The all-new Kia Optima again makes the point that mid-size sedans deserve to sell in much greater numbers. Optima - like Ford Mondeo, Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Subaru Liberty etc – delivers the interior space and cargo capacity many SUV and large car buyers are looking for…but without the SUV/large car baggage.
By any measure, the all-new Kia Optima is on the mid-size sedan ‘A-list’. With more space that the previous generation, a new turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and more technology, it is an all-round better car.
And it should sell much better than only 3,000 sales per year. C’mon people – these mid-sizers are damn good cars!
Kia Optima Overview
All-new Kia Optima – the Korean giant’s flagship sedan - arrives in a two-model range. The entry-level Si ($34,490) is powered by a revised version of the current 2.4-litre engine while the range-topping GT ($43,990) employs the new turbocharged 2.0-litre powerplant.
Specifications have improved significantly over the current range with the Si including impressive standard features such as the Lane Departure Warning System, Autonomous Emergency Braking, adaptive cruise control, satellite navigation, six-speaker audio with a seven-inch colour LCD touchscreen, LED DRLs, 17-inch alloy wheels, cornering lights and dual projector HID headlights with washers.
Stepping-up to the GT adds items like Blind Spot Detection/Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive Front Lighting System with Bi-Xenon headlights, leather upholstery (ventilated and heated front seats and power adjustment for the driver including lumbar support), flat-bottom leather-wrapped sports steering wheel with heating function, colour TFT ‘Supervision’ instrument cluster, alloy sports pedals, aluminium trim highlights, wireless phone charging, 10-speaker audio with an eight-inch colour LCD touchscreen, exterior styling enhancements, 18-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers,
Kia Optima Engine
Kia Optima Si is powered by an updated version of Kia’s 2.4-litre GDI four-cylinder petrol engine. The changes delivered compliance with Euro5 emissions standards and better mid-range performance.
And while outputs are down a smidge – 138kW at 6000rpm and 241Nm at 4000rpm – the Optima Si is marginally faster than the previous generation with zero to 100km/h rated at 9.1 seconds.
The big news is the arrival of the ‘Theta’ turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine for the GT model. With 180kW of power at 6000rpm and peak torque of 350Nm from 1400-4000rpm, this is a potent powerplant delivering zero to 100km/h in 7.4 seconds.
The turbo 2.0-litre also complies with Euro5 emissions standards and returns combined-cycle fuel consumption of 8.5l/100kms.
Both drive the front wheels via six-speed automatic transmissions (different ratios) with steering wheel paddle shifters for manual changes.
Kia Optima The Interior
You immediately notice a more upscale and driver-focused look for the all-new Kia Optima’s interior. For example the centre stack is slightly offset towards the driver for quicker access to drive mode, and other switches.
The wider dashboard is configured in an upper ‘display’ zone and a lower ‘control’ zone. And there are fewer buttons with more functions included on the touchscreen (seven-inch for Si or eight-inch for GT).
And GT models pick-up nice leather trim (in black or a stylish red with grey contrast stitching). We were particularly taken by the styling and shape of the front seats – very sporty and upmarket.
Space is up in every dimension but rear seat passengers are very well catered for with some 25mm more legroom.
And cargo volume is up to 510-litres.
Kia Optima Exterior & Styling
The all-new Kia Optima is longer, taller and wider than the outgoing model and that extra interior space can in-part be attributed to a longer wheelbase. That said, the overall look is an obvious evolution of the previous generation.
Up-front the Optima adopts the hallmark Kia ‘tiger nose’ grille and modern ‘wraparound’ headlights which extend to the wheelarches.
The extra length has allowed the Kia design team under the direction of German Peter Schreyer to provide a more swept-back profile which retains the handsome raked A-pillars and sweeping C-pillars. Nice sculpturing gives the Optima a sporty on-road presence.
At the rear there is a noticeable change over the current generation with a broad, muscly look, kicked-up bootlid spoiler and new ‘wraparound’ LED tail-lights.
Naturally this is the most aerodynamic Optima so far with the drag Cd down to 0.353.
And the sporty GT model scores more aggressive bumpers, high-gloss black side sills and a diffuser look for the rear end including dual exhaust tailpipes.
Kia Optima On The Road
Top marks to Kia Australia for the drive route we covered at the Optima media launch. While most car companies elect to take us north of Sydney, Kia sent us from the airport south along the coast to Stanwell Park, Gerroa and Nowra and then inland to Bowral before a freeway return trip – great views and just about every type of road an Optima buyer would tackle.
We started our drive in the 2.4-litre Kia Optima Si. Now tuned for stronger mid-range engine performance, the Si we drove was certainly lively on the throttle and in the sometimes stop-start traffic along General Holmes Drive – the peak-hour was just wrapping-up - perhaps a little too keen to kick-down to a lower gear.
The twists in the Royal National Park certainly showed the all-new Kia Optima has a much-improved chassis than the previous generation (the bodyshell is 50 per-cent stiffer for starters). And as always Kia’s local suspension tuning pays dividends (Optimas sold here pick-up dampers from German specialist ZF Sachs).
Si models ride on 17-inch alloy wheels with Continental Contact5 tyres.
Switching to the Kia Optima GT is Nowra we immediately noticed the extra urge of the turbo 2.0-litre. Kia has this powerplant nicely calibrated to the six-speed auto and yes, there was abundant performance but refinement was also obvious.
The GT scores nice 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 3 rubber and while ride was noticeably firmer it certainly wasn’t overly harsh.
Kia Optima picks-up motor-driven electric power steering but interestingly the Si’s system is mounted in the steering column while, in the interests of a more direct and responsive feel, the GT’s system is mounted in the steering rack. Either way we liked the steering feel even in the ‘Normal’ drive mode setting – and it firmed-up nicely when you switched to ‘S’.
Kia Optima Issues
Talking styling is like talking politics – it gets personal. Sure the all-new Kia Optima still looks contemporary and handsome…but for us, it has somehow lost a bit of the eyebrow-raising edginess of the previous generation.
Kia Optima Verdict
The all-new Kia Optima is a textbook example of how to make a good car even better. We liked the previous generation so it’s not surprising we’re giving Kia a resounding ‘thumbs-up’ for the all-new Optima.
As we said at the outset, many private and fleet customers responding to the end of Commodore and Falcon by switching to SUVs would actually be better served by buying the Kia Optima. Both the Si and GT models are very well equipped, sharply priced, fuel-efficient, look good and offer people and cargo space many large car buyers would appreciate.
Yes the 2.0-litre turbo is worth stretching the bucks to north of $40K but the specification levels make the Si model a great buy. Either way you will be genuinely surprised by the quality, refinement and driving dynamics which these days underwrite the Kia brand.
And that seven year warranty program still hasn’t been beaten.
Kia Optima The Competition
The all-new Ford Mondeo lineup arrived earlier this year and, like the previous generation, it’s a firm favourite of www.carshowroom.com.au. Mondeo offers the most interior space in this segment and its European origins are obvious in design and driving dynamics. Ford has the Mondeo sharply priced from $33,190 and the 10-model range includes sedans and wagons, petrol and diesel engines. But there’s no denying the upscale Mondeos are getting pricey when compared to the well-equipped Kia Optima.
Mazda6 wins the glamour looks award, is nicely kitted inside and matches the Ford Mondeo for the title of best drivers’ car in this league. Both the SkyActiv petrol and diesel engines are crackers and the entire package exudes Mazda’s hallmark top-notch quality. Mazda Australia has the ‘6’ starting from $32,540 but, like the Mondeo, Mazda 6 range-toppers look expensive compared to the well-equipped Kia Optima GT.
Toyota Camry is the hands-down winner for fleet sales with the entry-level Altise model starting at just $26,490. Like Kia Optima there is no diesel option for Camry (although Toyota does offer a petrol hybrid powerplant). There’s no doubt this generation Camry is head-and-shoulders above all previous models for ride and handling and it comes closes to the Mondeo for interior space. Good value too with the well-equipped Atara grade starting at $37,440.
But don’t forget the Subaru Liberty. Handily priced from $29,990 to $41,990, the Liberty delivers all-wheel-drive chassis dynamics and grip, a ripper interior and both the four and six-cylinder engines are powerful and refined. Unlike previous generations, the latest model Liberty is actually easy on the eye too.