Refined yet rorty
A turbo variant will give the fourth-generation Optima the performance to match its swoopy looks
BOOSTING the appeal of Kia’s new mid-sized sedan is as simple as ticking the turbo box.
The aggressively styled Optima was a hit when it launched five years ago, with swoopy, European-inspired styling that suggested an entertaining drive when the steering wheel was turned.
Thanks to locally tuned suspension, it delivered, though performance was solid rather than sensational and enthusiasts found they could reach the engine’s limit well before testing the chassis’ endurance.
With the arrival of the fourth-generation Optima, it’s a case of “problem over” — providing you can wait until the car arrives in November.
The reason to rejoice is a 2.0-litre turbo good for about 185kW/350Nm.
That’s a decent jump on the 148kW/250Nm outputs of the 2.4-litre engine powering the current car and the turbo’s figures should improve when the car is tested in Australia using 91 RON fuel — the default octane rating in the US is 87 RON.
Carsguide tips a starting cost of about $35,000 when the new models arrive in November. Kia has the luxury of time to determine what its rivals are doing in terms of pricing and features before announcing local details.
Cabin quality is improved with better seats and more softtouch plastics on the fascia and doors enhancing the tactile feedback
An eight-inch touchscreen will use AndroidAuto and Apple CarPlay to link to smartphones and display the more prominent apps, from music to messaging and navigation.
The features can be accessed via the screen, steering wheel or by voice commands, enabling the designers to reduce the button clutter on the dash.
Externally, the Optima has grown marginally in all dimensions and adopts a stretched “tiger-nose” grille that extends into equally flat headlamps.
The result is a lean and mean front-end style without deviating too far from the looks that made the current model so popular. The turbo engine will be reserved for the top-spec Platinum model and will come in above $40,000.
Tickle the accelerator and the turbo’s transformation of the Optima is obvious. Peak torque arrives at just 1350rpm, giving the sedan off-the-line grunt that suggests electric motor assistance. There’s no lag waiting for the turbo to wind up and no sudden jolt when it delivers.
It’s a fairly convincing application of forced induction and is engaging enough to leave the auto in default mode and not bother using the paddle-shifters to try to extract more performance.
Slot that into a chassis using more high strength and hot stamped steel, along with a fourfold rise in the use of structural adhesive, and the sedan should be a tauter, more responsive vehicle to drive.
For now it’s a case of “should be” because Carsguide was driving the turbo engine in the current car and with the suspension set up for US tastes, meaning the thing is mushier than meringue mix and wants to fall over its inside front wheel when tipped into a turn.
Kia reckons it has worked hard on making the new chassis lighter, even using carbon-fibre reinforced plastic for the sunroof frame. It is also quietly pleased with the suppression of noise, vibration and harshness, from extra dash insulation to improved window mouldings and a full-length underbody cover to improve thirst and cut wind noise.
The suspension geometry has been revised front and rear and most components have been beefed up to keep the Optima flat and focused under cornering loads.
The new turbo engine is a cracker: refined in ordinary use and rorty when required. Kia didn’t need to do much to the chassis anyway, all of which bodes well for the fourthgeneration Optima. The only issues will be price and fuel consumption.