The Ford Mondeo, VW Passat and Toyota Avensis; all very capable cars but definitely not the most striking or exciting models on the road. Kia believes there’s space for something a little more daring in this segment so it’s introducing the Optima – a model that has already racked up over 200,000 sales elsewhere in the world. But can it continue that success here in the UK?
It certainly has the looks to win people over. The Optima is longer, lower and wider than a Passat and it gives it a genuinely sporty profile, while the front end lends it a menacing look.
The interior is well designed too. Admittedly, a few of the plastics feel cheaper than they do in some rivals but overall it feels extremely well put together and there are a few classy touches, like the light rings that surround the heater controls and the glossy wooden insert on the steering wheel rim.
Thanks to a wheelbase that is 82mm longer than that of the VW Passat, the Optima boasts a huge amount of legroom in the rear – easily enough for tall adults – and a 505-litre boot.
It also comes packed full of equipment, especially in the highest-spec model we drove. Lane keep assist, 18-inch alloys, full leather upholstery, sat-nav, a rear view camera and a 12-speaker stereo are all on the standard equipment list. We were told to expect this model to cost around £25,000, which is about as much as the most expensive Mondeo or Passat, so the Optima must deliver on the road.
We’re driving the best-seller – a 1.7-litre diesel with 134bhp – but Kia will also offer a 168bhp 2.0-litre petrol from May and a hybrid with a total of 187bhp towards the end of 2012 – though this is unlikely to make it to the UK. On the move, the diesel never feels that quick but performance is strong enough to accelerate the Optima from 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 125mph.
Fitted with stop-start as standard, Kia has managed to bring emissions down to 128g/km and fuel economy stands at 57.6mpg.
Cars in this segment generally have to be good at motorway cruising and the Optima is no different. On the huge 18-inch wheels of our test car, there was occasionally a little too much vibration in the cabin but otherwise the ride is supple enough. The diesel engine is relatively hushed as well and can barely be heard at all when cruising at motorway speeds.
Once off the motorway and on to twisty backroads, there’s not much body-roll through the bends but the front wheels tend to lose grip quite quickly. The steering is quick and responsive but is geared for ease of use rather than driver thrills so there’s not much feedback and it’s a bit too light.
It's not the driver's choice, and it's not the most comfortable or the cheapest in this class but it has a wide range of positives that add up to make the Optima a genuine contender in this competitive segment.