In the world of business, the executive saloon is king. But nowadays that’s not just limited to the usual, German suspects. Volvo are now a big player, as are Lexus. And the Korean manufacturers in Hyundai and Kia, who entered the UK market with budget offerings, have upped their game in the quality department hoping to compete at the premium end of the market. I’ve been very impressed with some of Kia’s latest offerings, so I couldn’t wait to see how their latest executive saloon would stack up to the competition. So before long I had a nice Optima on the drive. Time to hit the road.
Looks – 9/10
In recent years Kia has really stepped up its game when it comes to styling. A lot of effort has gone into creating a model range which shares design features, as is becoming common place in the market. The Optima is Kia’s answer to the executive saloon market, and the good news is that it does look rather executive. At the front the chrome grille is eye-catching, and the bumper is nice and angular. Cornering lights sit in the lower grille, whilst the bonnet has smooth, sleek lines. To the side you notice the sheer length of the Optima, accented with a sweeping line from front to back lights. To the rear things are a little understated, with only a single exhaust, no diffuser-type rear bumper and only the curves of the boot lid itself to act as a spoiler.
Inside the Optima tries to continue the premium theme. The new steering wheel is slimmer than before and features a gloss black accent. Behind this are some lovely TFT dials, in between which is a multifunction display. There is a good amount of silver trim to break up the black plastics and gloss black finisher. The centre console is slightly angled to the driver, and the switchgear all looks and feels good. The dashboard may be plastic, but there is a stitched effect which gives the impression of a leather finish. A multimedia screen creates a focal point in the centre of the dashboard. The leather seats are perforated and look right at home in the Optima.
Handling/Performance – 8/10
At present, there is still only one engine available for your Optima. It’s a 1.7-litre turbocharged diesel unit producing 139PS and 340Nm of torque. There is a 6-speed manual gearbox and, new to the Optima, a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). My test car was fitted with the latter, and I actually found it rather good. There isn’t a great deal of power on offer, but the DCT makes the most of this, keeping the engine in its torque sweet spot of 1,750-2,500rpm. Despite this, the Optima won’t set your hair alight; 0-62mph takes 10.6 seconds and the top speed is 126mph. The car actually feels faster than the figures would have you believe, and when you get on the motorway the Optima is more than comfortable.
When you get to the bends, the Optima does well to get round them. Steering is direct and nicely weighted. However, turn-in is affected by the sheer size of the car. You wouldn’t exactly call the Optima ‘nimble’. But it is also reasonably composed, and handles a bumpy B-road well. The seats offer little in the way of the support, and this highlights the slight body roll on corner entry, but Kia has got the suspension spot on. It absorbs bumps well without being skittish, but offers that executive-quality ride at the same time. When all is said and done, the Optima lives for a long motorway haul; smooth, comfortable, and quiet at motorway speeds.
Economy – 10/10
Whilst the lack of power may feel like a down side to a 1.7-litre engine in a large saloon car, the upside comes in the form of fuel economy. Modern DCT gearboxes are generally as economical as a manual, which makes them a great choice for the ease of driving without being penalised through running costs. Combined fuel consumption is 64.2mpg, and CO2 emissions are 116g/km. That equates to VED band C; £30 road tax, and free in the first year. Intelligent Stop & Go (ISG) is standard on all models, and helps to minimise fuel use when stopping around town and in traffic.
Practicality – 8/10
If you buy an Optima, then the only struggle for space you will have is fitting it on your driveway. At 4,855mm long this is a big car. The advantage to this is that legroom is extremely generous in the back; tall adults can sit behind tall adults (although when I’m in the driving seat that’s not an issue!). The boot is also vast, but has a limited opening. If the boot is more important to you then you may be interested in the all-new Optima Sportswagon, which I will be testing later in the year. Standard specification is comprehensive, and includes a touchscreen multimedia system with navigation and DAB, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, dual-zone air conditioning and an electronic parking brake. Further up the model range you can even have goodies such as wireless mobile phone charging and an impressive 360-degree parking camera.
Fun – 7/10
With Kia’s big push to make their cars more attractive to drivers, I guess the big question is whether or not this has worked; does the Optima put a smile on your face? Surprisingly, I really enjoyed my time in the car. There’s a lot to like. The styling is executive, and the new DCT gearbox makes for an effortless drive. The list of equipment on the ‘3’ and GT-Line models includes a Harmon Kardon stereo, which is fantastic for blaring out your favourite tunes. I just wish there was a bit more power; a bit more appeal for the keener drivers amongst us. There is talk of an Optima GT which will supposedly get a 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol engine. That sounds a bit more up my street, and I’d be keen to see if it can maintain the Optima prestige and give it a bit of oomph.
And that concludes my week with the Kia Optima. It’s a big ol’ beast, but is has lovely curved lines to downplay its size. The benefit of this size is a spacious cabin; sitting in the back of the Optima feels like you’ve been given the extra legroom seats on a plane. Unfortunately the engine is still the same 1.7-litre diesel engine as before. It’s a little underpowered to be honest; part of being an executive saloon is to have that power in reserve. The good news is that the new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) gearbox is a hit and, as is always the case with a Kia, you get a good level of equipment as standard. Prices for the Optima start at £, and rise to £ for the range-topping model. For more information visit your local dealer, or to compare and configure your own head over to the Kia website. The Kia Optima: big, luxurious, executive. Now where’s the GT version?
Total Score – 42/50