The Kia Optima has been refreshed for 2014, with a revamped interior, more equipment and an exterior nip-and-tuck.
The previous version was hardly the ugliest mid-size car on sale, but the new-look Kia Optima – tested here in Platinum trim – introduces a sleeker front end with quad LED fog lamps, xenon headlights and integrated LED running lights, a revised grille and bumper, new tail-lights, a neater rear bumper with diffuser, a revised boot lid and newly designed 18-inch alloys.
The price of our flagship test car has risen by $1200 compared with the previous version, the list price now being $40,490. But the hike is offset by more standard equipment including a blind spot monitoring system, lane-change assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, front parking sensors, a new digital instrument cluster and a ventilated front seat.
To put that into context, rivals such as the $40,490 Nissan Altima Ti, the $43,220 Mazda 6 Touring, the $39,490 Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium and the $42,990 Hyundai i40 Premium feature similar safety systems, and some – such as the Hyundai – add items such as a self-parking system and an semi-automated steering system that can keep the i40 in its lane.
The utility value of those new safety technologies is evident, though, as all of them work adequately – in particular the rear cross traffic alert that can warn the driver of approaching cars, cyclists, and even shopping trolleys that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. The updated model retains its six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtain), not to mention its five-star ANCAP crash test rating.
Further changes reside inside the cabin, – there are new front seats which Kia claims offer better bolstering and comfort, and both front chairs have heating and ventilation. A new steering wheel is a much more upmarket looking thing, too, but the new TFT display instrument cluster added to the Platinum model – while attractive and easy to navigate – omits the handiest of all digital elements: a speedometer display.
As has always been the case with the Optima, its interior presentation is of a high standard. New gloss black highlights further enhance this, while its functionality as a potential family hauler is clear: there is good storage through the cabin including large door pockets and covered stowage areas up front, while the rear seat space offers decent leg-room and head-room, though taller occupants may wish to take care when getting in and out.
The boot is not small, nor is it overly large, at 505 litres, and under the floor it hides a full-size spare wheel – not many of its rivals can boast that feature.
Under the bonnet is the same 2.4-litre direct-injection petrol four-cylinder engine that with 148kW of power at 6300rpm and 250Nm of torque coming in at a high 4250rpm.
The engine doesn’t offer the same zest as its turbocharged rivals – the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and new Skoda Octavia, for example – feeling short of torque low in the rev range. However, it revs reasonably smoothly above 2000rpm, though towards the red line it can be quite thrashy.
The standard six-speed automatic exhibits a tendency towards choosing the highest gear possible in almost all situations, and because it lacks low-range torque it ends up hunting for gears annoyingly. At the very least there are paddleshifters so the driver can take control if need be.
Fuel use is another sore point for the Kia – with a claimed consumption figure of 7.9L/100km, it’s on the thirsty side when compared to cars like its aforementioned turbo rivals (the larger VW Passat, which uses 7.2L, and the 1.4-litre turbo Skoda Octavia, with its claimed use of 5.2L), not to mention the frugal Mazda 6 (6.6L). During our week of mainly urban driving in the Optima we saw an average figure of 11.5L – just above its claimed urban use of 11.2L.
On the road is where the Kia falls short of its more polished rivals.
The Optima is quite comfortable to ride in on highways and smoother country roads, and Kia’s work on making the car quieter – they claim a 3.3-decibel drop in the cabin noise – is noticeable.
However, its urban ride leaves plenty of room for improvement. The suspension stumbles over larger day-to-day obstacles like speed humps and potholes, with its 18-inch alloys and 45-aspect tyres increasing the discomfort over road-joins and sharp-edged bumps. The rear end can skip about over mid-corner bumps when you push it through corners, too.
The steering, too, lacks the intuitive, involving nature of some of its contemporaries. There’s a lack of engagement in the twisty stuff, and it feels vague and doughy on-centre, so the Optima is not a medium sedan for those who enjoy the occasional sporty drive.
Owners will, however, appreciate the Optima’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing program which is competitively priced (with an average annual fee of $377). Services are required every 12 months or 15,000km.
For those who appreciate a car that looks as though it’s worth considerably more than its actual price tag, has oodles of standard equipment and offers strong ownership credentials, the Kia Optima Platinum is a fine option. But with only reasonable driving manners and an engine that’s behind the times in one of the most competitive segments of the market, we’d suggest there are better options out there.