However good the latest version of Kia’s mid-sized saloon, the Optima, is its remit is a tough one.
Not only does it face stiff competition within its own segment from Ford’s Mondeo, Vauxhall’s Insignia and VW’s Passat – and others – but it also, like other cars in this class, has to compete with the increasingly popular crossover.
Kia have worked hard to prepare the latest Optima for the tough road ahead, although they’re to be congratulated for not tinkering with the styling unnecessarily. The previous generation was a good-looking car and the changes that have been made are evolutionary, helping to enhance, rather than erase, what was good about its predecessor.
The tiger nose grille now sits between larger wraparound headlight units that have been pulled taught over the blistered front arches.
At the rear the boot rises, spoiler-like, while the expansive bumper flows into a diffuser section where the chrome-tipped exhaust emerges.
The rear lights – LED on most models – mirror those at the front, wrapping around to blend into the arches at the back.
The most significant changes are, ironically, the ones that you’re least likely to notice. It is 10mm longer – all between the wheels – 25mm wider, 10 mm taller and, perhaps most significantly, 50 per cent stiffer thanks to the greater use of high strength steel. It’s also more aerodynamic.
The rakish profile, high shoulder line that runs the full length of the car and narrow windows give the Optima a coupe-like profile with a taut, dynamic stance.
Inside it’s clear that efforts have been made to enhance the cabin ambience. Soft, tactile plastics are used everywhere you’re likely to see or touch – but not, it should be noted, in places you’re not – while the quality of the controls has been improved.
The passenger space is neat and tidy but is largely devoid of the creativity apparent on the outside. It’s functional, and ergonomically sound, but a little more flair wouldn’t go amiss just to make it more welcoming. The inclusion of a leather steering wheel and gearshift as standard does give it a little lift but you’ll have to splash out on a top-spec car to get leather seats as well.
Speaking of seats, the faux leather ones in my ‘3’ spec test car were very comfortable and supportive, as was the rear bench. Legroom in the back is excellent but the sloping roofline does impact on headroom.
There are plenty of little cubby holes and storage compartments – including a cooled glovebox – around the cabin, and they’re all of decent size.
Equipment levels are very generous, with all models coming with alloy wheels, seven-inch touchscreen with sat nav, reversing camera, dual zone climate control, cruise control, auto dimming mirrors and seat height adjustment.
My test car, a ‘3’ spec, added lane keeping assistance, an eight-inch touchscreen and a 10-speaker, 590-watt Harmon Kardon sound system.
Under the bonnet you’ll find the familiar 1,7-litre diesel, producing 139bhp and 340Nm of torque. Peak torque also arrives a very useful 250rpm sooner, at 1,750rpm. If you want a petrol-powered version the only option is the hybrid which pairs an electric motor with a 202bhp 2.0-litre unit.
Start the diesel and you’ll be greeted with that all-too-familiar, but appreciatively distant, diesel rattle. The only other time you’ll be reminded you’re driving an oil burner is under heavy acceleration but, again, it’s appreciatively muted. That the cabin is not the oasis of peace and calm that you would want it to be is largely down to the noise generated by rubber on tarmac, there’s very little wind noise to speak of.
While the diesel does pull meaningfully from just 1,250rpm the sprint – more of a stroll, really – to 62mph takes 9.7 seconds according to Kia’s own figures but an awkward and unrewarding manual gearbox encourages a rather more relaxed approach to driving and take advantage of the excellent refinement.
The suspension errs towards the firm side, but that’s not unexpected given Kia’s sporting ambitions for the saloon. While it remains nice and flat through corners, with good body control, it does mean that occupants will get a greater sense of what’s happening underneath the car. That’s obviously no bad thing if you’re behind the wheel, where you’ll also appreciate the communicative, nicely-judged steering and progressive brakes, but passengers might find themselves wishing for a slightly more forgiving ride.
The new Optima is an undoubted improvement on the previous model. It’s good-looking, very well-equipped, spacious and drives reasonably well. It does no one thing brilliantly, but it does do everything well.
You do get a lot of car for your money – and it comes with Kia’s seven-year warranty of course – and that’s a very good reason to add the Optima to your shopping list.
Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi ‘3’ ISG
1.7-litre 4-cylinder dieselEngine:
139bhp @ 4,000rpmMax power:
340lbft @ 1,750 = 2,500rpmMax torque:
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