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.