Character added, but enough sting?
Internationally, Kia has sent carenthusiast blood rushing to completely new places with the launch of the Stinger GT, a highperformance rear-drive sedan that basically mounted a South Korean takeover of January’s Detroit Auto Show. And yes, it’s coming to New Zealand late this year.
Locally, all that Stinger attention must be having a trickle-down effect on the limitededition Optima GT added to the Kia NZ ranks late last year - itself an attempt to do a bit of brandglamour-building around these parts.
Optima GT represents a step towards a serious sporting sedan from Kia. Indent order-only for Kiwi market.
Just to get things straight, one has very little to do with the other. Stinger is a unique model based on a rear-drive platform from (presumably) parent company Hyundai’s Genesis luxury brand, while the Optima GT is an uprated version of the front-drive family/fleet sedan we’re all familiar with.
Kia Stinger on show. Not an Optima GT. Sorry.
If there’s an all-for-one element in this story it’s the powerplant. The Optima GT has a 2.0-litre engine with twin-scroll turbo tweaked up to 180kW/350Nm, a useful increase on the standard 2.4-litre model’s 138kW/241Nm. While all of the attention has gone on the flagship Stinger V6, there’s also a four-cylinder model powered by this same powerplant. So the link is there.
The 180kW mill also powers the Hyundai Sonata turbo, although Kia NZ doesn’t like to talk about that. The two brands might be under one roof in Korea, but in NZ they’re separate distributorships and rivals.
The Sonata turbo is a useful comparison, though. The Optima GT undercuts it by $2000 but benefits from a substantially more comprehensive makeover. The Hyundai really makes no claim beyond being a luxurious mid-sizer with a bit of boost under the bonnet, while the Kia has aspirations toward true sporting sedan status.
Engineering changes to the Optima GT include a rackmounted power steering system, which differs from the motor driven power steering system fitted to the 2.4-litre Optimas. The intention is to provide greater steering feel and quicker, more linear response to driver input.
The Optima GT gets new dampers and new footwear: Michelin Pilot Sport 3 235/45 R18 tyres on unique 18-inch GT alloy wheels.
On paper and in the metal, there’s an air of sophistication about Kia’s approach to the GT. It hasn’t gone for cheap shots - it’s concentrated on the areas that will improve the driving experience most, even if they’re not necessarily the ones that stand up and slap you in face on first acquaintance.
New diffuser at rear for the GT. But the front wheels do the driving, remember.
Same goes for the styling. The Optima has striking styling in standard form of course, but changes to the GT are limited to a reshaped front bumper, gloss- black trim, a rear diffuser and red calipers for the brakes (although we don’t get the uprated stoppers offered in Europe).
So it’s somewhat surprising to fire up the GT and be confronted with at least one cheap shot: a growly soundtrack being piped into the cabin that’s artificial and ultimately quite annoying once you’ve lived with it for a few days. We get the novelty and yes, all the cool kids are doing it. But an ’off’ switch might have been a good idea for grown-ups.
It’s a slick operator in terms of performance and handling. There’s plenty of punch from the turbo engine and it’s remarkably linear. You don’t get face-altering acceleration, but 0-100kmh in 7.4 seconds is respectably brisk and the chassis is fluid over Kiwi backroads, especially with that stickier rubber. It has a confident feel, no question.
If the GT is lacking a little fizz at the top, there’s an impressive array of standard equipment to carry you though. As with the exterior, there’s not a lot to identify this as the sporting version inside: a nice steering wheel, some subtle red stitching and a few ’GT’ logos here and there.
The Optima GT represents a step towards a serious sporting sedan from Kia.