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.

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The Optima was introduced in 2011, with a recent mid-life update seeing some tweaks to the exterior design and cabin trim. 

Our choice: Optima 1.7 CRDi 2 Tech



One thing’s for certain – the Optima cuts a dash like no other Kia saloon that’s gone before. It’s the work of design chief Peter Schreyer, and its long, swooping, coupé-like profile is very appealing. 

But it’s the details that really help the Optima stand out. The corporate ‘tiger-snout’ grille has been given more emphasis in the update, while new LED running lights are standard-fit. The shape of the grille is emulated in the top edge of the windscreen, while the mirrors have a bumpy upper edge, which is designed to help smooth airflow around the car.

At the back, the tail-lights have been given a refresh with Sportage-style LED units, although the chrome strips that join the tops of the side windows to the rear screen look a little fussy.

Inside, a logically laid-out dashboard boasting some high-quality switchgear gives the cabin an upmarket feel. Four specification levels are offered: 1, 2 Luxe, 2 Tech and 3. Entry-level 1 has 16-inch alloys, tinted windows, front and rear fog lights, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port.

Moving up the range gets you larger 18-inch wheels, automatically activated windscreen wipers and lights, a panoramic sunroof and dual-zone air-conditioning. The top-of-the range Optima 3 includes such luxury options as xenon headlamps, ambient interior lighting, full black leather upholstery and a seven-inch touchscreen satellite-navigation system. For the facelifted car, the front seats have been redesigned with bigger bolsters, though they still lack proper support.



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. It’s not helped by a spongy gearshift, which doesn’t feel very positive when compared to its rivals here.

Kia Optima 2014 rear

In corners the Optima has decent grip, but the chassis is tuned to deliver understeer, and it’s not much fun to drive. There’s plenty of body roll thanks to the soft suspension, while the steering is vague and delivers little in the way of feedback. 

When taking it easy the Kia is reasonably refined, with only a little wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds. However, the suspension never really settles, constantly fidgeting over bumps and expansion joints.



Buy a new Kia and you’ll benefit from the brand’s industry-leading seven-year warranty – although its models have a strong reputation for reliability, so you’re never likely to need to get any warranty work undertaken.

If you do need to visit a dealer, you can expect a better standard of service than for either rival, as Kia’s network came 10th in our most recent Driver Power dealer survey.

The new Optima should be reliable because most of the running gear is unchanged, so it will have benefited from three years of production to iron out any problems. Unlike some Kias which are built in Europe, this model is assembled in South Korea.

The Optima hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but its Hyundai i40 sister car earned
a five-star rating, and the Kia comes with the same safety kit, including six airbags and stability control. The 2014 update has also introduced blind-spot detection, lane keeping and rear traffic alert, although these come only on the 3 model, which costs £2,900 more than the Optima 2.



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 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.

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.

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Shame you don't get the 2.4 ltr petrol with 18"alloys. A fine car indeed and well worth owning.

This test finds that the Optima it's not as much fun to drive as the class best, it rides a bit harshly and is less refined at motorway speeds. But somehow the cars is awarded just over four stars out of five for driving? How come?

Really why bother when the refreshed Optima is about to launch - which should improve in those areas.

Limited engine range but the car is a bit of a looker (going by these pictures).
Not bad at all for what I assume is the replacement for Magentis.
Since it's a Kia it will be crammed full with equipment and the yet unparalleled warranty.

What is autoexpress on about ? we are not offered the 2.0 petrol or the petrol/hybrid model ? never was ! unlike asia/aus/usa where they even have a 2.4, we in UK get nothing! lol only the 1.7 diesel, bit small for car this size, not something i buy ! shame, its good looking car !

We went to check out a Sportage for the Mrs this weekend and had a good look around one while there. Firstly, its a fantastic looking beast. Makes the usual mob of 3 Series, VAG, Mondeo etc look incredibly dull. Next was the amount of equipment for the money, it had everything and I mean everything for about £5k less than the Mondeo equivalent. We are going back this weekend to re-test the sportage, might try and get a cheeky drive of this too.

We did wonder about this, but the guy from Kia we spoke to said that other engine choices are on the way.

How do you define 'fun to drive' my experience of Ford Modeos is that the steering is vague, if that makes it fun to drive, I'd rather have positive steering and no fun.

nah, fork the looks, i still prefer a mondeo or better still honda accord.


Last updated: 5 Aug, 2014
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