Car reviews - Kia - Optima - GT
Kia’s impressive Optima GT puts up fight against unpopularity of mid-size cars
Room for improvement
Reduced value proposition, undersized cupholders, abrupt off-the-line boost, steering could be more progressive, short service intervals, likely to face the axe
Kia’s impressive Optima GT puts up fight against unpopularity of mid-size cars
9 Jan 2019
KIA has gone from budget brand to people’s choice seemingly overnight. Its humble model line-up and industry-leading new-car warranty have raised the bar considerably in recent years. As the Korean brands often do, Kia also doesn’t skimp out on standard equipment, packing its cars with the latest technologies. The Optima is one such Kia model that has become a class-leader since it launched in fourth-generation form in November 2015.
However, mid-size cars like it are becoming increasingly less popular as sales of their SUV counterparts go from strength to strength. The Optima is even feeling pressure from its own sibling, the performance-focused Stinger large car.
As such, Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) has put the Optima on notice, stating that it will axed by the end of this year unless its sales performance improves before then. So, the question remains, does the Optima still have something to offer buyers, or is the Stinger the better option? We test the former in facelifted flagship GT form to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $43,290 before on-road costs, the GT is $1200 cheaper than before but has lost its panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, power-adjustable passenger seat, high-beam assist and tyre pressure monitoring in the process. However, buyers are further compensated with the addition of driver attention alert and lane-keep assist, while restyled front and rear bumpers, and redesigned 18-inch alloy wheels toughen up the Optima’s already-attractive exterior design. Either way, there is no denying that the GT’s value proposition has become poorer, although it is still relatively strong.
Other standard equipment includes dusk-sensing adaptive LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED front foglights, LED tail-lights, 235/45 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres, power-folding side mirrors with heating functionality, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a full-size spare wheel.
Inside, buyers will find an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, satellite navigation, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a Harman/Kardon 10-speaker sound system, wireless smartphone charging, a colour multi-function display, dual-zone climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with dual memory functionality, heated front sports seats, a heated sports steering wheel, leather-appointed upholstery, rear door sunshade blinds, keyless entry and start, alloy sports pedals and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
At this price-point, you wouldn’t expect the GT to put forward such a premium-like cabin, but it does. Granted, the materials used are of a lower quality than what you would find in a German model, but their presentation is by no means lacklustre. Specifically, soft-touch plastics adorn the upper door trims and dashboard, which features a neat line of faux stitching to make it feel that little bit extra special.
The centre stack’s simple design is also slick, thanks to its logical layout. It perfectly integrates the 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which looks better in-dash than the floating display that new Kia models favour. The flat-bottom steering features sporty perforation and feels great in hand. Behind it, a multi-information display splits in the instrument cluster and offers a clear view. However, the cupholders located in the centre console and doors are severely undersized, making them frustratingly unable to accommodate mid-sized drink bottles.
While we appreciate the sense of luxury that the silver metal trim brings to the interior, its application on the centre console is far from perfect. In our test car, the ‘sticker’ applied to the sliding cover concealing the auxiliary, USB and 12-volt inputs is already starting to bubble. Better-executed trim lines the dashboard and air vents but is sadly not present in any form on the doors, which look a little drab without it.
Measuring in at 4855mm long, 1860mm wide and 1465mm tall with a 2805mm wheelbase, the Optima’s cargo capacity is 510 litres but can be expanded when the 60/40 split-fold second row is stowed. Rear legroom is very generous behind our 184cm driving position, partly thanks to the minimal intrusion of the transmission tunnel, while rear headroom will accommodate most adults. Sitting in the GT is a pleasure in any case, thanks to its extremely comfortable front sports seats that are well-bolstered but not too firm. This experience thankfully extends to the second row.
Engine and transmission
The GT is motivated by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 180kW of power at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1400 to 4000rpm. As these outputs suggest, a thick wad of Sir Isaac’s best comes on hard and early, which is usually a cause for celebration. However, in this instance it is not, because the turbo boost feels so abrupt when it kicks in just above idle. A forceful shove pushes occupants back into their seats off the line, which is puzzling given the Optima is not a high-performance vehicle in the first place. As such, a smoother application would be appreciated.
The GT exclusively sends drive to its front wheels via a six-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission. The self-shifter is well-received, thanks to its smooth gear changes and willingness to kick down a ratio or two when called upon. At the same time, it is perceptive enough to know when to settle down after stretches of spirited driving come to a close.
As a result of this combination, the 1650kg Optima can sprint from zero to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds. While this mark is nowhere near sportscar territory, the GT feels rather brisk to drive. When it is up and about, the level of performance on offer is more than enough to please most. After all, prior to the V6 Stinger’s arrival, this was Kia’s benchmark model, and it still doesn’t disappoint.
Four driving modes – Comfort, Sport, Smart and Eco – allow the driver to adjust engine and transmission settings on the move. Comfort is the default driving mode, while Sport ups the ante with a more willing attitude, but it can still be sedate when required, unlike some of the Optima’s rivals. Smart is likely the smart choice (pun intended) for the discerning driver, offering the ability to intelligently detect the current driving style and adjust accordingly.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 199 grams per kilometre. During our week-long test drive of the GT, we have averaged 10.0L/100km over 500km run of evenly-mixed city and highway driving, which has included some enthusiastic stretches.
Ride and handling
The GT features rack-mounted electrically assisted power steering, while its suspension set-up consists of MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles. As part of the Optima’s mid-life update, KMAu’s local engineering team has made unspecified improvements to ride and handling, as well as steering feel. While it’s hard to pick the differences without the new and former models back to back, the result is still superb.
Ride comfort is supple, with the GT wafting along smooth surfaces to the delight of its occupants. Throw in a speed bump or pothole to make matters interesting and the Optima responds with aplomb, recovering quickly and admirably from any disturbances. Unsealed and uneven roads are dealt with confidently, too.
The steering is well-weighted, successfully toeing the line between being too heavy or too light. Its feel is also of a high quality, communicating to the driver what is exactly happening on the tarmac. However, it could be more progressive, as turning from lock to lock can fall short of being smooth, while a hint of torque steer under hard acceleration can complicate matters. For this reason, the GT’s dynamic edge is blunter than desired.
Its dynamism is further impacted by the disconnect between the front and rear ends. Again, it is no sportscar, but the Optima could push and become something more. Its hint of understeer is no more than an occupational hazard, but handling could be much tighter, although traction is rather good. Hence, the rear-wheel-drive Stinger holds more appeal in these regards. Nevertheless, the GT’s bodyroll is held in check when cornering hard, so it’s not all bad news – not that it’s that bad in the first place.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the entire Optima range a five-star safety rating in July 2016. Testing in the adult and child occupant protection categories returned results of 88 per cent and 86 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, safety assist yielded 74 per cent and pedestrian protection delivered 67 per cent.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the GT appreciably extend to forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, hill-start assist and driver attention detection.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes (ABS), brake assist, brake-force distribution, and the usual traction and stability control systems.
As with all Kia models, the Optima comes with an industry-leading seven-year/unlimited-kilometre factory for private buyers. One complimentary year of roadside assistance is also included but can be expanded to seven if the vehicle is scheduled servicing is completed at an authorised dealership.
Service intervals are very short, at every six months or 7500km, whichever comes first, meaning owners will likely be known on a first-name basis with KMAu’s service departments. Capped-price servicing for the GT is available for up to seven years or 70,000km.
The Optima GT is yet another example of a model where Kia can do no wrong. Its flaw cannot be considered deal-breakers when the positives outweigh them so much. Yes, the value proposition has taken a hit, but it’s still loaded with standard equipment. A local tune of the suspension and steering ensures buyers are in for a good drive, too.
Unfortunately, the Optima will likely be a victim of circumstance. It plays in a shrinking segment and faces internal pressure from a model competing in the class above. However, the irony is that model is by no means a better choice. The humble GT, with its lower pricetag, is a much better buy than the four-cylinder Stinger.
Want proof? So far, buyers are overwhelming turning to the latter’s V6 version instead. We hope KMAu thoroughly considers its decision, because it would be a real shame to see such a great offering fall to the wayside, even if the market is trending towards SUVs instead. If you can’t tell already, we’re firmly on team Optima.
Ford Mondeo Titanium EcoBoost (from $44,790 before on-road costs)
Well-specified with a smooth ride, plenty of interior space, loads of technology and connectivity, the Mondeo provides strong performance from its blown powertrain.
Hyundai Sonata Premium (from $45,490 before on-road costs)
A dependable winner, the mechanically related Sonata features a slick eight-speed automatic transmission, lush ride quality, incisive steering and an enormous cabin.
Mazda6 Atenza petrol (from $47,690 before on-road costs)
Now featuring a 170kW/420Nm 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, the Mazda6 is better performing than before, while its interior and value proposition have been upgraded, too.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
All car reviews
Click to share