Road Test: Kia Opima makes most of the likability factor

Kia’s Optima didn’t need a major redesign just some tweaks to improve its appeal

Make: Kia

Model: Optima

Year: 2016

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: March 3, 2016

Wed, Mar 9, 2016, 01:00

   

It is pretty much impossible not to like the new Kia Optima the moment you see it. While you could accuse Kia’s designers of not changing the substance of the styling very much, the fact is that the last Optima was a pretty handsome car, so why go mucking around with it too much? All Kia has done is what it needed to do – a tweak here and there, and the result is a good-looking, lantern-jawed effect that wouldn’t look out of place wearing a cape and staring out at you from the cover of a new Marvel comic.

Appropriate to that Marvel flavour, the Optima has traditionally been something of an American car. Certainly the last-generation version was distinctly American in its outlook, and a glance at the cheap cabin plastics, not to mention the over-generous CO2 emissions (especially compared to its stablemate cousin, the Hyundai i40) told you that the Optima was a transatlantic special, and longed for Wyoming rather than Wexford.

This time around, Kia is making no such mistakes and the new Optima has been better tuned for European tastes. The proof of that? CO2 emissions are down (from the wrong side of 130g/km to 110g/km from the updated 1.7 CRDI diesel when it’s equipped with a manual gearbox and stop-start) and there’s going to be an estate version. A very handsome estate version too, as evinced by its appearance at the recent Geneva motor show.

That 1.7 CRDI is an impressive engine to drive. Its 340Nm of torque gives it proper mid-range punch, so it can swim in the same depth of pool as rivals with 2.0 and even 2.2-litre engines, while power is a very decent 141hp.

It’s reasonably refined too, with only an occasional diesely gurgle or grumble.

Fuel economy

Economy is little short of excellent too. Kia quotes a relatively realistic 67mpg combined figure, and I reckon you’ll see at least 90 per cent of that in day-to-day driving. It also has a very big 70-litre fuel tank, so you’ll easily be able to put 1,000km in between visits to the fuel station. Even in an era of cheaper oil, it’s a very pleasant feeling to be able to reel off hundreds of kilometres at a single swoosh and still see three-quarters of a tank on board.

You’ll cover those kilometres in properly good comfort too and this is the Optima’s trump card. Its seats are really good, with a nigh-perfect combination of support and squash, and the ride quality retains a little of the American softness of its forefather. It is very good at rounding off big bumps and intrusions. There’s a good acreage of space too, especially in the back where a 10mm stretch in the wheelbase compared to the old Optima has it rivalling even the mighty Skoda Superb for cabin room.

Our Platinum-spec test car (sounds like the range-topper but is actually one up from basic) was well-stuffed with equipment in the classic Kia idiom and while €31,450 still sounds a bit pricey to these ears for a mid-range family saloon, you do get a touchscreen infotainment system (and a good one at that, seamlessly melds with your smartphone), heated leather seats and steering wheel, split-zone climate and more.

Cost- cutting Ah, but then you start to spot what appears to be cost-cutting. Reach down and flick the switch for the electronic handbrake. To my mind it feels cheap and nasty. The same goes for one or two other switches too, which does start to undermine the otherwise overall feeling of decent quality.

The suspension and steering too display a certain lack of budget spend.

Although this Optima is sharper and more rewarding to drive than the last one (and by a long stroke too) there is still some vagueness in the steering and an odd rocking-shimmy that runs through the suspension over multiple-sharp bumps, especially at urban speeds. Refinement is a bit suspect too – there’s quite a bit of tyre and road noise at speed. That said, get it on the right road and you can actually have more than a little fun flinging the Optima around, so it’s not all bad, it just lacks the final dynamic polish that you’d get in a Passat or Mazda 6.

Even so, it’s a car you’d be hard-pressed not to like. That square-jawed face makes such a good first impression and the huge space, decent equipment and excellent engine do more or less make up for any cost-saving loopholes.

The lowdown: Kia Optima 1.7 CRDI
Power: 141hp
Torque: 340Nm
0-100kmh: 10.0sec
Top speed: 203kmh
Claimed economy: 4.2/100km. (67mpg)
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
Motor tax: €190
Price: €31,450 as tested; range starts at €27,950