LARGER THAN EXPECTED
Although officially placed in the medium car category, Optima is a relatively large sedan; when we parked it at a shopping centre, it didn’t look much smaller than Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons sitting around it. Optima is marginally longer, taller and wider than its predecessor and this factor, plus an efficient use of interior space, translates into a roomier, more comfortable cabin, especially for passengers in the rear. There is a little more luggage space and loading is easy with a wide boot opening, including auto opening on the GT.
To its credit, Kia has managed to include a full-size alloy spare wheel.
On the road, powerful performance from the 2.0L turbo engine, a well-matched six-speed automatic and a good balance of handling and ride make the GT an involving and enjoyable drive. The sophisticated direct- injection engine, which it shares with Hyundai Sonata, gives Optima real spirit. Maximum power is a useful 180kW, but more impressive is the torque spread, with 360Nm available from 1400rpm through to 4000rpm. This gives Optima the flexibility to cope easily with the rigours of everyday use and provides an enjoyable touch of sporting ability that makes the GT fun to drive.
The GT rolls along easily. Throttle response is smooth and progressive, while Drive Mode Select allows drivers to choose Normal, Eco or Sport operation. Each setting adjusts transmission programming, throttle mapping and steering effort, and the default mode is Normal. In Eco, throttle effort is increased and the transmission shifts up earlier, to help conserve fuel. Sport mode adjusts steering weight and throttle sensitivity while holding lower gears for longer. When needed, acceleration is rapid and there is plenty in reserve for hills or safe passing.
Driven conservatively, Optima can achieve respectable fuel economy, as the ADR figure of 8.5L/100km indicates. But put your foot down and consumption jumps, and over a broad cross-section of operating conditions we averaged 11.9L/100km. But at least that extra cost at the fuel pump is tempered by Kia specifying 91 RON-grade petrol for this turbo engine.
SUITS AUSTRALIAN CONDITIONS
Complementing the performance, Kia’s local engineers have done a superb job fine-tuning the suspension to suit Australian road conditions. Thanks to well-balanced handling, Optima is agile and surefooted for a vehicle of its size. Using a rack-mounted electric power steering system, rather than the column-mounted system on the Si model, gives the GT steering an appropriately weighted, precise, linear feel.
The ride is well controlled but tends to be a touch firm although it’s not harsh. The low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres that help provide excellent grip and steering response, however, tend to accentuate the occasional suspension thump which intrudes on what is otherwise a quiet cabin.
There is a new maturity in Kia Optima that makes it highly desirable. The GT justifies its premium price with a generous standard equipment, top-class safety features and a high-quality interior. The higher-than-average fuel consumption is a relatively small price to pay for strong turbo performance and enjoyable dynamic ability, which is backed by a seven-year warranty.
KIA OPTIMA GT
PRICE: $43,990 + $4195 (est) ORC. Model range $34,490-$43,990.
SAFETY: ESC. ABS. 6 airbags. Autonomous emergency braking. Reversing camera. Front/rear parking sensors. Auto lights/wipers. Lane-departure, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts. Adaptive cruise control. ISOFIX fittings. Tyre pressure monitoring. LED daytime running lights.
CONNECTIVITY: Sat-nav (8” screen) with real-time traffic information. Bluetooth. USB ports. Voice-operated phone/audio.
VEHICLE: features Dual-zone climate-control. Heated/cooled electric seats. Heated steering wheel. Leather/leather substitute trim. Sunroof.
DRIVER FEATURES: Selectable drive modes. Fully adjustable steering. Xenon headlights. Keyless entry/start.
SPECIFICATIONS: Drivetrain: 1998cc 4cyl turbo-petrol engine. 180kW@6000rpm, 350Nm@1400-4000rpm. 6spd auto. FWD. 91 RON petrol. 70L tank. 11.9L/100km (RACV test figure); 8.5L/100km (govt figure). Wheels: Alloy, 235/45 R18 tyres. Full-size alloy spare. Environment: 199g/km CO2. Towing: 1400kg limit (80kg towball).
SERVICE/REPAIRS: 12-month/15,000km services. 7-year/unlimited km warranty.
Features & equipment: **** 1/2
Seating comfort: ****
Ride quality: ****
Performance: **** 1/2
Economy: *** 1/2
Handling & braking: ****
Safety (ANCAP): *****
* More RACV road tests and car reviews.