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Handsome 5-series sized exec confirms Kia's status as builder of some of the best-looking cars going

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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Steve Cropley Autocar
18 November 2010

What is it?

Until recently, car makers worried by aggressive attacks on their export sales by the Koreans, especially Hyundai and Kia, could fall back on the 'ugly' defence. Sure, the Asian creations are reliable and affordable, they'd loftily assert, but who wants a car that looks like that?

The new Kia Optima saloon, new in the US and due in the UK next July, destroys that defence completely. Like most of the latest Kias, it's very handsome. I suspect that if you parked this Optima beside a BMW 5-series (a genuine competitor in size and quality) many fair-minded people – perhaps a majority – would say the Kia looked better and classier. And we're talking here about a car whose predecessor had a starting price of around £17,000, and which when it arrives won't go far into the £20,000s.

See pics of the Kia Optima in action

Kia's abrupt transition began at the beginning of the decade, but has come about mostly since the arrival of ex-Audi design chief Peter Schreyer, who has surrounded himself with multicultural talent.

So dominant is the styling of this new Optima that you're apt to miss its other achievements: excellent interior quality, greater depth of equipment and decent dynamics. An afternoon's driving at the end of the LA motor show confirmed its basic abilities.

There will be three model levels, but the big seller will doubtless be the top-spec model, equipped with niceties like touch-screen navigation, an elaborate hi-fi and leather upholstered heated and cooled seats.

What's it like?

The car we drove, on US-spec (soft) suspension rates and powered by a 197bhp, 2.4 litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, is of fairly loose relevance to the UK, since our launch engine will be a 1.7 litre, 140 bhp turbodiesel four, possibly followed by a 2.0 litre GDi petrol unit, and after that a more powerful (probably 170 bhp) version of the same diesel.Transmissions will be a choice of six-speed auto and manual.

Although it had decent suspension control and damping, foibles were road noise and curiously tuned steering which seemed rather old-fashioned and imprecise at the straight ahead, and poorly weighted. Wind and road noise weren't the quietest, either, though the engine was barely audible most of the time and the transmission smooth and sensitive.

Should I buy one?

All this car really needs is the lightest of running tweaks by Lotus's chassis men, plus continuing development in production, and it'll be a fine car indeed. It's already better than some cars costing half as much again. Just how high can Kia fly?

Join the debate

Comments
31

22 November 2010

...checks date... no, not April 1st... Ok, maybe the pictures don't do it justice... looks like Emu when he was attacking Parky... Steve, are you allowed to drive with eyes that bad??

22 November 2010

It looks better than the Jaguar XF

22 November 2010

Though this is much better than anything they produced before, I do feel the comment "I suspect that if you parked this Optima beside a BMW 5-series (a genuine competitor in size and quality) many fair-minded people – perhaps a majority – would say the Kia looked better and classier" is a bit like, if you put a polished turd next to this, this would be classier. It's not that hard given the state of the current 5-er. However, when you open the door, the Audi-esque mock-japanese interior presents itself and you are reminded this is definitely a Korean car. Not a bad effort though. the side window treatment does remind me of the Datsun 610 from the 70s.

22 November 2010

it does look good from the outside. It looks 'far east' inside, but thats no bad thing. Dash is perhaps a little fussy, but what really matters is how well it drives. Sounds a shame if we arent getting the 2.4 petrol ( and a manual box please). I cant imagine it will move with anything much smaller, it looks a good size.

It will be interesting to see how the press react once it available to try in UK spec, and see just how competatively its priced. I suspect the established oposition are in for a big shock.

22 November 2010

[quote Roger Frost]It looks better than the Jaguar XF [/quote]

It does not, the Jaguar is far better from every angle

22 November 2010

I agree with Croppers on this one...seen it at many autoshows, and it looks fantastic. The cutline over the front fender is beautifully done. Personally I prefer it to the Lexus-lite XF, but I don't think it's a fair 5-series/Jag competitior, more like viable 3-series alternative...

22 November 2010

Looks nice, but can't help feeling it looks a bit like a sharper looking Lexus IS from some angles. And not quite sure it's a 5-Series rival either. Mondeo/3-Series perhaps, which it's sister Sonata/i40 is supposed to be.

22 November 2010

It looks excellent - makes an Insignia look a bit silly. Now they need to get the price right (it's predecessor was price to avoid selling any - it needs to be well below Mondeo and Insignia to get a foothold) and avoid giving it rock hard German suspension.

And make it available in some colours that aren't grey (a point Ford and Vauxhall have failed on).

22 November 2010

it does look very handsome from the front with its low snout, however the rear end looks like so many other cars on sale in america, just bland and boring. Maybe the guy who designed the front should have been let loose on the back too.

Still someone has got to halt the painfully relentless rise of the VW group and maybe Hyundai/Kia are the ones to outdo them.

DKW

22 November 2010

'It looks better than the Jaguar XF'

'It does not, the Jaguar is far better from every angle'

The XF looks American. That means blobby, bloated in the nose and ugly. It only looks good from the side. I think the Kia does look better.

And yes, it needs to be available in some colours. Note to manufacturers - grey isn't a colour, it's an emotional complaint.

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