Re­fined yet rorty

A turbo vari­ant will give the fourth-gen­er­a­tion Op­tima the per­for­mance to match its swoopy looks

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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