Op­ti­mised fur­ther

Kia Op­tima

NZ Autocar - - Contents - Words Kyle Cas­sidy Pho­tos Tom Gas­nier

Kia con­tin­ues on its course of on­go­ing im­prove­ment with the re­lease of the new Op­tima sedan. It’s big on re­fine­ment and fea­tures, but has the drive ex­pe­ri­ence im­proved?

There’s no easy way around it re­ally; the big sedan is now firmly re­garded as the older gen­tle­man’s car in the mar­ket. And there’s noth­ing wrong with that. Those of dis­tin­guished sta­tus hap­pily say ‘keep your silly SUVs, your crossovers and what have you, I’ve never needed all that stuff, and still don’t.’ And the Op­tima is prime for the de­mo­graphic too, be­ing re­fined, spa­cious and still rea­son­able value con­sid­er­ing what it of­fers.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Op­tima was re-born, land­ing here mid-2011, and re­freshed in 2014 with those ‘ice cube’ quar­tet of driv­ing lights. It seems a bit early for a new model then? The Op­tima is a big seller in the US, a mar­ket that de­mands con­stant up­dates, and so by us­ing Hyundai bits and pieces, Kia has been able to re­new the Op­tima ear­lier than usual.

The new-for-2016 Op­tima is priced from $46k-$49k for the two-model range, which at first seems like a lot. But that’s right in Mazda6 ter­ri­tory, the EX just un­der GSX money, and Lim­ited un­der­cut­ting the top spec 6. It’s prob­a­bly also worth not­ing that the Lim­ited is $2.5K cheaper than when we last drove the car in 2014. Some will re­mem­ber that the Kia mid-sized sedan, named Ma­gen­tis for a while, wasn’t re­ally a star car and yet we named it a COTY cat­e­gory win­ner one year on the ba­sis of its out­stand­ing value.

Priced in the high for­ties, Op­tima might seem ex­pen­sive but all the com­peti­tors are in the same price bracket and in Lim­ited guise the Op­tima has a stupendous load of kit. There’s a full suite of ac­tive safety with smart cruise, col­li­sion avoid­ance, blind spot and lane de­par­ture warn­ing and auto high beams, a smart key, pow­ered leather seats with heat­ing and cool­ing and mem­ory func­tion, sat nav, a re­vers­ing cam­era, front and rear sen­sors, a wire­less de­vice charger, heated steer­ing wheel and Blue­tooth au­dio stream­ing. Of course, ev­ery au­dio geek knows you should hard wire that ‘hi res’ MP3 player for op­ti­mal sound qual­ity from the 10-speaker Har­man Kar­don au­dio with ex­ter­nal am­pli­fier and ded­i­cated sub which just might blow the bowl­ing hat off the par­cel shelf if you crank it up. Op­tima also

has Kia’s five-year, 100,000km war­ranty. Given the small dif­fer­ence in price, we say go Lim­ited and get ev­ery­thing. Both mod­els have six air bags and carry a five-star Euro NCAP score, but it’s yet to be ANCAP tested so let’s hope Kia has learned from the Car­ni­val in­ci­dent and the Op­tima has been en­gi­neered safely for right-hand drive mar­kets too.

That swag of stuff is loaded onto a new chas­sis that is a lit­tle longer, wider and taller. It’s 10mm longer in the wheel­base, and 25mm wider for added in­te­rior room, of which there is now plenty in the rear and the boot ex­pands too. The chas­sis is said to be 50 per cent stiffer thanks to up­ping the con­tent of high strength, hot stamped steels and re­in­forc­ing the rear end around the sus­pen­sion mount­ing points. On the re­fine­ment front, there are added un­der­body cov­ers to smooth the air flow and re­duce noise, while ex­tra sound in­su­la­tion has been added. New en­gine and sub­frame mounts help re­duce NVH, and along with new rear con­trol arms, the sus­pen­sion mount­ing points have been re­lo­cated to op­ti­mise the ge­om­e­try for a smoother ride and im­proved re­sponses.

If you think the Op­tima looks fa­mil­iar, it is but the styling has been re­fined. The de­tails have been tweaked which you might ei­ther find in­ter­est­ing or fussy, and it has that fast­back look that Amer­i­cans seem to like. The in­te­rior doesn’t have quite the same design panache, save for the Jaguar-ap­ing “Riva Hoop” run­ning across the dash top. It does how­ever con­vey a solid qual­ity feel and it’s prac­ti­cal, as you might hope. The seat is com­fort­able, and while there’s not a huge amount of ad­just­ment, peo­ple won’t mind as it is both heated and cooled. There are few no­tice­able hard plas­tics about, save for the edge

of the con­sole which your knee may bump into. There’s good stor­age and the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is done by touch and is in a good po­si­tion for the eyes, if a lit­tle bit of a stretch for the fin­gers. It’s sup­ple­mented by drive-re­lated info dis­played be­tween the main di­als, with a good dig­i­tal speed read­out too if the eyes are get­ting tired. The panoramic roof proved a bit bright and hot on a sunny, late-sum­mer day, so the shade was closed. These glass roofs are bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ated in win­ter, or not at all, as this one eats into rear head­room. But oth­er­wise rear seat space is grand, there’s a heap of leg and shoul­der room, with win­dow shades even, and a USB and 12V power sup­ply for all those de­vices some feel the need to carry around. The boot is XL in size, with a full-size spare un­der the floor. How­ever, the boot lid has the old goose neck hinges and while the rear seat doesn’t spring for­ward when you pull the re­lease lever, it does fold flat once down.

In terms of a drive, the chas­sis hon­ing has im­proved Op­tima but it hasn’t quite leapt to the front of the field ei­ther. The over­rid­ing char­ac­ter is one of re­fine­ment; it’s quiet when cruis­ing, and the ride com­fort is im­pres­sive, Op­tima con­sum­ing all sorts of bumps while still main­tain­ing a rea­son­able gov­er­nance on the roll. Grip lev­els are bet­ter with the move to gen­er­ous 235 cross sec­tion Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 3 tyres and the brakes don’t seem to give up as eas­ily as they used to ei­ther. The steer­ing has been re­vised, now with a rack mounted mo­tor for the EPS and while it’s ac­cu­rate and re­spon­sive, it’s largely mute and too heavy, es­pe­cially around town and in the car park, re­quir­ing too much el­bow grease.

There’s only one pow­er­train for our mar­ket, and it’s not a turbo but the fa­mil­iar 2.4-litre DI four, now with 138kW and 241Nm. That’s less than the old model but it’s bet­ter for the world as it is Euro5 emis­sions com­pli­ant. How­ever with a slight re­duc­tion in weight, there’s no loss in per­for­mance. It’s a lit­tle slow on the up­take but once above 3000rpm it gets things mov­ing along bet­ter. The auto isn’t the most re­spon­sive unit ever, but it’s smooth and if you have to, you can use the pad­dles to stir it along. Though, like the drive mode but­ton, we sus­pect few own­ers will feel the need to fid­dle. Un­less they want to select Eco mode to help re­duce fuel con­sump­tion. This rose into the 14s af­ter some ped­dling, then af­ter a re­trip be­fore en­ter­ing the mo­tor­way, went as low as 5.9 be­fore set­tling in the mid tens af­ter some round town sor­ties. Here, in the ur­ban en­vi­rons, the re­fine­ment is the stand out fea­ture, the en­gine quiet as you don’t re­ally probe be­yond 3000rpm, while the driv­e­line is smooth and road noise min­i­mal. It’s only that over­done steer­ing heft that an­noys. And the overly ac­tive lane de­par­ture warn­ing, which at least can be turned off.

De­spite the seg­ment lev­el­ling off in the past few years, there is no short­age of choice when it comes to big front-drive sedans. If you want some­thing sharp look­ing, re­fined and com­fort­able with plenty of kit in­cluded, try Op­tima; we’d pick it over Sonata and Camry any day.

The chas­sis is said to be 50 per cent stiffer thanks to up­ping the con­tent of high strength, hot stamped steels

Op­tima looks fa­mil­iar, but the styling was right so best not mess with it too much. Plenty on of­fer in the new car; it’s loaded with things like a heated wheel, and cooled seats. Re­fine­ment steps up a notch too.

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