One classy Kia

Korean mar­que fi­nally has a car for Aussie mar­ket

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

Value

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.

Technology

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 .

2

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.

De­sign

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.

Safety

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.

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