Kia is hoping its new Optima can crack the mid-size market, writes Neil Dowling
AWEDGE is being driven into Australia’s busy mid-size sedan market. Though the wedge is thin, Kia believes its Camry/ Mazda6/Accord Euro rival, the Optima, has the goods.
It arrives in January in only one model, the highly specified Platinum, with an expected $36,000 price tag.
Kia has high hopes this is the car that will bring it elusive cache. But it isn’t going to happen overnight.
‘‘Optima is not going to be a volume seller, at least not at first,’’ Kia Australia spokesman Kevin Hepworth says.
Not until late next year will the Platinum be assisted on the showroom by a smaller-engined variant that aims to pick up the budget and fleet end of the business.
Australia gets the complete list of accessories as standard in the Platinum – save only for satnav, and that’s probably a temporary situation and remedied by the availability of local software.
That means the Optima gets here with two sunroofs, 18-inch alloy wheels, 530-watt and eight-speaker Infinity audio, Bluetooth, rear camera and park sensors, cruise control, dualzone aircon, leather and vented/heated seats.
For safety, there’s standard electronic stability control, hill-start assist, ABS on four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, six airbags and the promise of a five-star crash rating from Australia’s ANCAP.
Australia also betters other markets by get- ting the best engine – in this case, a 147kW/ 250Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with direct-petrol injection. In Kia-speak, it’s called gasoline direct injection and marked by the acronym GDI.
This engine will be mated to a six-speed sequential automatic with standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Kia says it’s good for a 0-100km/h time of 8.5 sec. No fuel economy or emission figures are available. Kia says it is finalising data.
Australia is also the only market to get a retuned suspension. Worked on by former Toyota engineer Graeme Gambold, who also reworked the Sportage for local conditions, the Optima gets new high performance dampers (HPDs) made by esteemed European suspension makers ZF Sachs.
The coil springs are also re-rated, the steering system – hydraulic, not the Korean electric system – is new and the brakes are bigger.
Part of the change meant 18-inch wheels are standard.
Externally, the Optima is a very attractive sedan. It is unlike any Korean, probably because it was designed by a European in former Audi stylist Peter Schreyer, and that will erase any preconceived ideas by prospective buyers.
Inside it is even better. It is clever in its use of space and will seat five adults in comfort, first because of the excellent rear legroom but also because the central tunnel hump has been reduced to a mere bump on the floor.
The boot is claimed to be the biggest in its class and the Australian-specced split and fold rear seat (most other markets get a fixed seat back) makes a versatile cargo area.
The dashboard is designed with a sports car theme, with the main instrument and radio area angled to the driver. Initial cars get foot-operated park brake, but by the end of 2011 this will be replaced with an electronic park brake that consists merely of a dash button.
Impressive is the ergonomics of the cabin and the very European feel.
Sole entrant: Optima will arrive in Australia next year in only one model, the highly specified Platinum.