Road Test: Kia Optima ‘4’ 1.7 CRDi DCT
Kia’s stylish family saloon has become a credible alternative, reckons Alex Grant.
Sector: Upper Medium Price: £28,895 Fuel: 64.2mpg CO2: 116g/km
In a sector of the market where German premium brands are significantly outselling “mass-market” models, we’ve reached the stage in the UK where one of the most exclusive large saloon cars on the market is a Kia. And there are plenty of other reasons to opt into the leftfield Optima.
The Sportage has been the big opinion-changer for Kia in Europe, but globally the Optima has had a big role to play too. Built in Korea from launch, the outgoing car sold so quickly in North America that production was localised to meet demand.
But it never replicated that success in Europe. Kia sold around 1,000 per year of the old model, not helped by a saloon-only model range with a single engine option and no competitive automatic version. Hyundai’s comparative success with the i40 was an indicator of where the new range needed to move, and the Optima is fighting back this time with an estate, a wider choice of drivetrains including a plug-in hybrid, and a dual-clutch gearbox.
While it might look like a refresh, the Optima’s structure is entirely new. It’s stiffer and better insulated than before, slightly longer, wider and lower and home to an interior which feels almost as good as any European-market saloon cars. As before, there’s an incredible amount of rear legroom and an equally luxurious list of standard features. In top trim, as tested here, there’s really no option box left unticked, and it feels as high-tech as a D-segment car should, complete with excellent live traffic updates from TomTom.
It’s also getting there dynamically. Kia hasn’t quite mastered the sort of natural steering response and feel that others have a firm grip on, but the Optima drives well otherwise. Ride quality is much like its rivals; it feels sure-footed when changing direction and, though the engine can be a bit grumbly at low speeds, it’s much quieter than its predecessor on the motorway and feels more eager off the mark too.
Kia’s dual-clutch gearbox is also worthy of note. It’s smooth to shift between its six ratios and one of the most efficient automatic options in this class. The only shame is that the steering paddles – an often-touched part of the cabin – lack the sense of German solidity that’s so abundant in the rest of the switchgear.
Efficiency and a step up in quality are just as well, though. At £28,895 in this spec, it’s edging into the core of compact executive territory with the (slightly less generously-equipped) Passat, which is a very tough place to be. It’s a position Kia will undoubtedly find easier once the Sportwagon comes along, a more versatile load-carrier without the constraints of a saloon boot opening.
For now, though, the Optima looks a sound and exclusive purchase in a sector increasingly dominated by crossovers and premium brands. It’s a stylish saloon which you could pick almost entirely based on emotional values, as well as its rational qualities, and there’s plenty of potential for the wider model range when that comes on stream.
Kia has addressed almost all of the old Optima’s weak points, and the new car feels as European as it looks. Class-leading it isn’t, but it’s a model thoroughly deserving of a closer look.