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Kia Optima review

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    The basics of the Optima are solid and proven - as the same package rolls under the Hyundai i45 - but Kia has done a great job on giving the car some design style and Aussie-style driving enjoyment. Photo Gallery

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Paul Gover road tests and reviews the Kia Optima at its Australian launch.

THE most upscale Kia to land in Australia is more than a car. The mid-sized Optima is also a test case for a Korean company that is still working hard to win convert customers and prove it is more than just a disposable brand.

The basics of the Optima are solid and proven - as the same package rolls under the Hyundai i45 - but Kia has done a great job on giving the car some design style and Aussie-style driving enjoyment. It's also priced very effectively below $40,000 with the sort of equipment - including heated and cooled leather front seats - that only used to be found in $200,000-plus German star brands.

The competition in the mid-sized class has never been tougher, from the appliance-like Toyota Camry to the sporty Suzuki Kizashi and the under-appreciated Ford Mondeo, but the Kia makes a solid claim.

VALUE

Kia is still at the stage where it has to under-promise and over-deliver, which explains a single-model strategy in showrooms and a   price of $36,990. The bottom line is well below the level of the class leading Toyota Camry, and even takes a $3000 chunk - including $1000 of extra equipment - from the top-line Hyundai i45.

The package includes leather seats and a glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic aircon, a punchy sound system and all the other   basics in today's mid-sized contenders, from power steering to electric windows and the rest. The only thing missing - really missing - is satnav but Kia Australia promises it is doing all it can to get a system in 2011.

TECHNOLOGY

The Optima package is tried and proven by Hyundai, from its 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic gearbox to fully-  independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. Kia Australia makes lots of comparisons with the underwhelming Optima of the past, but the car needs to be considered on its own.

So the Theta II engine has high-pressure direct fuel injection to make 148 kiloWatts and 250 Newton-metres with economy of 7.9litres/100km and emissions at 189grams/kilometre of CO2. The really impressive technology work in the Optima is done in Australia, thanks to suspension guru Graeme Gambold. He has tweaked   the car for Australian roads and drivers, and to give it a sharper and more enjoyable feel than the i45, by changing a bunch of stuff including much stiffer springs.

DESIGN

The Optima looks more like a Saab than previous-generation Kia cars.  That's a big compliment for a car which is both restrained and elegant   than the i45, as well as more of a head-turner than a Camry.

The design work runs from the latest corporate Kia grille to trendy   dish-style alloy wheels and a cabin that is less funky than Hyundai but more likely to appeal to someone who is shopping the Optima against a Japanese car. Some of the luxury touches are a bit old-school, like the fake wood trim, but the overall effect is classy and the quality seems good.

SAFETY

Kia is still waiting on independent test results but claims five-star safety for the Optima. It is full loaded with everything from ABS brakes and stability control to hill-start help, reverse parking camera and radar, cornering lamps and daytime running lamps. Safety is another area where Kia knows it has to make an impact and it's ticking all the boxes.

DRIVING

The new Optima makes an impressive first impression, firstly for itslooks and impressive equipment and then for its driving. It's not a sports car, but it doesn't have to be one either. The suspension is well tuned for local conditions, giving a slightly firmish feel without going nasty over the tram tracks of inner-city Melbourne.

The suspension also responds well. It could be better, with some thumping from the low-profile tyres and a bit of wobbliness in the steering in tight corners, but overall it's a car to enjoy driving. The cabin is great with so much equipment, although satnav is a major missing link.

There is leather and a sunroof and the sound system is good, there is space for five adults and the boot is roomy. But the Optima is still a cheaper Korean contender, from a company still learning the ropes, and that means the seats are lacking support and cushiness, some of the trim pieces look a bit fragile, and the engine is not as responsive as a European unit. Still, the Optima is $36,990 and it will be a winner for Kia.

The only problem is that stocks are currently limited to just 1000 cars. "We think we could sell 10,000 but that is all we can get from Korea.  We are trying as hard as possible to get more," apologises the head of   Kia Australia, MK Kim.

VERDICT

Another Kia success that will be a hit.

RATING

8/10

WE LIKE: Value, local suspension, classy design work
WE DON'T LIKE: No satnav, flat seats, limited supplies

KIA OPTIMA

PRICE: $36,990
ENGINE: 2.4-litre four cylinder with twin-overhead camshafts and variable valve timing
OUTPUT: 148kW/6300 revs, 250Nm/4250revs
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
ECONOMY: 7.9 litres/100km
EMISSIONS: 189g/km CO2

RIVALS

Ford Mondeo (from $30,990): 8/10
Holden Epica (from $28,490): 6/10
Hyundai i45 (from 29,590): 7/10
Toyota Camry (from $30,490): 8/10

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 33 comments

  • picking my 2013 optima on the weekend from the moment I first seen one I had to have one. l took one for a test drive and could not belive how good it handled

    Nathan Bryant of melton3338 Posted on 09 July 2013 1:12pm
  • Getting my new Optima Platinum 2013 model tommorrow, can’t wait. The dealership gave us a demo model 2013 to cruise around in for a week until ours came in. ( our 1996 falcon having done nearly 300,000 ks was not motoring so smoothly) we did alot of research, looked at reviews,visited car yards etc and kept going back to the Optima.We think it is fantastic, inside and out, it handles really well, has enough power ( hubby wasn’t sure it would after having falcons) it has a sporty look about it and the short time I have driven the demo model it sure turns heads. Well done Kia!!!

    Lois of Victoria Posted on 15 March 2013 9:57pm
  • Korean cars have come a looooong way.

    exo Posted on 10 August 2012 1:06am
  • Looks like the Koreans are still making ground.

    Matty Posted on 09 August 2012 12:04am
  • Had my Optima for a year now and still love it. I wish it had Satnav, the 2.0 Turbo engine that it gets in the States, the electronic parkbrake and a wider choice of exterior and interior choices that the US gets. Otherwise it looks like something that Sir William Lyons of Jaguar fame may have designed with those sensual and emotive lines! Well done Peter Schreyer!!...the German designer of the car.

    R M of Perth WA Posted on 04 July 2012 10:34pm
  • I pick my Platinum Graphite Optima up tomorrow and will tell you more when I have done some miles. FYI, I have owned a lot of quality Euro cars over the past 25 years and my last (current) car is a 2009 Hyundai Grandeur. This would be the best car I have owned out of BMW, Benz and Peugeot plus a heap of new Statesman’s. My Grandeur is only two years old with 27000 k and I am buying the KIA because it makes mine look old and tired. Thats the only reason apart from the fact the KIA looks better than everything else I looked at and drove for well over 60K.

    Mike Fitzgerald of Gold Coast Posted on 11 January 2012 5:56pm
  • I picked up my Santorini Blue Optima on Monday and couldn?t be happier. Value for money? No doubt about it. The thing is kitted out like a vehicle twice its price! Brand snobbery sure is alive and well eh? Performance & handling? For the vast majority of drivers (myself included) that battle peak hour traffic everyday and crappy roads (i.e. Sydney) the Optima handles as well as any other vehicle in the same price bracket. I can say however that on certain types of road surfaces the low profile tyres do make a fair bit of road noise. Not a biggy for me as I just crank up the fantastic Infinity sound system (the best I’ve ever seen as far as stock standard gear goes). For those saying that it should have a V6, don?t worry. The 2.4 4cyl is ample. As for the wait times, yes very frustrating. I ordered mine in early April and just took delivery. Definitely worth the wait in my humble opinion. The 5 yr unlimited warranty was the cherry on the cake.

    Eric of Sydney Posted on 17 August 2011 4:49pm
  • Article mentions sat nav. Does anyone know if Kia Australia will still include the sat nav before the end of the year?

    Davo of Perth WA Posted on 15 August 2011 6:59pm
  • Had mine for a few weeks and 1600k’s. Happy as and even more so with the fuel economy. the drive was a bit stiff to start with but the car loosened up and I love it more each time I drive it. Power is great for a 4-cyl. 2.4 And the transmission is amazing. Features in this car leave the rest in this price range for dead… and the sound system is superb. With the warranty you cannot go wrong with this car. And it?s an eye turner and I often find people looking in and around my car upon returning to it… go KIA.

    Neilm of Roxburgh Park Posted on 29 July 2011 9:26pm
  • Stick with your SV6 (Steve O of Port Pirie). Much better - you will have no problems than with a Korean heap of sh*t. My one’s done 2500K’s and the average fuel consumption is 12.7L/100K! That’s on ECO mode and NOT from lead foot driving! I will complain to KIA - this is NOT good enough!

    David of Melbourne Posted on 14 June 2011 7:05pm
  • Sounds the goods. I’m in the market for an sv6 commodore though, but this definately pricked my ears up. Maybe a test drive will open up a can of worms?

    SteveO of Port Pirie, SA Posted on 13 April 2011 5:00pm
  • Pedro - West Australia of Kalgoorlie Posted on 01 March 2011 2:04am - As promised above 12 days ago here is my two bobs worth of my Kia Optima - Santorini Blue if could post pictures I would. Collected my Optima from Joe Crisafio in Osborne Park WA and they were very professional in informing me of the workings of my new car. I took off having set the ECO drive system on I proceeded firstly to Subiaco and then south to Waikiki a trip some 70 klm’s, already the fuel reading was looking impressive at varying speeds from 50 kph suburban to 100 kph freeway. The following morning departed Waikiki for Kalgoorlie over 650klm’s away. Driving through light suburban traffic onto moderate freeway traffic out to Midland and up Greenmount Hill east to Kalgoorlie. Comfortably cruising at this stage - dual zone climate control working a treat along with the cooling system in the drivers seat, stereo loud/clear, steering light but responsive with little or no road noise. Overall 744k’s done with 81 k’s till empty averaged 7.8l/100k was with some lead foot driving at times but still very impressed. I hesitated on a 2.4L however the take off is very good from standing, good pickup for overtaking.

    Pedro - Kalgoorlie WA of Kalgoorlie Posted on 13 March 2011 1:13am
  • Pick mine up next week - in Santorini blue, Optima has more goodies on it that the ix45 and looks better i think. Iif it or the ix45 had V6 like what was in the outgoing Sonata 2005-09 models, it would be a hell of a lot better. Cant understand why either manufacturer doesn’t provide a V6 tweaked slightly to provide better fuel economy. Would rather a V6 available than SatNav as i can find my way from A to B and don’t need a voice to tell me how. I will re-post further comment when arrive back home after a 600 klm home trip to give my thoughts on how it drives on WA country roads.

    Pedro - West Australia of Kalgoorlie Posted on 01 March 2011 2:04am
  • Test drove today will buy tomorrow, beat the i45, Camry and Mazda6 by a mile…

    david paton of shepparton Posted on 15 February 2011 7:18pm
  • They’ve come a long way in mid-sizers since releasing the awful, Mazda 626 cloned, Credos back in ‘98. At the price, even with the GPS omitted, its a worthy consideration in the field - and packs a great warranty package to boot!
    The downside being the style of the alloy wheels, which I personally am not a fan, but are easily changed.

    Danniel Pymble of Indooroopilly, QLD Posted on 08 February 2011 10:07am
  • I was impressed until I read about “the Australian input”.  Ohmigawd! “She’ll be right, mate!”  Thanks but no thanks, I have owned some Holdens and Falcons and still have nightmares from the endless oil leaks and rustbubbles.  Best of luck Kia, you’re going to need it!

    Peter Riley of Petrie Posted on 06 February 2011 1:27pm
  • Very tempting except for the price. Satnav omission not good. Reluctant to part with my 6 yr old Peugeot wagon that handles like a sedan. Would have to get a good changeover price to win me. Optima seems a nice car but not fully convinced.

    chris mac of sydney Posted on 01 February 2011 9:25pm
  • You got to start somewhere right?? KIA realize the competition is fierce and are trying to do something about it to win the hearts and minds of consumers; for a company that doesn’t have much history its probably better sooner rather than later that they try to change consumers perception that they are a cheap and cheerful car manufacturer, Its the only way they can compete. If they continue innovate they will reinvigorate and be known as a main player in the industry but ultimately it will be better for the consumer.

    James Le of melbourne Posted on 01 February 2011 4:49pm
  • You got to start somewhere right?? KIA realize the competition is fierce and are trying to do something about it to win the hearts and minds of consumers; for a company that doesn’t have much history its probably better sooner rather than later that they try to change consumers perception that they are a cheap and cheerful car manufacturer, Its the only way they can compete. If they continue innovate they will reinvigorate and be known as a main player in the industry but ultimately it will be better for the consumer.

    James Le of melbourne Posted on 01 February 2011 4:48pm
  • As good as it is on paper, I reckon 40k driveaway is still a bit too much to part with for a Kia….just at the moment anyhow. But you have to start somewhere I guess - and it does look good.

    The Asians will always have trouble breaking into the Aussie market which is full of badge-snobs (who would buy a shopping trolley (complete with wonky wheels) if you slapped a European badge on it!) and patriotic bogans who would put their life on the line for Holden or Ford!!

    Anyway can’t you get a optioned up Accord Euro (leather, sunroof, satnav etc.) for about $44k driveaway?  and the Titanium Mondeo for similar? Then there is the Nissan Maxima 350 as well for the identical price with V6 grunt, more space and similar kit. Then there’s the good looking and proven Mazda 6 as well in this price range too.

    How stupid for Kia to bring a model out with an instant supply issue? So for all the hype and advertising blitz, the showrooms will quickly empty once they get wind of their delivery date!

    PS. David, there are about 6 Kia dealerships in Brisbane. Which one do you work for?! smile

    DJCJ of Melbourne Posted on 31 January 2011 4:57pm
  • I drove the Cerato hatch on the weekend and came out overwhelm by how good it is. Its better finished and presented then my CJ model Lancer VR. For the price its excellent, and better looking then the i30 which i tested as well. Equipment make Mazda2 Jazz, and all those smaller cars look like a ripoff. Highly recommended. Mitsu and Mazda might need to work harder. And the drive is not bad either… better than most euro hatch (meaning its not harshly tuned).

    phuong of canberra Posted on 31 January 2011 4:36pm
  • I reckon newborn Kias gonna do big damage to Big Brands.

    Ricky Chabra of Adelaide Posted on 31 January 2011 3:22pm
  • I cant believe people! It’s out-selling i45 in its home country, cant keep up with demand, yet Australians on here still talk crap about resale etc….go buy a commodore/falcon what resale do these second rate cars have here may i ask?

    Get your heads out of the bogan clouds!

    kieran of Gold Coast Posted on 31 January 2011 11:07am
  • It’s a Kia!  it’s a car you buy when you can’t afford a Hyundai!

    It is a kit car in reverse - you drive it home complete, then watch as it deconstructs itself in the driveway.

    Chris Ford of Adelaide Posted on 31 January 2011 10:23am
  • Re-sell value is a problem behind all the goodies.

    MARK HU of MELBOURNE Posted on 30 January 2011 4:20am
  • I agree with David, it looks great. Why can’t Holden come up with something that looks this good, rather than the apologetic Epicure or the frumpy Crappydore?

    Gordon of ayers rock Posted on 30 January 2011 12:08am
  • Looks great. V6 would do very well.

    wayne young of melbourne Posted on 29 January 2011 4:19pm
  • Been loads of hype but still no cars in show rooms. Very frustrating. Was told by dealer that they may be lucky to have one car a month to sell. If you want to buy an Optima might have more luck winning lotto.

    Ian of Central coast Posted on 29 January 2011 1:44pm
  • How does it compare to a Commodore?

    Chad of QLD Posted on 29 January 2011 7:34am
  • Kia hasn’t developed the reputation for quality and reliability required to sell a car for 37k, especially considering there are many other popular medium & large cars in this price range it has to compete with.

    Jim C of Sydney Posted on 28 January 2011 8:49pm
  • Well, they’re actually getting better, but they still don’t have my vote, not quite anyway. Just because the Koreans managed to find a good designer doesn’t mean they deserve the over-excited response they seem to be getting (David of Brisbane). I really couldn’t care less if a car has hill-start assist or cooled leather seats or auto wipers and the like. Whilst those things are nice, to me they’re just stuff to make the car look good on paper to people who really wouldn?t know a well-built car if it had ?well-built? written all over it and ran them over. What I’m more interested in are things like the car?s ride on rough surfaces vs. how it corners, braking performance (not just feel), steering feel etc. The sort of stuff that tells you whether the car is actually well thought out underneath the pretty looking shell and fake wood trim. The gist I am getting from road tests on the latest generation of Koreans is whilst they are well equipped and priced and good looking, most of them are still fairly average handlers (which I suppose suits most people). At least this one seems to have a well sorted/tidy ride.

    alex Posted on 28 January 2011 7:54pm
  • $37k for a korean kia is a BIG ask

    Time will tell, for mine price will be cut and they will struggle to sell them….

    Perhaps a great buy in 12 months time, usual korean resale. $20k?

    FrugalOne of MELBOURNE Posted on 28 January 2011 4:15pm
  • What a car! best looking sedan ive seen in years! Well done KIA

    david of Brisbane Posted on 28 January 2011 1:17pm
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