The past 12 months have seen a resurgence for the saloon car sector. With new models introduced by a variety of makers, it’s meant the established brands have had to raise their game to remain competitive.
One such model is the Kia Optima. It was introduced in 2011, but now it’s been given a facelift to boost its appeal. As well as a revised nose featuring foglamps borrowed from the Pro_cee’d GT hot hatch, the four-door gets an updated interior with new seats. The changes don’t end there, either, because Kia has also worked on the Optima’s refinement in a concerted effort to make the car the quietest and most comfortable saloon in its class.
But is that enough for the Optima to stay competitive? To find out, we’ve lined up two new arrivals in the shape of Mazda’s 3 Fastback and Audi’s A3 Saloon. The former mixes efficiency and performance thanks to its light weight and punchy 2.2-litre diesel, while the Audi delivers a premium feel and new levels of efficiency due to the introduction of the frugal 1.6 TDI diesel that debuted earlier this year in the VW Golf BlueMotion and SEAT Leon Ecomotive.
Has Kia done enough to fend off the newcomers – or does the Optima come up short?
Click on the links above to read each review, and read on to find out the full verdict.
The Kia is the largest car here, so it’s no surprise that it’s got the biggest luggage space. At 505 litres, this is 80 litres up on the Audi’s, and 86 litres ahead of the Mazda’s.
The latter both come with seat-release levers in the boot, but neither features self-folding chairs. In the Audi, the releases are on the seat shoulder, right where they’re needed, so you can fold the seats in no time compared to its rivals.
While the Audi is clearly a saloon, the other two models could be mistaken for hatchbacks, due to their steeply raked rear screens. The clue is a lack of back wiper, although the Optima could do with one, because the screen soon gets obscured by rain when you’re stopped in traffic.
All three cars feature stop-start, and the Kia has a handy timer showing you how long the engine has been stopped for. In practice, the Mazda remained idle longest, although high temperatures meant all were using their air-con, which cut the length of time the stop-start system worked for.
With its combination of punchy performance and lightweight efficiency, the Mazda 3 Fastback is the best compact saloon on the market. It’s not the most spacious car, but it’s big enough for most needs, plus it has a long list of standard kit, a good-quality interior and handling that will put a smile on your face. Add in competitive pricing, and the Fastback is a class leader.
You pay a premium for the A3 Saloon and it’s not as well equipped as either rival in this test, but the superb cabin means this Audi has a real feelgood factor. While the 1.6-litre TDI diesel isn’t the most responsive engine around, it makes up for this with low running costs, while the sharp chassis and electronic diff mean this small saloon is entertaining to drive.
The updates haven’t gone far enough to make the Optima competitive against its newer rivals here. The saloon looks great, has plenty of space in the back and is loaded with kit, but the uninspiring driving experience and relatively high running costs count against it. We also think Kia should offer its latest safety kit as an option on lower-spec models.
|Mazda 3 Fastback 2.2D Sport Nav||Audi A3 Saloon 1.6 TDI Sport||Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi 2|
|On the road price/total as tested||£22,545/£22,285||£22,925/£27,095||£22,895/£23,405|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)||£9,041/40.1%||£12,081/52.7%||£9,181/40.1%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£720/£1,439||£686/£1,372||£959/£1,919|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£1,728/£2,881||£1,674/£2,789||£ 1,697/£ 2,828|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/co||24/£340/B/£20||16/£327/A/£0||17/£451/D/£110|
|Servicing costs||£499 (3yrs/37,500)||£16p/m (3yrs/60k)||£329 (3yrs)|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/2,191cc||4cyl in-line/1,598cc||4cyl in-line/1,685cc|
|Peak power/revs||148/4,500 bhp/rpm||109/3,200 bhp/rpm||134/4,000 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque/revs||380/1,800 Nm/rpm||250/1.500 Nm/rpm||325/2,000 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd man/fwd||6-spd man/fwd||6-spd man/fwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||51 litres/space saver||50 litres/space saver||70 litres/full alloy|
|Boot capacity||419 litres||425 litres||505 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||11.3 metres/0.26Cd||10.7 metres/N/A||10.9 metres/N/A|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (60,000)/3yrs||3yrs (60,000)/3yrs||7yrs (100,000)/1yr|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||12.5k miles (1yr)/107||Variable/121||20k miles (1yr)/170|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos||8th/17th^||12th/23rd^||7th/10th^|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||93/86/65/5*||95/87/74/5*||N/A|
|0-60/30-70mph||8.2/8.2 secs||9.9/10.3 secs||9.7/9.2 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.2/5.0 secs||4.6/7.0 secs||4.5/6.9 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||6.5/9.1 secs||9.9/13.7 secs||7.6/11.5 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||132mph/1,800rpm||126mph/1,800rpm||125mph/2,100rpm|
|Auto Express econ (miles/mpl)/range||42.8/9.4/480 miles||44.2/9.7/486 miles||43.6/9.6/671 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||177/104g/km/16%||171/99g/km/15%||174/128g/km/21%|
|Automatic box/stability/cruise control||No/yes/yes||£1,480/yes/£225||£1,555/yes/yes|
|Climate control/leather/heated seats||Yes/£1,000/yes||Yes/£1,115/£260||Yes/yes/yes|
|Metallic paint/xenons/tyre monitor||£540/yes/no||£525/£1,250/yes||£510/no/no|