From being an also ran when launched in the UK in 1991, Kia has become a serious challenger to the best from Japan and mainland Europe, and the latest Optima saloon is a good example of why their rivals should worry,writes Robin Roberts.
Built for a target audience and not necessarily down to a price, the Kia Optima saloon – a Sportswagon estate is also available in more versions – is aimed squarely at the high mileage motorist, typically a rep on regular runs across the country.
That’s why they have chosen to give the saloon a straightforward turbo-diesel engine and a seven years warranty. I think many will find their way onto taxi fleets in first, second or third life hands because they are very roomy inside and have a good sized if not tall bootspace.
With most registrations going into company fleets, Kia has kept the Optima saloon range compact with a choice of two trim levels but with the addition of a 7speed automatic model in the higher level, and prices run from £22,260 to £26,265, all using the same new 1.6 litre turbo diesel engine.
The new engine is down in size and power on the previous unit but it’s cleaner and its fuel economy is better. There are no sporting pretensions about the power unit, it does an honest day’s slog from city to city or tootles around town and we averaged over 50mpg and a mixture of roads.
I found the six-speed gearbox with overdrive on the top two ratios had a very precise change but I struggled to master the long travel clutch for every change and sometimes the Optima jumped down the road.
Secondary controls were all sensibly placed, marked and worked well with a decent sized and very clear instruments’ display directly infront of the driver including the selectable info display for settings. The heating and ventilation was easy to use and did a good job in the big cabin, filling with air at chosen temperature and backed up with powered windows all round.
Oddments room was reasonably good but the door bins were on the small side and you needed the big glovebox and central console to put things you may need. Those in the back had seat-pockets and small bins as well.
The Optima’s bootlid opens high to reveal a good capacity but the interior height is not great and compensated for by its width and depth. During out test we also sustained a minor puncture and found the wheelkit fiddly to use, so the RAC patrol which turned up inside 20 mins calling was very welcome and quickly got us going again.
For driver and passengers the access was very good with wide opening doors into a spacious cabin, particularly in the back, and the seats were decently shaped to support and locate occupants. The front seats had a fairly good range of adjustment and vision all round was clear and almost unrestricted apart from the thick c-pillar to the back window.
Noise levels were generally modest with road rumbles and suspension movements the most obvious. If you drove with restraint the engine was composed but press on through the intermediate gears and it let you know how hard it was working.
That performance was adequate not remarkable, save for the overall consumption without trying to be particularly economical. You have to make use of third and fourth gears particularly when overtaking and this can drag down the economy, but once cruising again it quickly rises. Even so it was some way off the claimed figures for the fuel tests.
The Optima’s chassis is really comfortable and it has no vices in the handling department and always felt planted on the road.
For many that is the perfect companion on a road trip.
|FAST FACTS||KIA Optima 1.6 CRDi 2 ISG|
|Price: £22,260||Mechanical: 134bhp 4cyl 1598cc turbo-diesel, 6sp manual|
|Max Speed: 122mph||0-60mph: 10.6 sec|
|Combined MPG: 51mpg on test||Insurance Group: 21|
|C02 emissions:117 g/km||Bik rating: 31%, tax band H, £210FY, £145SR|
|Warranty: 7yrs/ 100,000 miles||Sizes: L4.86m, W1.86m, H1.47m|
|Bootspace: 510 litres||Kerb: 1590 kg|
|For: Quality and refinement of powertrain, pleasant controls, good seats, very roomy in cabin and boot, economical and surefooted
Against: Some road and suspension noises, long-travel clutch and modest performance, particularly when loaded.