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Car reviews - Kia - Optima - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Enhanced styling, classy cabin with fine ergonomics, revised ride and handling, reduced road noise, new blind-spot and rear traffic warning systems, sharp price
Room for improvement
Tight rear headroom, flat and hard seats, finicky throttle at highway cruising

20 Jan 2014

In our short belt in the top-of-the-range Optima Platinum at the media launch, we had no complaints about the ride, while the steering was adequate for the class, and the acceleration launch feel was sprightly to the point of frantic.

When we inquired about chassis changes in the facelifted model, it came as no surprise to learn that Kia’s local tuning team have been at it again, re-working the springs, dampers and steering to elevate the driving experience.

And they needed to, as the mid-sized car standard has moved on in the three years since Optima arrived, with products such as the Mazda6 and even Toyota’s locally built Camry shifting the goal posts.

The result is a sedan that does the job at a price, without setting the world on fire.

The stand-out feature of the Optima remains its styling which is undimmed after three years of familiarity. New headlight treatments – including a box of four square LEDs in place of the globe-style fog lights on the Platinum model – only enhance the design, as does the new rear diffuser and subtle boot-lid lip spoiler.

Inside, the ambience has been turned down a notch by substituting chrome for satin metallic finishes – a welcome touch.

The instrument layout is a joy to behold, with simple white-on-black treatment for the dials, switches and digital readouts. In Kia-land, ambitions for good-looking form don’t overrule function.

The front seats – clad in leather on the top two of the three Optima variants – have been reshaped for better support, but our quibble is (and not everyone agrees with this) that the seat squabs are still too flat and hard for our boney backside.

Rear seat headroom remains an issue too, but Kia is not on its own in this era of low-slung roof lines. However, the boot is cavernous for a vehicle of this ilk, and even offers a full-sized spare wheel.

On the highway, measures to address road noise appear to have had a beneficial effect, with pleasantly quiet cruising now the norm, at least on the smooth roads around Melbourne where we tried it out.

However, while cruising, the test car appeared to have trouble holding a steady throttle, slipping on and off the gas in small increments. We might have to wait until we try another vehicle before saying if this is a generic issue or just a one-off complaint.

Gone are the wandering ways of the tiller, with the Optima holding its course in most conditions.

The launch feel issue seems to have been corrected as well, although the gear ratios (on the standard six-speed automatic transmission) are unchanged. A revised throttle linkage, perhaps?Taking-off from traffic lights, the Optima now thrusts forward with tyre-chirping spirit if the throttle is used injudiciously.

One of the other quibbles about the Optima – poor rear visibility – has also been addressed, but unfortunately only on the top Platinum variant.

Along with the reversing camera and, now, blind spot warning system, the Platinum model gets a rear traffic alert system to warn the driver of approaching vehicles when backing out of a parking spot or driveway.

Unfortunately, this is unavailable to Optima Si and SLi buyers at this stage, but it sure makes life easier for those who can step up to the $40k Platinum.

The Optima has always been ahead of the game on features, and among the new goodies on the Platinum are a ventilated front passenger seat (to go with the similar driver’s set up) and front parking sensors (now standard on all Optimas).

A massive dual-pane moonroof, seven-inch touch screen, throaty Infinity stereo system and sat-nav are all standard on the top Optima, along with power front seats.

Lesser models are also well loaded compared with rivals, which helps to explain the similar pricing with (mainly) Japanese competitors.

Performance remains unchanged, with the Australian Optima retaining its sole conventional powertrain – 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol with six-speed automatic – while the bigger American market can also choose from a sharp 2.0-litre turbo or more efficient hybrid.

Sadly, these remain off the agenda here for now, as do any possible diesel options or high-tech communications extras, such as the Siri voice-operated controls available in the US.

Fuel economy is also unchanged, with Kia claiming 7.9 litres per 100km in the combined cycle test. We achieved 9.9L/100km in a couple of hours of mainly urban driving, which is in the ballpark for this type of vehicle.

Kia has raised the prices of all Optima models by between $300 and $1200, but all get more features in return.

One of the perennial issues with Korean-built cars is the question of build quality, but we have mostly praise for our particular test vehicle, save for a small buzz in the dash on some road surfaces.

Starting at $30,990, the Optima is not stunningly cheap, but when all the boxes are ticked, it is a worthy entrant in the tough-fought medium car segment.

And it still looks gorgeous.

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