We drove Optima at Kia’s lavish local launch. It was cleverly set against the freshness of the NSW Southern Highlands with its crisp log-fired evenings, tasty nibbles, and clinking champagne glasses. Here is what we had to say about the bucolic frolic.
Meanwhile back in Sydney it was all business. What looks fabulous set against a posh country pile might be a different matter in town. In this case it was more of the same fabulousness.
The city mayhem is bound to expose inevitable deficiencies missed on the first drive. Optima showed none of these and the GT continued to display the same calm, gentlemanly persona we loved in the Highlands. I harboured a few misgivings because $44,000 is a bracket with many, many options. For the price of a GT, you could get a: BMW 1 or 2 series, Jeep Cherokee, Audi Q3, Skoda Octavia RS, Subaru Forester, Golf GTI, Lexus CT200h and several V8 Commodores to name but a few.
Optima is in laudable company, but it needed to be able to stand on its own. It looked good in the country park house setting so we wanted it to have the same feel in the city. In fact, the Kia looks equally cool in the city. Yes, I said cool. There is a certain unique freshness about Optima which carried over from the previous generation. In its own way, Optima offers something you can’t get anywhere else: space, equipment and class.
The car feels roomy and we even managed to get a full-sized bike in the boot with the rear seats folded down. I have tried this exercise in some of the opposition with mixed results. It was like trying to get toothpaste back into a tube in some cases. I like flexibility, and buyers will too.
With the inevitable demise of Australian car manufacturing, there appears a huge hole that could well be filled by Kia’s rising star. The sales of SUVs, small sedans, the ubiquitous family hatch and medium sedans and are all increasing at the expense of large fuel-thirsty sedans like Falcon and Commodore. It seems buyers in the non-luxury segment are more budget sensitive than ever. They want as much for their money as they can get, and consider economy to be extremely important.
Buyers have deserted Ford and Holden in droves. The traditional big two persevere with big cars fewer people want. Many Australians were once horrified at the thought of foreign car companies selling more cars than local makers, but this is bonkers because this has been the case for many decades.
Ford and Holden are both American owned, and Toyota is Japanese. They’re all foreign-owned. They are the only remaining local manufacturers but all have been net importers for years. Only the Camry Hybrid, Holden Commodore/Caprice/Cruze and Ford Falcon/Territory are actually made here, the remaining models are imported. Importantly, some of Holden’s models are made in the old Daewoo factory just down the road from Kia, in Korea. So, remind me again about how Australian cars aren’t built in Korea?
Kia’s current line-up is impressive. European design catapulted the Koreans decades forward in only a few short years. It isn’t all about pretty frocks and shiny shoes, Kia also offers a 7-year warranty. They would not do this if they thought it would cost big bucks in repairs. Surely 7 worry-free years is a huge part of the final decision.
Round town, the Optima GT proved to be as adept and desirable as it had been in the country. The driver aids such as the reverse camera and sensors make the driver feel safe and cocooned. There is also cross traffic warning for reversing out of parking spots which should be standard on all cars. The Optima looks elegant, but it’s the cabin where the premium look is most obvious. It’s a place which received particular care and attention and it paid off. Of course you’re not in a Jag or a Merc. However, you’ve paid a mere snip compared to the Brits and Germans, so you can afford to feel a bit smug. I’m not attempting to compare Kia to uber-luxury brands, but if you put a VW or Ford-Europe badge on this car, you would find a very different story being written.
Optima feels confident on the road and at any distance is comfy, cosy and competent. The 2.0L turbo petrol would get you from Sydney to either Brisbane or Melbourne on a single tank. If you take 3 friends along with you, you’d save yourself about $450 on transport alone to say nothing of having a car to drive once you get there.
I’d happily have an Optima. I like the new model even more than the last one. The old “cheap and cheerful” advertising campaign continues to hang round Kia’s neck like an Albatross-sized mill stone. Kia is now asking buyers to consider it as a premium car maker. This jump to premium is a tough ask considering the success of the aforementioned ad campaign. Many won’t give Kia a drive because of the badge, even though the warranty is the best in the market. The design is European inspired of course, but you’d expect that from a head designer who is German.
Kia sales are increasing year by year, with outstanding quality and value-for-money.
The question isn’t “would I buy one”, the question is “why wouldn’t I buy one?”
Price: $43,990 (plus $595 for Snow White Pearl paint)
Engine: 2.0 T-GDI petrol (2.4L on base model Si), 180kw/350Nm, Euro 5
Econ: 8.5L/100k, 70L tank, Regular unleaded
Auto: 6 speed sports-matic