Kia Optima at Milton park Country House Hotel
Kia’s New Flagship: Optima GT Turbo
I loved the old Optima. It was chic and understated and chockers full of tech. That was then and this is now and the new Optima had big shoes to fill. Bespectacled designer Peter Schreyer looks more like a fashion mogul than a drawer of cars, but all the Kias bear his mark. Just as well too because he is responsible for dragging Kia a little bit closer to Europe by giving it the continental flavour they so coveted, and haven’t they done well?
The old model had a coupe-style coolness many aim for, but few convincingly achieve. It explains why, although every panel on Optima is brand new, it keeps the lines of the outgoing car. It’s a little larger all round too giving passengers a smidge more space. It looks more like a makeover than a completely new design, but completely new it is. The body uses new nigh tensile steel to make the body more rigid making the handling better. It also means occupants do better in crashes. For those of us who have had a crash, that is all that matters.
They hope to sell 3,000 examples divided roughly 50/50 between fleet and private buyers. “Fleet” means anything not purchased with private post tax dollars.
It goes up against the much less attractive Toyota Camry. Some say the unremarkable Camry is bought by people who have lost the will to live. Unkind, yes, but Optima blitzes Camry in the looks department. It’s also considerably better to drive and has a far nicer cabin. It is quieter and has more standard features. Toyota have thrown money at Camry to flog it to fleet buyers who buy more out of habit than anything else. Remember, Holden and Ford and Toyota will stop making cars here. Many fleets insist on Australian made, and however much that has been a ferphy up until now, will be a moot point in 2 years’ time. Australian made cars will cease to be thanks to a shortsighted government daring the auto industry to pack up and leave.
There are now only 2 Optima grades, the Si aimed at fleet buyers for and RRP of $34,490 and the turbo GT at $43,990. You’ll need to add a few shekels for on-roads but that’s still good value.
The Si misses out on the good stuff like rack mounted electric steering but Kia believe most private buyers will take the GT Turbo, and their sales for the last few years say they’re right on the money.
The GT and Si share the same good looks but the GT gets: a glass sunroof, cross traffic warning, Blind spot monitoring, 180kw turbo petrol engine, leather (genuine and simulated), bendy headlights, heated/cooled front seats, automatic sensing boot release (which I never got working) and smart key entry/start. The real surprise is they both get: auto air cond, active cruise control, auto headlights with high beam assist, lane departure warning and a rearview camera. I need not tell you that many of these features are not found in most cars, and certainly not at this price. Even in premium brands many of these gadgets appear only as options packs costing many additional farthings. One of my favourite features has continued from the old model. The easy access power driver’s seat slides gently out of the way when you switch the ignition off. It gives you oodles of space to step out without having to origami yourself in a contortion of Circ du Soleil proportions.
It goes without saying that the ubiquitous traction control, and other such nannies, are present. They have to be in order to get the highest possible star rating.
The Harman Kardon sound system puts out quite a decent quality and adds to a tasteful ambience a driver new to Kia may not expect. The dashboard is clearly laid out in a “display” and “control” zone. The commonly used features are all in easy reach with auxiliary controls on the steering wheel. Everything feels considered and intentional. The materials including the soft touch plastic, leather, and metal, feel well made but there is a bit of simulated metal which would look better as the real thing. The switches for the lane warning and blind spot detection are a little out of the way. One supposes the Koreans would prefer Australian drivers left them switched on now that they spend so much time text-driving.
The new turbo 2.0L direct injection petrol engine is a peppy 180kw/350Nm with claimed 8.5L/100k fuel economy. The figures don’t do it justice though. It feels like a V6, albeit a small one. The power is delivered smoothly with little of the old turbo lag which once slapped you in the face. The twin scroll turbo acts like a small and large turbo charger in the same unit. The smaller scroll takes less exhaust gas to spool up. This means you get boost from lower down in the rev range, thus, no lag.
Unless you choose to open the sunroof, you’ll notice the cabin is quiet and extremely well insulated. Kia have done a great job of isolating you from the outside world without isolating you from the road. Unless you’re in a real hurry, you’ll waft quietly along in a serene, mediative kind of way.
We didn’t worry too much about using the paddle shifters and I’ll bet most buyers won’t either. There is a sport mode which performs some kind of alchemy making the engine and transmission do sporty things, but this isn’t really a sporty car. There is no manual gearbox, but as next to no one in Australia buys them it probably won’t ever be an issue. The 6 speed auto was developed in house which is industry speak for, “we dun it ourselves guv’na”.
As the video shows, our drive took us through some of the most gorgeous countryside one could imagine. The road surfaces varied between uber-smooth, and glorified goat track with many bends and twists. As usual, a trucks at snail’s pace ruined some of the more spectacular stretches much to the chagrin of all drivers concerned, but such is life. It still showed us how willing the Optima was. Even when pushed through bends in a more spirited way then that for which she is designed, there was no complaint. Each turn was a joy, and highways were a doddle. You could easily do a very long highway trip, something I may well try. There is no diesel option but they are surely becoming less and less desirable in light of recent revelations.
The steering feels light and precise. My only complaint about the previous car was that it felt a little wooden. There is none of that feeling in the new model. It has sporty aspirations a large 4 door salon once had no right to have. How far we have come, and how far the Koreans have come with us.
Perhaps it is not by accident that the head chaps at Kia wanted us to see the Optima set against the magnificent country house which once belonged to pastoralists, the Horderns. Optima seemed at home at Milton Park. The winding lanes and long sweeping drive invoked a spirit one might not expect. It felt luxurious in an understated kind of way. Everything is tasteful and restrained and on the road was quiet and well mannered.
Kia says the new Optima is brilliant. If it wasn’t as good as Kia says it is I suppose they wouldn’t offer a 7 year warranty, capped servicing, and roadside assistance. I agree with them, it’s brilliant. I say this not because it is the best car on the road, but because it is the best car on the road of this size for this price. Its safety and standard features, as well as the beautiful interior, perfectly match the striking exterior. It presence and road manners live up to the claims made by its makers, and that is a rare thing indeed.
Would I buy one? Yes, without hesitation
Price: Si $34,490/ GT turbo $43,990. Plus onroads
Engine:2.4 4 cyl/2.0L turbo petrol both Euro 5 compliant
Econ L/100k: 8.3/8.5
CO2 g/kg: 194/199
Transmission: Inhouse designed 6 speed auto with paddle shift on GT