Cause for optimism
Last year, the excellent Carnival and the landmark Sorento reset the Kia standard — one the Optima GT misses
THE people at Kia have got a little ahead of themselves with the new Optima.
They call it a GT turbo and want people to pay a premium price, which means $43,990 plus on-roads.
But do the people who are shopping for a mid-sized family sedan, and who might also be considering a Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat or Hyundai Sonata, really care remotely about a GT badge? Or a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine?
And can they see the value in a Kia of this size, even one with lots of equipment and a great warranty, with a showroom sticker that means more than $45,000 on the road?
I ponder all these questions as I pull away in the all-new Optima.
After driving the Carnival and Sorento last year, and voting for the Sorento as Car of the Year, my expectations are high for the Optima.
The previous Optima, the third-generation of the badge, made a big impression.
It looked more like a brandnew Saab, was outstanding to drive thanks to local suspension tuning and was great value.
The base Optima, the Si, starts at $34,490, but Kia aims to make a big impact with the GT
It’s true that the fourth-gen Optima looks good, with styling that’s more European than Asian. Production standards are high, too, from the panel fits to the stitching on the leather seats and the quality of the plastics and switches.
The Optima is roomy inside. The sweeping curve at the base on the windscreen — which has a touch of Jaguar style — carries through as a common design cue with the Carnival and Sorento.
Instruments are userfriendly with a big digital speedometer and the audio has plenty of punch. The seats are comfy and supportive, the Isofix child seat mounts work well, there is good boot space and the full-sized alloy spare is welcome. Sound quality via.the Bluetooth connection is not so good and there is less of the “surprise and delight” stuff than I expected.
Perhaps I would feel differently in an Optima Si.
The engine, however, endows some GT-style feeling, with 180kW at the top end and solid torque of 350Nm from not much more than idle. That means it gives a solid shove from the lights and is great for overtaking, with a red-line surge that betters its size and price rivals.
I enjoy the paddle-shifters for manual control of the sixspeed auto as I can keep the engine in the meaty band of torque for every corner on my Tick test road.
Despite the claim of 7.4 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash, it’s not as explosive or sporty as I would expect of a GT.
There’s also the matter of the Proceed GT, which was a great little speedster and real fun to drive. Kia Australia has just killed the Proceed, despite its strengths, because Aussies did not get behind it.
The Optima is smooth in the ride and quiet to drive but it’s not sharp enough or grippy enough in corners.
Comparing it with the Passat that ran against it in the COTY drive-off, the Optima is pleasant enough but not as classy; it’s quicker, certainly, but not outstanding.
It’s also a fair bit dearer than a Sonata. I wonder how it would go against a Toyota Aurion V6 with the Sportivo pack for less money. Its six-monthly service interval is below par.
The Optima GT is likeable but that’s not enough. Kia Australia aims to sell only about 2000 examples a year, it doesn’t have the supply problems that have existed in the past with the Optima — but the price is still a stumbling point..
The midsize class in Australian motoring is jampacked with some excellent choices and great value picks. I reckon the Optima Si is probably worth The Tick — but I’m in the GT Turbo and I can’t tick what I’m not driving.
Last year, the excellent Carnival and the landmark Sorento reset the Kia standard. Judged against that, and considering I’d prefer to put a friend into a Camry for value, a Passat for all-round class or a Sonata for bottom-line price, I’m torn.
TICK OR NO TICK
The Optima GT is not a slam dunk. It hits the rim and bounces away. No Tick.