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

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?

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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catnip 28 November 2010

Re: Kia Optima 2.4 GDi

weenedonpetrol wrote:
"Note to manufacturers - grey isn't a colour, it's an emotional complaint." Totally agree DKW, I'm about to order a new car at the present time and am depressed at the prospects of getting a car that is either white, black or shades in between. What happened to cars being a projection of their driver's personality, or is this grey trend a reflection on reality?

Totally agree. I commented to a VW dealer recently that the Golf has such a dull range of colours, even compared to some other VW models, and all he could say was "well, it's a Golf".

They used to say that in a recession people chose brighter colours, maybe to cheer themselves up, and in good times, when people were more content they would go for the calmer, more subdued shades. Even if this were true you're lucky if you get the choice nowadays.

coolboy 27 November 2010

Re: Kia Optima 2.4 GDi

"Just how high can Kia fly?"

Sky is the limit.

FastRenaultFan 25 November 2010

Re: Kia Optima 2.4 GDi

The Special One wrote the following post at Nov 23, 2010 3:22 PM:

Another winner from Kia. Kia and Hyundai keep churning them out, making the German, Japanese and Korean car makers the world leaders.

What say that again World leaders lol not even close lol . Nissan only survived because Renault bailed them out otherwise they would be gone . Honda are far too small hell BMW sell more cars in the uk than Honda lol . Mitsubishi they are ok but again too small and need too do deals with PSA too survive . Mazda are small too just only getting there independence back from Ford who had a controlling stake in them for years they are very promising do have made some good cars and hopefully there will be more good and interesting cars from them . Suburu are small iff they want to survive they will have to do more deals like the one with Toyota for the new coupe which seems to be taking forever to come still no sign off it but then maybe thats how Toyota work take forever to get a car out so by the time it comes out it might not fall apart or brake down but it will already be boring and old . Oh wait was,nt it Toyota that designed the Aygo that had all the recent problems and the Prius too a well so much for being reliable I really don,t see why anyone would by a Toyota they are so boring . Thats not to say I don,t like japanese cars its amazing that they still have so many different car companys from a very small Island with most off them companys bar Toyopta being very small . I just thought off a market for Toyota,s pensioners and people with no interest in there cars lol .

Yes Hyundai and Kia do seem too be doing very good and are very succesfull they even but a bit off style into there cars and it is good to see them doing well but do there cars have any soul or are they just more appliences made buy cooperations that just want money unlike say an Alfa or a Renault which have been designed and made with a love for what they are doing . Renault are very big much bigger now than you might think they saved Nissan and own Samsung motors and also Dacia and lada too so also have access too a lot off markets . PSA seem to be still here and doing well too Cotroen has improved greatly in the last few years and so is Peugeot now .

There is also Ford too which has managed not to let it depts get too bad in the recession it is making profits and is going as a one world brand with all its models which are all very good classy even now inside and out and very nice too drive .

The germans are ok but Mercs are and always will be ugly and boring . Bmw,s are great to drive and have great engines but can be boring would prefer a BMW any day over a Merc do . Opel/Vauxhall are still around after the miss management by GM which is good as they make some nice cars the Corsa has style the Astra just keeps getting better and the insignea very nice the Meriva too is innovative with its doors and so was the Zafira with its seats . So nice to still have them here .