2015 Kia Optima Turbo Review

The Kia Optima in getting a turbo...

The Kia Optima Turbo is a grown-up enthusiast’s family sedan that is yet to make it to the Australian market. Considering a new Kia Optima is just around the corner, it’s also not coming in this current-generation.

This will soon change, however. Kia Australia has confirmed that a new-generation Optima Turbo will be headed our way late this year, and since the current Optima Turbo’s 2.0-litre turbocharged drivetrain is to remain relatively unchanged with the new car, it gave us more than enough reason to incorporate a long drive from Los Angeles, through Las Vegas, and all the way deep into Arizona’s Grand Canyon on a trip to the US this week.

From the outside the Optima Turbo is rather hard to tell apart from the standard version, even if the red brake calipers, chrome wheels and turbo badging tend to hint at its true character ever so slightly.

Jump inside and it becomes obvious that despite the turbocharged engine, Kia has kept things pretty similar. In fact, the only difference between the SX and SX Turbo variant’s interior is the sports steering wheel and drive selector buttons.

During our roughly 600km drive from L.A to the Grand Canyon (skywalk) we came to like the Optima Turbo, not for its ride and handling or performance characteristics, but just for being something different. Seldom do mainstream car companies offer proper performance models of their family sedans, and it’s good to see Kia taking this path.

Kia Australia expects the new Optima Turbo to appeal to those that might have considered something like a Subaru WRX, but don’t want the ‘boy-racer’ stereotype and need the practicalities of a larger sedan. That might be true, but going from what we know and experienced, Kia has some work to do to appease the enthusiast side of that argument.

Firstly, like the upcoming Optima Turbo, the current car is front-wheel drive, which, when coupled to a turbocharger in a large sedan can be the cause of plenty of torque-steer (where the front wheels struggle to put the power down and pull to one side).

The good new is the recently released Hyundai Sonata turbo, which shares the same platform and engine (which has 24kW less power and 15Nm less torque), only suffers from limited torque-steer, so there’s hope the new Optima will be equal if not better than its Hyundai equivalent.

Our test car, however, certainly suffered from plenty of it, and given it was tuned for the American market, which loves nothing but highways and straight roads, it also felt less tied down that we'd expect in Australia. Luckily, Kia does localised suspension tuning on all its cars for our market.

On our trip up to the Grand Canyon west, we came across some of the best winding roads we’ve ever encountered in North America, with scenery equally spectacular.

Here the Optima was put through its paces, and it’s fair to say that as far the drivetrain goes, the 2.0-litre engine delivers in spades.

The Optima Turbo’s power delivery through the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and without much lag or hesitation. The 2.0-litre turbo engine delivers in this iteration 204kW of power (24kW more than the Sonata turbo) and 365Nm of torque. There are no official 0-100km/h figures but tests have shown numbers of around the high six second mark.

On our mission to get to the Grand Canyon and back to Las Vegas in time for a show, we averaged a decent clip and the Optima Turbo did not falter. It was quick to slow down when asked and sent us back to our required speed relatively quickly. The brakes wouldn’t take much punishment to fade but this is were that ‘grown-up’ bit comes into play.

The in-gear acceleration is brisk, considering its 1573kg weight, and so long as you’re going in a straight line, things are pretty smooth.

It’s when you come to tackle a corner - not even a tight one - that our Optima Turbo test car started to show its American-ness.

To put it simply, it was highly allergic to corners. At high-speed it felt relatively unstable going into a sweeping bend and even at around 80km/h the results were not as good as what we have in an Australian-tuned Kia Rio.

This is not really a criticism, as we know that our Kia Optima Turbo will be tuned for our local conditions before it goes on sale and to date, Kia Australia has nailed that part of the business. It’s also huge validation for why Kia Australia tunes its cars locally as the American setup would be a disaster in our market.

Kia claims the Optima Turbo uses about 9.8L/100km but during our admittedly higher-speed test, we got closer to 15L/100km. Considering the torque-band of the engine, you’d have no troubles getting that figure down to around 10-12 in everyday driving.

Kia Australia will bring both the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated model as well as the 2.0-litre turbo, with the turbo variant likely to be offered only in the higher trim levels.

Currently the similar Hyundai Sonata turbo starts from $36,990 in Australia so we suspect that Kia will either try and undercut Hyundai with the new Optima (it would be ideal to start around 35k) or offer more equipment for the same coin.