Mid-life nip and tuck
The Optima’s Euro-class good looks make it a better bet but it still falls behind the pace of others in its class
A RUSH of new models and revised prices hasn’t done the Kia Optima any favours in the medium sedan class.
It is being overlooked in favour of newer, better-handling models: on one hand, the likes of the Mazda6, on the other hand, such value-laden and more economical turbo cars as the Skoda Octavia.
Such is life for a mid-cycle motor vehicle. Kia is following a well-worn path by looking to offset the deficit with an exterior nip-and-tuck backed by updated features.
The Optima range starts at $30,990 for the Si and rises to $40,490 in the Platinum trim tested here. The updated gear on the range-topper includes quad LED fog lamps, new 18inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, digital instrument display and heating and cooling on better-bolstered front seats.
Software includes lanechange and blind-spot alerts, rear cross-traffic alert and front parking sensors. Competitors include the Subaru Liberty sedan ($32,990-$55,990), Nissan Altima ($29,990-$45,490) and Toyota’s class-leading Camry ($30,490-$39,990).
Time for an engine update. As the flagship of the Kia range the Optima is due for turbocharging to trim its fuel consumption and boost performance.
The 2.4-litre engine and six- speed auto are smooth performers but can’t mask the low-down lack of torque. On the positive side, the claimed combined fuel use of 7.9L/100km is probably achievable — Carsguide post mid-nines.
The updated digital display lifts the look of the instrument cluster but annoyingly can’t be prodded to produce a digital speedometer.
A concerted effort to give the Optima Euro-class looks has translated into clean exterior lines and a profusion of satin alloy highlights throughout the cabin. The plastics look and feel solid under hand and there is good head and legroom front and rear along with a spacious and practically styled boot.
In common with most in this class, the Optima is a five-star car. ANCAP rates it highly at 35.58/37, noting “a slight risk of serious chest and leg injury for the driver”. Six airbags give allround head protection and there are a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors.
The steering has never been a strong suit for the Optima and that’s unchanged for 2014. The on-centre feel is too imprecise and leaves the driver making small — often unneeded — changes in direction and detracts from the fun through the turns.
That’s a shame because the basic dynamics are there and the suspension feels composed through sweeping turns. That taut tune hurts the Optima around town in the form of a jostling ride over bumps and corrugations. It just doesn’t make the compromises some of its rivals are capable of.
The noise of the free-revving engine is now slightly more muted in the cabin. Kia claims to have softened exterior sound by 3.3dB but it is still evident at high revs.
The driving position is still a bling-laden place to be and there is no shortage of software aids to keep the Kia safe on the roads.
The Optima is no longer the optimal car in this lot. The extra gear adds appeal but still only brings the equipment on par with newer, more efficient models.