Plat­inum turns

Kia is hop­ing its new Op­tima can crack the mid-size mar­ket, writes Neil Dowl­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

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