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

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VALUE

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).

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

STYLING

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VERDICT

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.

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