I almost missed it in the car park. Holding onto Kia
keys I have to admit I was scanning the rows for a rather ordinary looking saloon. When I spied the Kia Optima I was impressed by its sharp modern styling, coupé style roofline and a big set of wheels that looked as though they had escaped straight from the styling studio.
Opening the door and stepping inside the Kia’s pitch for showroom appeal continues. The seat on the Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi 2 Luxe automatically motors forward towards the steering wheel, just like the real luxury marques.
It’s a nice bit of theatre for a car that costs £21,695.
I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Parked in the car park outside a company that makes extremely clever and highly-technical bits for oilwells, one of the techie types was caught peering into the car. Passed that test then!
First impressions were good. It is clear that Kia is making huge advances in the appeal of their cars. My recent experiences have resulted in growing respect for Kia products, with particular honourable mentions for the Kia Rio
and the Kia Sportage
Not that the Optima is without its faults, even on first impressions. While the fit and finish is impressive, the seats feel strangely flat and shapeless and – as I found out on the very first drive – there is definite lack of lateral support on corners.
Not that this is a car to encourage you to build up the G-forces on your favourite twisty B-road. The handling is fine. The grip is fine. It’s just not at the cutting edge of vehicle dynamics. It is not targeted at, and not likely to appeal to, the more sporty driver.
Equally, the ride quality earns a tick in the box marked “satisfactory”, being let down only by the occasional creak or groan as you crest a speed hump.
Somehow that seemed to encapsulate some of my thoughts about the Kia Optima. It is a very compelling option in the way it provides saloon space at hatchback prices, with an impressive specification to boot. But there are some things that remind you that the quality is perhaps not as deep, yet, as some of the better western offerings.
The 1.7-litre diesel engine is aimed at economy and low emissions, rather than performance. but it still reaches 62 mph in a reasonable 10.2 seconds. I do seem to have an ear that is more offended than most by the sonorous drone of some diesels and it was precisely that sound that entered the cabin whenever I pressed the accelerator.
And there is no escape. Whereas most manufacturers will offer you an almost bewildering choice of engines for their mid-range saloon, if you want to buy an Optima in the UK you get just one choice. This one.
What you can expect from diesels is good mileage and the Optima obliges with a combined fuel economy of 57.6 mpg. During my time with the Kia Optima I became quite accustomed to seeing economy figures on the right side of 50 mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions are 128g/km which puts this car in band D for UK road tax.
With its undoubted showroom appeal and that sticker on the back window, the Kia Optima seems sure to build a growing following for itself. What’s that about a sticker?
Aha, it’s about 9 cm by 7 cm and it proclaims “7-year warranty”. Combine that with a lot of car for your money and the Kia Optima is bound to advance Kia’s market share.