From the word go it was apparent that the turbocharged Optima is much better to drive. Photo Gallery
Chris Riley road tests and reviews the Kia Optima Turbo in the US.
Turbo power is coming to the Kia range. And, after a test drive in the United States this week, it can't come soon enough.
The car we drove was the stunning looking Optima, but instead of the usual 2.4-litre engine this one was fitted with a more powerful, 2.0-litre turbocharged motor. It pumps out just over 200kW of power and is much more satisfying to drive, with considerably more torque that kicks in much earlier in the rev range.
The figures tell the story - 250Nm at 4250 versus 365Nm at a low 1750 revs. Made only in left hand drive until now, Kia has managed to overcome the engineering impediments to building a right-hand drive version which is starting to roll off the production line as we speak. Optima is due for an upgrade shortly, so the timing couldn't be better.
Although he confirmed the company was looking at turbocharged engines - and had been interested for a long time - a spokesman for Kia explained it had a number of options - not just the Optima. One of those is a turbocharged version of the cool, two-door Cerato Koop (Cerato is called Forte in the States where it is Kia's most successful model).
A new Cerato starts to roll out in Australia from early in the new year, kicking off with the sedan, then the hatchback and finally the coupe.
The spokesman said the 150kW turbocharged engine from the Hyundai Veloster would slot straight into the Koop. By way of explanation Kia is owned by Hyundai and the two share much of their architecture. But before giving either option the green light, Kia would first have to put together a business case for approval by head office in Korea.
“It's not my decision but if asked the question I'd have to look at what is best suited to our market,” he said. He added there would be no need to have a naturally aspirated variant as well as a turbo. “It (a turbocharged Koop) may not be a best seller but it would create important interest for our brand,” he said.
No one has seen the new Koop as yet -- it won't make its debut until later next year - but the sedan showed its face this week at the Los Angeles motor show. The Kia equivalent to the Hyundai Elantra, it is cast in the same mould as the Optima, with sleek sporty lines and the signature Schreyer face.
Longer, lower and wider, the second-generation Cerato is 30mm longer (4560mm), 14.0, 15.0 or 16.5mm lower (1435, 1445, or 1460mm) depending on market and 5mm wider (1780mm), with the wheelbase extended by 50mm (2700mm) making it the longest in class. It will be hooked up to Kia's six-speed auto, which delivers an ideal combination of power and economy.
The hydraulic steering has been replaced with adjustable electric steering that allows the driver to set the level of assistance. Other options include stop and go which shuts down the engine at traffic lights, as well as heated and cooled seats, a hated steering wheel and satellite radio - we certainly won't be getting the latter at this stage.
New Cerato can accelerate to 100 km/h in as little as 8.5 seconds, reach a top speed of 210 km/h while using a claimed 6.5 litres of fuel per 100km – depending of course on model. Boot capacity is increased to 421 litres (SAE) – the largest in class. Kia Australia has just about finished tuning the ride and handling to meet Aussie tastes, a feature sought after by customers.
Another turbo option is the gorgeous Pro_c'eed GT hatch from Europe, a highly spec'd model that also comes with a turbocharged power plant. As to the introduction of an entire line of sporty vehicles, much the same as Hyundia's recently announced SR range, the spokesman said there were no plans at this stage. As yet, it does not sell enough cars here to support such a move.
From the word go it was apparent that the turbocharged Optima is much better to drive. It's quicker off the line and pulls more strongly in the mid range and, with much more torque - the transmission isn't nearly as busy as in the 2.4. Although it was fitted with the same 18 inch wheels as the Australian model, the ride was much smoother on American roads. In Australia, we reckon the 17s are a better option. One major difference between the two models is the electric parking brake that replaces the foot operated brake in our cars).
The addition of turbocharged models to Kia's Australian line-up will attract attention and buyers. The cars look great and the extra power will enable them to compete at a higher level, especially with its German competition. It just has to be careful it does not cannibalise sales from other models.