This much improved version of mid-sized Kia's Optima model may look familiar, but the developments are in the details. The experts at Car & Driving take a closer look.
Ten Second Review
Kia's Mondeo-sized medium range Optima model keeps its handsome looks and grows in stature, with the main improvements made to this second generation version targeting refinement, interior style and space. There's also now a Sportswagon estate derivative and even a plug-in hybrid option. Overall, with this much improved model, Kia aims to challenge the market leaders and even worry a few of the more premium players.
This Kia Optima is somewhat confusingly billed as a 'fourth-generation' model but this is the second generation version of this car that we've seen here. Earlier models were known as the 'Magentis' in Britain and shared much of their underpinnings with Hyundai's Sonata. The Magentis was well built, cheap and well equipped but there wasn't anything very aspirational about it. In contrast, the Optima saloon we first saw in this country in late 2011 was very different, with styling from Kia's Chief Designer Peter Schreyer that signalled a move upmarket.
This was an unashamed attempt to win over customers from the segment heavyweights such as the Ford Mondeo or Volkswagen's Passat and it was nearly good enough. These days though, Kia isn't satisfied with 'nearly good enough' and in creating this thoroughly redesigned model, the Korean brand's designers and engineers have been focussing their attention on ride and handling, refinement, interior style and practicality. Have all their efforts paid off? Let's look closer.
The first thing to acknowledge is that the Kia Optima has lost weight, shedding up to 65kg. The 1.7-litre diesel engine on offer in mainstream models now produces 139bhp, while low-end grunt has been improved by an electronically controller turbocharger to deliver 340Nm of torque at lower engine speeds. That's an increase of 15Nm over the old model, resulting in fractionally quicker acceleration times of just under 10 seconds from 0 to 62mph for the manual and just under 11 seconds in the automatic. There has been a marginal increase in top speeds as well, with the auto transmission variant topping out at 126mph. That auto is a more efficient twin-clutch DCT gearbox. Kia has also developed a petrol/electric hybrid model with a 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine mated to a 50 kW electric motor. Total power output for the package is 202bhp.
You can also talk to your dealer about a minority-interest flagship sporting GT model which gets a 242bhp 2.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol unit.
With all Optimas, by stretching out the wheelbase, stiffening the body with 'Advanced High-Strength Steel' and upgrading the suspension, Kia have sought to improve handling dynamics, while an updated and repositioned electronic 'Motor-Driven Power Steering' system should offer more feel at the helm. One of the biggest criticisms of the outgoing Optima was an unsatisfactory level of refinement. Kia engineers have been focussing on Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) innovations to reduce road, wind and engine noise, stiffening the body to avoid vibration and rattles, and improving the seals and insulation around the car.
Design and Build
Despite losing weight, the revised Optima has grown in every direction, affording even greater rear legroom than before - though that wasn't really an issue in the earlier model. Luggage capacity of the saloon version has increased by 5 litres to 510-litres. This is still far short of the VW Passat's 586-litre total and even the Ford Mondeo's 541-litre figure, but it's a step closer. Alternatively, there's a Sportswagon estate bodystyle offering a 553-litre boot.
The Optima's exterior styling is a very subtle evolution from the last model, designed very much to be taken seriously by European car buyers. The dashboard is spread along a more horizontal plane and a wider central console, creating a greater sense of spaciousness. The material quality is significantly improved, with a far higher proportion of soft-touch materials. The central fascia is angled 8.5 degrees towards the driver, with the upper 'display' zone housing a smarter 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and lower 'control' zone offering fewer buttons to manage the various cabin functions not already built into the touchscreen.
Market and Model
Prices for the Optima remain much as before - they're pitched in the £21,500-£29,000 bracket - though inevitably the hybrid version will cost more than that. There's a premium of just over £1,000 if you want the Sportswagon estate variant. This places the Kia Optima right in the heart of the Ford Mondeo's domain, with the Volkswagen Passat also offering a strong package in terms of refinement, quality and style for just a relatively small premium over the equivalent Optima models.
Kia has introduced a number of technological innovations in the cabin, with wireless phone charging enabled by a pad below the centre console. Drivers can simply place their compatible device on the pad and carry on with their journey and the phone will automatically begin to charge. 'Kia Connected Services' is a software package that integrates with the audio-visual navigation system to provide timely and relevant information to the driver. The 7 or 8 inch touch screen in the centre of the dashboard also controls the DAB Digital radio and infotainment system. Autonomous Driver aids offered as options include 'Advanced Cruise Control' to adjust the speed in relation to other vehicles, 'High Beam Assist' to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers, and 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert' to make reversing manoeuvres safer for other road-users.
Cost of Ownership
The manual 1.7 CRDi Optima model now manages 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and emits 110g/km of CO2, so enjoys a £20 a year tax band. The 7-speed DCT auto version manages 64.2mpg and 116g/km. Rivals like Ford's Mondeo 1.5 TDCi ECOnetic do slightly better, while Volkswagen's Passat BlueMotion 1.6 TDI model manages a combined cycle 76.3mpg showing, so Kia still has a little way to go here to match the class leaders.
The first version of the Optima depreciated far less than its Magentis predecessors but here again, Kia has some ground to make up against rivals. This improved version should continue the upward trend and in this regard, Kia's impressive 7-year or 100,000mile warranty should help, given that it's transferrable to second owners.
This much improved Kia Optima may not look much different from the outside - but then the outside was the one thing that didn't really need changing. What required improvement was the plasticky interior, the gutless engine and the inefficient automatic transmission option and all these issues have been duly dealt with in this enhanced model. It'll also help that there's now a Sportswagon estate bodystyle and clever plug-in petrol/electric hybrid technology.
In summary, there's much to like here. Affordable pricing, a spacious appealing cabin, high levels of equipment, a smooth DCT auto gearbox and the longest warranty in the class are all big draws. In short, Kia has rejuvenated its offering in this segment.