The Kia Optima is the third reboot to the brand’s global saloon, emerging renewed from its first dull drive and look back in 2001. Although the second generation was a serious step up from the original, it still didn’t quite hit the mark until the third generation release. But the current Kia Optima is also challenged by a lot of competition, given the saturated state of the marketplace and the brand new standards set by established car companies. Read on to see how the Optima will fare given its head start in Korea and the attention it’s gotten in the US.
Thanks to the new direction of chief design officer Peter Schreyer, the Optima is able to share in Kia’s execution of innovative designs. This time around, the Optima sports bold styling that not only returns the vehicle to the D-segment but also impresses in several distinct features. From the Optima’s snarling tiger nose, hunched, high shoulders, to restrained lines that maintain the model’s wedge-like stance. The latest Optima also includes functional additions such as an added 75mm to the wheelbase for more legroom and a larger cabin.
The interior is generous in space, providing more than enough comfort for drivers and passengers. The overall design does not offend and is logical in terms of form and function. The touchscreen sat-nav system is the best feature of the cabin and includes handy high-tech tools such different media functions and a reversing camera display.
The Optima only comes with the 1.7-litre diesel engine at 134bhp. This unit performs reasonably enough at 325Nm; its pulling power is decent as it ranges from 2,000 to 2,500rpm. Such a range works for driving quickly away from town centres and for any regular, every day trips within the city. With the six-speed manual gearbox, the unit is able to reach a 60mph sprint in just 10.2 seconds and achieve a top speed at 125mph. The automatic gearbox is only slightly slower at its 11.5 seconds sprint time, but has a faster top speed at 122mph.
Handling is decent as well on the Kia Optima, able to respond well to turn ins and provide more than enough front-end grip. The steering is well-distributed in weight, feeling firmer as you go faster but lighter as you drive around town. The manual gearbox is smooth and the braking solid when necessary. Expect an enjoyable drive on most conditions.
The sole engine falters in several aspects. The 2.0-litre engines in competitors such as the Skoda Superb and Mondeo perform way better while driving on an open road. The 1.7-litre engine isn’t very punchy either and the speed paling in comparison next to more competent rivals. The Ford Mondeo, Skoda Superb, and Vauxhall Insignia’s are much faster. The only other engine that the Optima outshines is the Mazda 6’s 2.0-litre diesel unit.
In terms of ride and handling, the Optima is able to be cost-effective in its front and multi-link rear MacPherson struts. But even these upgrades don’t compete as well against the industry’s class leaders, failing to offer the same or even better responsiveness and compliance. The main issue is with the driver’s car control through the steering wheel.
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