| Week at the Wheel | Kia Optima |
Model tested: Kia Optima '3'
Engine: 1.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Ford Mondeo, Hyundai i40, Skoda Superb
CO2 emissions: 128g/km
Combined economy: 57.6mpg
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Power: 136hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 325Nm at 2,000 to 2,500rpm
Inside & Out:
Sleek and sharp, the exterior of the Kia Optima is probably its strongest suit. We lost count of the number of friends who complimented the car's looks. Certainly, it does an impression of a premium product far better than anything else in the Kia range - the taut surfaces, LED running lights and polished alloy wheels completing the expensive look.
If you're anywhere near six-foot tall like me, the first thing you'll notice about the cabin is how close your head is to the roof lining and the seats do not adjust quite low enough. Apart from that there is little to criticise, and elsewhere in the cabin space is anything but a premium - especially in the rear where the extended wheelbase means even full size adults can stretch out. The dashboard layout is attractive, angled towards the driver, and in '3' trim the Optima is loaded with equipment to make it a great place to while away the miles.
Ride & Handling:
The Kia is built for hammering up and down the motorways of Britain, providing comfortable and calm transport for those that face lengthy commutes or travel hundreds of miles a week for their jobs. And in that respect it has succeeded; only the occasional fidgeting from the suspension (not helped by the 18-inch alloy wheels) over ruts and expansion joints causes any issues.
It's not quite such a polished performer on back roads though; the body control is still good and the Optima does inspire confidence when pushing on, but do so and the front-end grip soon expires, quicker than it does in many rivals. The slightly stiff front suspension allows the front tyres to give up its purchase a little too quickly. It's not helped by the rather lifeless steering, which doesn't communicate what is happening under and to the front rims as clearly as a keen driver would really like.
Engine & Transmission:
If there's anything that holds the Optima back from being considered a real key player in the segment it's the choice of engine - or rather lack of one. The only unit available is a 1.7-litre four-cylinder diesel producing 136hp, but what it really needs is a similarly powered petrol unit and a higher output diesel to stand comparison with more powerful rivals.
That's not to say there's much wrong with the 1.7 CRDi unit; it manages to sprint from 0-62mph in little over ten seconds and the Optima always feels willing, if not especially quick. At motorway speeds it's quiet and refined, though there is some grumble at low revs at part throttle and one look at the economy achieved means you soon forget about any misgivings. Matched with the six-speed manual gearbox it makes for a pleasant, if not exciting or enticing, combination.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money:
In top-spec '3' trim the Optima is loaded with equipment; the only option on our test example was the £475 metallic paint. Not only is the driver's electrically adjustable leather front seat ventilated, but the rear seats are heated too and the '3' model comes with satnav, Bluetooth, a reversing camera, a park assist program and upgraded Infinity sound system with its own subwoofer. The result is a cabin that wants for nothing.
So far so good, and when you look at the official economy figures - over 57mpg on the combined cycle (without trying we managed over 50mpg in our time with the car) and 128g/km CO2
emissions it's clear the Optima is a bit of a bargain and should be cheap to run. Residuals might not be as strong as some of its rivals', but that famous seven-year warranty means they're better than ever - in short the Optima is a wise buy.