If you’re going to gatecrash the ultra-competitive large family car class, you’d better make sure you have a contender that’s up to scratch – and Kia has certainly succeeded with its new Optima. An attractive price, low running costs and long list of standard kit helped the saloon take a well deserved victory in its first road test encounter.
Yet there was more to this success than great value for money, because the Optima is also good to drive, stylish and backed by a generous seven-year warranty. So, now it’s the turn of the sporty 2 Luxe model to prove this first win was no fluke.
With its subtle bodykit and head-turning 18-inch alloys, the racy Kia certainly looks the part. And as with other models in the line-up, it has Jaguar XF
styling cues and distinctive LED daytime running lights. Our car also featured the £475 optional Santorini Blue metallic paint finish.
Climb aboard and it’s clear Kia has been equally ambitious inside. The wraparound dash is attractively styled and logically laid out, while the switchgear operates precisely. High-grade materials and robust construction add to the premium feel, although the shiny wood trim on our car felt a little cheap.
As you’d expect from a Kia, the Optima comes overflowing with standard kit. Leather seat trim, dual-zone climate control and ambient cabin lighting all feature, as do Bluetooth and iPod connections.
Neat additions include a parking camera, which relays its image to the rear view mirror when you select reverse. A pair of large glass sunroofs also helps to give the cabin a bright and airy feel. Occupants in the rear are treated to plenty of legroom, but tall passengers will find their heads brushing the rear of the car’s sloping roofline.
Deep door bins, a large centre console cubby and roomy glovebox provide plenty of space for odds and ends, while the boot has a generous 505-litre capacity – only four litres less than in the Avensis.
You can fold the back bench flat to increase space, but intrusive chassis-strengthening cross members in the rear bulkhead result in a restricted opening between the load bay and passenger compartment.
At present, Kia restricts buyers to a single engine choice, although the 134bhp 1.7-litre CRDi diesel is a smooth and effortless performer. At the track, the Optima was three-tenths faster than the Toyota from 0-60mph, with a time of 10.2 seconds.
This advantage was extended in our in-gear tests, where the Kia needed only 10.4 seconds to complete the 50-70mph sprint in sixth; the Avensis trailed by 2.8 seconds in this assessment.
On the road, the Optima feels more responsive and eager than its rival, both in a straight line and through a series of corners. Direct and accurate steering, decent grip and strong body control result in surprising agility for such a large car. And while there’s not as much feedback as in the likes of the Ford Mondeo
, the Kia is far more engaging than the rather sterile Toyota. The only blot on its dynamic copybook is the stiff action of the six-speed manual gearbox.
Happily, this agile handling doesn’t come at the expense of comfort. Although the ride is firm, the Optima’s suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps. What’s more, there’s very little wind noise and the engine is subdued at a cruise. Only a roar from the tyres interrupts the calm of the cabin.
Running costs are kept in check, too. While CO2 emissions of 128g/km make the Kia a slightly more expensive company car choice, it was more efficient than the Avensis on test, returning 32.4mpg. Plus, it benefits from a top-value servicing pack: three years’ maintenance costs only £299.
Add all this to the eye-catching looks and classy cabin, plus the stronger performance and more engaging driving dynamics, and the Kia could be on for its second victory on the trot.
Chart position: 1WHY: Bold Optima has already tasted success in an Auto Express group test, but can this sporty-looking Luxe model continue Kia’s impressive winning streak?