Kia Optima Road Test (2016)

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OPTIMA…L


With sales of the new Sportage achieving record levels, twelve month figures already exceeded after only six months plus the increasing popularity of the Cee’d, the Kia brand is definitely in the ascendancy yet again. One of the main reasons is the appearance of the new Chief of Design Peter Schreyer, the ex-BMW man introducing some of the sharpest styling that’s now being rolled out across the range. Add in the pending introduction of the all new Niro hybrid and the fully updated range is more or less complete.


The model that tends to be overlooked is the Optima, Kia’s large saloon that has yet to carve out a true niche for itself. The problem if it is one is that this medium sized model is at times overtly American, not a surprise since that’s where the Optima sales tend to be the strongest. City Car in looks whilst the US market enjoys the fact that it’s Optima is petrol powered. Here in the UK however, whilst the Optimas look exactly the same it’s beneath the bonnet that things differ.  


From the introduction of Kia’s corporate ‘Tiger Nose’ grille and imposing frontal profile, new cutting edge lines with a sharpness neatly balanced, a slightly longer wheelbase, distinct 18” alloys shod with 235/45 rubber, an improved drag coefficient a swept waist and even two-tone door handles, Schreyer’s influence has created a saloon that now demands to be taken seriously. Internally, the new Optima features what Kia describe as their horizontal layout, the narrower, lower dashboard, controls and instrumentation, the structural placement ensures a broad, open view from behind the wheel, the new ethos being an upper display zone and lower control area with a now optimum 8.5 degree angled 8” touch screen and infotainment centre.

Noticeably more spacious with more than room for five occupants due to increased width and headroom, the Optima now boasts 510 litres of cargo space from the new wider opening boot, soft touch surfaces and an atmosphere of dramatically improved quality now suffuse the significantly more luxurious cabin. Kia has even saved weight with the introduction of new seat frames to the much improved passenger comfort.


It’s beneath the bonnet that the new Optima still suffers. Yes, emissions have been appreciably decreased; performance has been improved along with the introduction of a seven-speed automatic transmission. However, the engine still remains Kia’s old technology 1.7, 4-cylinder turbo diesel. Delivering 139hp and 340Nm of torque along with a top speed of 126mph and a 0-60mph of 10.6 seconds, whilst performance isn’t the average Optima buyer’s main concern, a degree of get up and go is still required.


Delivering a less than inspiring 42.9mpg or around 500 miles per 70 litre tank of fuel, the new Optima still struggles for any form of mechanical refinement. Equally, the auto box is indecisive, holds gears on the up change and far to keen to kick down when on a trailing throttle. This tends to mean that sequential changes either via the shift or the paddles are needed to smooth things out which begs the question, would the 6-speed manual be a preferable option? But why be so hard on the new Optima when its existing and potential customer base seem more than happy with the new car as it is? Because within the next few months the new 2-litre diesel will be introduced along with a hybrid, a GT-Line and Wagon versions, the new drive train lineup rendering the current 1.7 diesel more or less obsolete.


It isn’t however all negative, the new Optima’s improved front and rear MacPherson Strut, coil spring and twin-tube shock absorbers priming the new car for the pending power increases. Revert to the sequential changes; hold 3rd or 4th with the occasional foray into 5th or down to 2nd around more demanding A and B roads and the new big Kia exhibits handling traits considerably in excess of initial impressions. The Optima is well balanced, the dynamics easing from neutral to oversteer depending on hard the car is pushed whilst the flat characteristics, electrically assisted power steering and agile 2.94 turns lock to lock allow for precise positioning whilst the car’s reaction to the driver induced changes sufficiently reactive to make them a useful addition.


Operating the paddles also allows the 1.7 diesel to shine a little more than it does in standard auto change. Equally, with the driver taking a more positive role in propelling the Optima forward, the results of the new chassis are a tangible physicality.   


At £28,895 on the road for the CRDi ‘4’ as tested inclusive of Kia’s famous 7-Year warranty, the new Optima is still worthy of consideration if space and distinct looks are the two main priorities. If not, the wait is nearly over for the Optima to become available with the new, more powerful drive trains, a wait that should be more than worthwhile. Style wise the new Optima is a substantial improvement, the new engines finally giving the car the power and refinement it always deserved especially in its latest incarnation.          

     


By; Mark Stone



Kia Optima Road Test