Cause for op­ti­mism

Last year, the ex­cel­lent Car­ni­val and the land­mark Sorento re­set the Kia stan­dard — one the Optima GT misses

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - THE TICK -

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.

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