One classy Kia
Korean marque finally has a car for Aussie market
The Optima is a wellpriced mid-sized motor, writes Paul Gover
THE most upscale Kia to land in Australia is more than a car. The midsized Optima is also a test case for a Korean company that is still working hard to convert customers and prove it is more than a disposable brand.
The basics of the Optima are solid and proven — because the same package rolls under the Hyundai i45 — but Kia has done a great job on giving the car some smart design and Aussiestyle driving enjoyment.
It’s also attractively priced at less than $40,000 with the sort of equipment— including heated and cooled leather front seats — that used to be found only in $200,000-plus German star brands.
The competition in the mid-sized class has never been tougher, from the appliance-like Toyota Camry to the sporty Suzuki Kizashi and the under-appreciated Ford Mondeo, but the Kia makes a solid claim.
KIA is still at the stage where it has to underpromise and over-deliver, which explains a single-model strategy and a price of $36,990.
That is well below the $39,990 of the top-spec Toyota Camry, and takes a $3000 chunk — including $1000 of extra gear — from the topline Hyundai i45.
The package includes leather seats and a glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic aircon, a punchy sound system and all the other basics in today’s mid-sized contenders, from power steering to electric windows and the rest.
The only thing missing — really missing— is satnav, but Kia Australia promises it is doing all it can to get a system in 2011.
THE Optima package is tried and proven by Hyundai, from its 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic gearbox to fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes.
Kia Australia makes lots of comparisons with the underwhelming Optima of the past, but the car needs to be considered on its own.
So the Theta II engine has high-pressure direct fuel injection to make 148kW and 250Nm with economy of 7.9litres/100km and emissions at 189g/km of CO .
The really impressive technology work in the Optima is done in Australia thanks to suspension guru Graeme Gambold.
He has tweaked the car for Australian roads and drivers, and to give it a sharper and more enjoyable feel than the i45, by changing a bunch of stuff including much stiffer springs.
THE Optima looks more like a Saab than previous-generation Kia cars.
That’s a big compliment for a car that is both more restrained and elegant than the i45, as well as more of a head-turner than a Camry.
The design work runs from the latest corpor- ate Kia grille to trendy dish-style alloy wheels and a cabin that is less funky than Hyundai but more likely to appeal to someone who is comparing the Optima against a Japanese car.
Some of the luxury touches are a bit oldschool, such as the fake wood trim, but the overall effect is classy and quality is good.
KIA is still waiting on independent test results but claims five-star safety for the Optima.
It is fully loaded with everything from ABS brakes and stability control to hill-start help, reverse parking camera and radar, cornering lamps and daytime running lamps.
Safety is another area where Kia knows it has to make an impact and it’s ticking all the boxes.
Sleek: the head-turning Kia Optima has a smart interior to match its looks, including leather seats. The only missing element is a satnav.