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Driven: Kia pumps up Optima

Middle child: The Optima will be offered in two specification grades and will be pitched against other medium-sized cars including the Mazda6

Kia pitches Optima higher with more safety, tech and performance than before

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Kia logo13 Nov 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

KIA says it is confident its new-generation Optima sedan can capture 3000 sales a year, taking a bite out of its competitors in the mid-size segment by pitching the model as a more premium offering than its predecessor.

The latest version of the car that helped changed the fortunes of Kia, thanks largely to the styling of design director and now president Peter Schreyer, arrives in showrooms this month with two variants on offer, starting with the base Si from $34,490 plus on-road costs and the turbocharged GT flagship from $43,990.

Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) chief operating officer Damien Meredith said he hoped for a sales boost of all Kia’s models and detailed the company’s targets for the Optima.

“I want to get all our models into the top five part of each segment that it competes in,” he said at the Optima media launch in New South Wales. “It’s very important for us, it’s a great looking car, it gives us great road presence. If we can do 250 a month we would be more than happy.” Mr Meredith said the product planning team was tasked with including as much standard specification as possible, and suggested that Kia did not want to compete on price against rivals with keen entry prices.

“We assumed correctly that Camry would be very sharp in its pricing and will continue to be over the next 12 to 18 months so we wanted to build specification.

“We still think it (Optima) is a magnificent looking car, it has been improved in regards to ride and handling and we wanted to get as much spec in as possible. We think we have achieved that and that’s the pathway we took.

“We are not frightened of this price point and we are confident that we can do our 3000 a year.” In terms of its mechanically related rival, the Hyundai Sonata, Mr Meredith said the Optima offered “far better value” than its Korean cousin, and suggested that the Kia had a more appealing cabin.

“In fairness we think the design is still far better, that’s our point. If you lined them up and looked at the interior of our car and the interior of their car, I know who would win.” The Sonata undercuts the Optima with pricing from $29,990 to $41,990, while other petrol-powered mid-sizers also in the mix include the Mazda6 sedan from $32,540 to $46,420, the Volkswagen Passat sedan from $34,990 to $39,990 and the Ford Mondeo hatch from 33,190 to $44,290.

Mr Meredith said KMAu considered following the strategy of the outgoing model by including a mid-spec variant to slot in between the Si and GT and bridge the $9500 price gap, but added that the company was keen to consolidate its line-up.

“One of the things we need to do while growing our volume is simplify our mix of models and our variants. We thought very seriously about that step up, but at the end of the day we wanted to have a simplistic approach to Optima. It’s not a huge volume seller. So it didn’t really call for that third layer of complexity.” Mr Meredith said he expected the initial model split to be 65/35 per cent in favour of the GT, but that would settle closer to 50/50 down the track. He also said the private and fleet sales mix would be 50/50, the same as the outgoing model.

The most affordable Si uses a revised version of the outgoing model’s 2.4-litre GDi four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine producing 138kW at 6000rpm and 241Nm at 4000rpm.

The 1585kg Si is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, as is the GT. There is no manual or diesel option.

Fuel use for the Si is 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle – an increase of the outgoing model’s 7.9L/100km – while it emits 194g/km of CO2 and takes 9.2 seconds to complete the 0-100km/h dash.

In range-topping GT guise, the Optima uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder T-GDI turbocharged petrol unit – the same one found under the bonnet of the Hyundai Sonata – that delivers 180kW at 6000rpm and 350Nm at 1400-4000rpm.

This version consumes 8.5L/100km, emits 199g/km of CO2 and covers 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds. The fuel figure beats the Sonata by 0.7L.

The Optima is 10mm longer, 25mm wider, 10mm higher and offers a 10mm-longer wheelbase than its predecessor, but maintains the same front and rear overhang.

Interior space has also grown in every area from headroom to legroom and shoulder-room and the cargo space has lifted by five litres to 510 litres with the rear backrests in place, matching the capacity of the Sonata.

In comparison, the Mazda6 sedan offers up 483 litres, while the Toyota Camry can swallow 515 litres.

Kia engineers have worked hard to improve ride and handling over the previous model, and the car-maker has again used former Toyota engineer Graeme Gambold to fine tune the Optima for local conditions as he has done with most of Kia’s current product.

Suspension up front is a H-type sub-frame while at the rear it is a multi-link set-up with a dual lower arm.

The Si uses a column-mounted electronic power steering system while the GT gets a rack-mounted unit. Both variants are offered with Kia’s Drive Mode Select with the options of Normal, Sport or Eco mode depending on driver preference.

Kia says more than 50 per cent of the structure is made from advanced high-strength steel, making the Optima 50 per cent stronger than before, and the car-maker has added autonomous emergency braking with City, Urban and Pedestrian modes as standard across the range.

The South Korean car-maker is also claiming major improvements to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels thanks to the addition of a new under-floor cover, better dashboard insulation, refinements to engine acoustics, a more rigid frame and a cross-member bush.

In terms of safety, both the SI and GT feature an emergency stop signal, hill-start assist, six airbags, vehicle stability management, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, dusk-sensing headlights, high-beam assist and a lane-departure warning system, while the GT adds blind-spot detection, lane change assist and a rear cross traffic alert. The new Optima is the most aerodynamic iteration of the car, according to Kia.

The Si and GT have a slightly different look, with the base version using static cornering lamps and HID headlights, while the GT gets bi-Xenon active headlights. The GT also has a more aggressive grille, a rear diffuser and LED tail-lights.

Inside there is a wireless device charging station in the centre console, and Kia has angled the centre stack on an 8.5-degree tilt towards the driver.

Standard fare in the Si includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen, 3.5-inch TFT LCD cluster, remote Bluetooth/audio/cruise control, sat-nav, a six-speaker audio system, cloth trim, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, black gloss interior trim, reach and height adjustable steering wheel, leather-wrapped wheel and gear-shift knob, paddle shifters, auto-folding electric mirrors, electro-chromatic rearview mirror rain-sensing wipers, two 12V chargers and dual-zone climate control.

It also gets headlight washers, body coloured bumpers, dual exhaust and 17-inch alloy wheels dressed up in Continental tyres.

Pay the additional $9500 for the GT and you get the punchier turbo powertrain, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, panoramic sunroof, an 8.0-inch sat-nav infotainment screen, a 4.2-inch TFT cluster, rear door sun-blinds, black with red stitch or red with dark grey stitch leather-appointed seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, real aluminium trim, auto boot release and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.

On the outside the GT has red brake callipers, 18-inch alloys with Michelin tyres, chrome accented door handles, aluminium door scuff with illumination, and a sports bodykit with a rear diffuser, sports bumpers and black gloss side sills.

The only options are premium paint for $595, and the no-cost option in the GT of swapping the grey seat trim for red.

Kia continues to offer its full transferable seven-year, unlimited kilometer warranty with seven years capped-price servicing and roadside assistance.

2015 Kia Optima pricing*
Si (a) $34,490
GT (a) $43,990
*Excludes on-road costs

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