenty of room in the front with lots of storage for keys, wallets and phones while the deep central bin offers space for much more. Four drinks and a pair of sunglasses will also find a home. Taller drivers will have plenty of head and shoulder room, too. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake while the eight-way electrically operated seats provide plenty of adjustment.
You can stretch out in the back because there’s plenty of leg and knee room and it's spacious enough for three adults. Taller passengers may need to take care getting in due to the curved door opening, and they may feel the pinch from the sloping roofline.
At the rear, there’s a large boot with a flat floor, although the boot opening is a little narrow due to the raked rear screen, which takes up the space where the boot lid would normally start. Under the boot floor is a space saving spare wheel.
The engine’s increased power certainly makes it easier to live with day-to-day. It pulls from low down in the rev range and has a large enough power band to avoid regular cog shifting. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and offers a feeling of mechanical solidity while promoting a relaxed approach to changing gears, which befits the general character of the car.
We’ve also tested the seven-speed automatic, which shifts gears smoothly but is often slow to react when a sudden burst of acceleration is required. The standard steering wheel mounted paddles are a bonus, though, and make things a little more responsive.
There is little to engage the keener driver, though, and while the Optima fundamentally handles well and has good grip, it’s never entertaining. The steering is the main culprit, feeling disconnected from the front wheels while mid-corner, there can be a sudden change in the steering resistance making it feel vague and inconsistent.
In a class where the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat offer excellent ride quality, the Optima fails to deliver. Unless you’re on the smoothest of surfaces, it will bob and rumble along, rarely becoming composed or settled. Road noise intrudes into the cabin and vibrations from the engine can be felt through the steering wheel, pedals and gear lever. At a motorway cruise, the engine is quiet, but it becomes noticeably raucous under anything other than gentle acceleration.