While the steering is light, the Kia Optima is a comfortable cruiser.
While the steering is light, the Kia Optima is a comfortable cruiser. Contributed

Optima to unsettle luxury big guns

PERUSE the flowing lines and alluring shapes.

Without taking in the details you would put your house on European origins.

But there's no three-pointed star, propeller or linked rings in sight. This is a Kia.

Some may still scoff at the South Korean brand, but things are changing. With the guidance of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, Kia's face is changing one beautiful panel at a time.

We saw it with the Sportage SUV, along with the Cerato Koup. Now the Optima has arrived.

Kia is working hard to shrug off its cheap and cheerful past. It's back-breaking stuff, but this premium mid-size offering that retails for 37 grand helps lay a foundation for a brighter, more respected future.

While a lower specification is expected to arrive later in the year, there is currently only one Platinum version.

It comes with all the bells and whistles, yet the lingering challenge remains with buyers. Are they willing to part with this kind of cash for a Kia?

Comfort

Complaints are few and far between from within the Optima confines.

Touching the dash and dials and you can see there has been no scrimping or saving on materials. The only hard plastics are in the centre console, not unlike the Commodore.

Kia claims to have taken inspiration from cockpits for the design, and it reeks of modern thoughtfulness. The centre stack is skewed toward the driver, and the crisp look of the gauges with a combination of whites and red colours is up there with the best.

Leather trim on the seats, dash and doors provides touches of class, and all pews are firm but supportive, with handy leg and head room front and back.

There are also two good cup holders in the centre console as well as a large glovebox that has a cooling function.

On the road

From take-off, the Optima has a youthful zest. The 2.4-litre four-potter has a useful burst at the whim of your right foot and it will push hard up toward the redline.

By making use of the paddle shifts mounted on the steering wheel you get the most out of the Optima's capabilities. It's a lively little powerplant which works well in tandem with the automatic six-speed box.

But things begin to unravel once you attack the bends. The steering is too light and lacks communication while the suspension struggles to combat the poor Aussie roads.

Under braking or after hitting bumps, the steering tends to dart and dive, while the low-profile Kumho Solus rubber was quick to squeal when we pushed too hard on the twisties.

Granted, that's only when you push the performance envelope, and for the most the Optima is a quiet cruiser.

What do you get?

The features list is enough to make some Europeans blush at this price. It's an impressive line-up of complimentary gear.

The highlights include leather trim, electric front seats that are heated while the driver's pew has two memory settings, massive two-stage sunroof, smart key, dual zone climate controlled air-con, Infinity sound system with subwoofer and MP3 connectivity as well as Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

Safety hasn't been forgotten either. It achieved a five-star rating with technologies like Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Hillstart Assist Control and there is a rear parking camera which transmits to a screen on the rear view mirror.

Other options

Kia has a wide range of competitors in its sights with this Platinum model, among the main rivals are the Hyundai i45 premium ($38,990), Ford Mondeo Titanium ($43,490) and Subaru Liberty Premium ($38,490).

Practicality

With space for five (more suited to four adults) and a massive boot, the Optima has wide-ranging appeal. The rear seats fold via a 60-40 configuration courtesy of levers in the boot, but the space is narrow. Three child seat anchorage points are easily accessed, and there are lots of good storage spaces.

Running costs

There shouldn't be any exorbitant insurance premiums, and the four-cylinder is pretty frugal on usage. We averaged about 8.5 litres per 100km on our test, which is pretty close to the official figure.

Resale value may be an issue long-term, although this is a new breed of Kia which may help turn things around.

Funky factor

The Optima is a head-turner. With a coupe-like profile, sweeping chrome, striking 18-inch alloys and powered panoramic sunroof it is a stunning piece of gear.

The low-down

There is an instant attraction to the Optima.

The design is brilliant, yet functional.

Add to the mix an awesome line-up of features and it makes remarkable value for $37,000.

The driving experience does not live up to the external attributes, but those issues would only regularly arise for those who regularly push the performance boundaries.

Vital statistics

Model: Kia Optima.

Details: Four-door front-wheel drive luxury sedan.

Engine: 2.4-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 148kW @ 6300rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 4250rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Sportsmatic-style and paddle shifts mounted to the steering wheel.

Consumption: 7.9 litres/100km (combined average).

Emissions: 189g/km (combined).

Bottom line: $36,990.



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