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