Kia Optima Review
A genuine showstopper that you really can afford
By Imthishan Giado
You can buy faster cars. You can buy cheaper ones. You can buy ones with more features. But short of a Lamborghini, this car is the most attention-getting one you can buy today, a showstopping saloon that shows just how far a manufacturer can go when it really wants to.
Motoring journalists are used to cars that attract a certain amount of attention. With that territory comes a certain responsibility to answer a litany of often very dull questions. These include – but are not limited to – the usual: ‘What options does it come with?’ What is it?’ ‘How much’ To a certain extent, these are to be expected. But while you might expect to bombarded with questions if you roll around in an Audi R8, to have that level of attention in a humble Kia, the product of unheralded South Korea is somewhat surprising.
Ex-Audi design guru, Peter Schreyer
Actually, it’s not that surprising. Followers of trends in the automotive industry will know that modern Kias have shrugged off their white goods reputation and have gained a sharp new suit under the watchful guise of former Audi design guru, Peter Schreyer. You might be forgiven for not remembering the old Optima, a forgettable three-box saloon, but this new car draws more wolf whistles than the briefest of miniskirts, with sharp lines penned straight from the future and design details like the ‘eagle-eye’ headlamps that are positively unearthly. Honestly, the exterior is an endless game of surprise-and-delight, from the Tron-style wheels, to the Aston-esque side vents. This car is so pre-pimped that West Coast Customs is already out of a job.
Inside, the clever design takes a turn for the familiar. White on black instruments with red needles, an angular dashboard with intersecting rigid lines and surprisingly broad seats that look built to suit even the tallest of passengers? If it seems somehow familiar to you, then you’ve clearly spent some time in an Audi recently, the Kia even sharing the same red and white fonts.
Considering that they poached Ingolstadt’s designer, it seems only natural that the Koreans would continue to be inspired by the best in the interiors game. This works out to your advantage, because the Germanic proportions are perfectly sufficient to accommodate even the chunkiest and lankiest of passengers all round, while still ensuring that the Optima has the visibility crucial to every day driving.
How much standard kit do you want?
Naturally, the car comes absolutely stuffed with kit and in this measure, the Optima doesn’t disappoint. Deep breath; you get standard push-button start, a fabulous-sounding Infinity stereo, heated and cooled seats which are amazing to find in a humdrum saloon car, and even more genuinely useful features like swivelling headlamps. The only missing feature at first, seemed to be a rear view camera. But then, I nudged it into reverse and lo and behold, the rear-view mirror lit up with a tiny but still useful view of the world behind me. Undoubtedly, the showstopper is the full-length panoramic sunroof – it’s the closest you’ll get to a convertible without actually taking a circular saw to the A-pillar.
Here’s another nail in the coffin for rivals; it’s not that expensive. Base models start at $17,660, while the fully-loaded EX car here with the super-sweet 18-inch cheese-grater alloys is only $24,180, an absolute bargain.
Don’t expect to be the most fun car you’ll ever drive, but for most people, it’s plenty good enough. The 2.4-litre 180bhp engine delivers plenty of low down torque and does not get unduly stressed by unexpected flights up the rev range. Electric steering does not deliver a huge amount of feel, but it’s direct and responsive. Throw the car into a corner too hard and you’ll be kept out of trouble by safe understeer at the limit, the big fat tyres supplying plenty of grip in all other situations.
No matter how good this car is built, how well equipped it comes from the factory and how cheaply it’s sold, there is but one element which one has to always come back to: that amazing design. If good design could guarantee success – and this car is currently the best in the industry, until the new Camry pops along to challenge it – then Kia should have a real hit on their hands.
How much? $17,700
Engine: 2359cc, 4cyl, 178BHP @ 6000, 170lb ft @ 4000
Fuel Economy: 8.7 – l/100km
Performance: 9.5 sec 0-100kph (est), 208kph
How heavy? 1432kg