Kia Optima review

Our Rating: 
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Kia Optima is a stylish saloon that offers plenty of kit and a good drive, too

Stylish looks, loads of equipment, low running costs
Not as fun to drive as a Mondeo, no eco special, awkward boot

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The Kia Optima family saloon is a sister model of the Hyundai i40. It's positioned as a rival to big-selling models such as the Ford Mondeo, Skoda Superb and Vauxhall Insignia, promising a blend of smart design and reasonable running costs. All versions of the Optima are well equipped, with 16-inch alloy wheels and Bluetooth connectivity fitted as standard across the range. And like all Kias, you get the reassurance of a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

Best family cars on the market 

The Optima was introduced in 2011, with a recent mid-life update seeing some tweaks to the exterior design and cabin trim. The trims available in the Optima consist of simple 1, 2 and 3, with only one powerplant available - a 1.7 CRDi diesel. Both manual and automatic transmissions are available. 

Our choice: Optima 1.7 CRDi 2 Tech

Engines, performance and drive


Fire up the Kia’s 1.7 CRDi diesel, and it sounds pretty rattly from both inside and outside the car. The Kia is let down by a rather flat power delivery, as it only really gets into its stride above 3,500rpm. When you get up to speed, the Optima's large wheels on higher-spec models create noticeable road noise in the cabin. 

Kia Optima 2014 rear

In corners, the Optima is surprisingly agile, considering its heavy kerbweight. It’s no sports car, but the chassis has plenty of grip and doesn’t tie itself in knots with quick direction changes. And while the steering lacks feedback, the Optima is marginally more engaging to drive than a VW Jetta.

The Optima is most at home being a comfortable cruiser. Whether in town or on the motorway, the soft suspension soaks up bumps well, even on 18-inch wheels. The cabin is a quiet place to spend time. 

MPG, CO2 and running costs


A standard stop-start system helps the diesel Optima return average fuel consumption of 57.6mpg and emit 128g/km of CO2. Aside from the environmental benefits, these figures also mean a low tax bill for both private and company car drivers. However, compared with more recent rivals such as the Mazda 3 Fastback and Audi A3 Saloon, the Optima trails behind. 

Be aware that choosing an automatic gearbox will have a significant impact on running costs, too. Figures for this transmission are 47.1mpg combined economy and 158g/km of CO2 emissions.

Interior, design and technology


There’s no doubt that the Kia Optima is an attractive car - it really stands out from the crowd. It benefits from Kia’s bold design philosophy, and it’s long, wide and low, so looks suitably sporty.

Up front, there’s a distinctive nose with Kia’s trademark grille design and LED running lights, while the sweeping roofline features silver trim that follows the line of the doors back to the shallow rear windscreen. The small side windows and slab-sided bodywork give the Optima the look of a coupé, while at the rear, the large LED tail-lights are reminiscent of the Ford Mondeo’s.

Climb inside, and the Kia’s design-led looks continue. The sculpted dashboard is angled towards the driver, while the instruments feature a large, high-resolution TFT display for the trip computer. The multifunction steering wheel is easy to get along with, although the standard paddleshifters feel cheap and flimsy. 

Elsewhere, wood trim on the centre console and doors seems on higher-spec models at odds with the car’s dynamic design, but leather is standard on Optima 2 models and up and the seats are comfortable. Overall build quality is as good as a VW Jetta's, and everything feels well put together. There’s a lot of black plastic, but the gloss sections and smattering of chrome trim helps to give the cabin a lift.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The Kia’s large dimensions translate into a spacious interior. Its boot measures 505 litres although it’s finished rather disappointingly, with lots of exposed metal and a poor-quality carpet. There’s a full-size alloy wheel underneath, though, while the back seats fold 60:40 with the pull of two levers in the boot. The load lip is quite high, though. 

The Optima is reasonably practical, but it loses out to its sister model the Hyundai i40 (525 litres) and rival the Skoda Superb (565 litres) for outright carrying capacity.

Kia Optima 2014 interior

The rear seats fold down with one touch, but the bulkhead between the boot and cabin is awkwardly shaped and the boot itself isn't high enough to carry unusually shaped items. A longer wheelbase than the i40 gives the Optima plenty of rear-seat legroom, while a higher seating position gives the driver better visibility.

There's no shortage of interior storage space, either: you get a chilled glovebox, large bottle holders and a handy lidded compartment in the centre console for odds and ends.

Reliability and Safety


Korean car makers have gained a reputation for building reliable cars, so buying an Optima should be trouble-free. It shares its platform with the Hyundai i40, while the 1.7 CRDi diesel is found in a variety of other models, so its running gear should be reliable.

The Optima gets a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and the company’s dealers came 10th in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey. The Optima hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but its sister car, the Hyundai i40 has, and that model achieved five stars. 

All Optimas get six airbags, stability control, Isofix and ABS with brakeforce distribution, but if you want blindspot detection and lane keeping, opt for the higher spec 3 model.

Last updated: 5 Feb, 2015