With a more understated, but perhaps sophisticated, silhouette and a swag of standard features, the new fourth-generation Kia Optima has made a bold entrance into the mid-sized car market.
As you may recall, the previous-generation Kia Optima was one of the key models offered by ‘new Kia’, a company that for some time now has been making genuinely stylish offerings in multiple classes.
This new one shares its platform and engines with the Hyundai Sonata. It’s perhaps more subdued stylistically than before, but remains a handsome alternative to recently updated or all-new offerings such as the Mazda 6, Subaru Liberty, Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo.
All of these cars easily beat the Optima in the sales race last year, making the Kia something of a conquest car, or even a bit of an outsider’s choice.
When you look at it, there’s rarely been a better time to buy a mid-sized sedan — you’re so spoiled for choice with new models right now. Even with price-equivalent medium SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5 stealing more and more sales, offerings such as the Optima have a lot going for them.
Some backstory: We first saw this new-generation Optima at the Frankfurt Motor Show late last year, and it launched in Australia in November. Kia Australia has simplified the range — there are just two trim levels on offer, the Si which is our test car here, and the upper-spec GT.
The Si costs $34,490 before on-road costs and the GT is $9500 more. This positions the Optima Si about between the base Sonata Active and mid-range Elite, or between the base Mazda 6 Sport and mid-range Touring… you get the drift.
It’s impressively equipped, though, and scarcely feels like a ‘base’ car.
Standard features include a reverse-view camera with front and rear parking sensors and parking guidelines, HID automatic headlights with high beam assist, LED daytime running lights and fog lights, electric folding mirrors, automatic windscreen wipers, 17-inch Continental tyres and ample safety tech which we’ll detail a few paragraphs down.
On first impressions, the new generation styling is smoother than it used to be, less aggressive with fewer angles. The grille is lower and more streamlined across the front of the car, sweeping up into the slanted headlight housing.
Inside, it feels premium, with a seven-inch touchscreen and multimedia system with navigation. Common sense prevails when it comes to the layout of the buttons on the centre-stack — simple, clear and uncluttered.
You need to use the top line of buttons under the screen to change between radio, media, map, navigation, phone etc, given there's no home screen or main menu on the display. This is a little unorthodox.
Phone, media and music devices are catered for with USB, auxiliary and 12V outlets in the front. Though the glove box is fairly small, the centre-console bin isn't too badly sized and offers a comfortably padded top to rest an elbow on.
There are two cupholders (with bonus removable ashtray cup) beside the gearshift which can be hidden away under a sliding cover, there's a flip-up cover over the nook in front of that, plus water bottle holders with an extra pocket for storage in the doors.
The steering wheel has reach and rake adjustment, as well as controls for phone, audio, cruise control and more. As well as being functional, it's feature-packed with lane-departure warning and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are standard, though rear cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring aren't available.
I wasn't entirely sold on the firmness of the cloth seats though. They're curved at the sides but still feel quite flat across the back because of the width, and the seat base feels a little short under thigh.
The rear seats are actually more comfortable than the front, still firm but more accommodating with what feels like a longer, more supportive seat base. Backseat passengers don't miss out on the little extras either, with a USB charging point, 12V outlet, rear air vents and a wide armrest with two cup-holders.
Again, there’s room for a water bottle in each door and nice deep map pockets in the back of both seats. It's spacious too, capable of accommodating lanky legs and long necks.
The seats are 60:40 split fold, and there'll be no awkward flipping the seats from the 2nd row — here are two handy seat release buttons within easy to reach in the boot. Commendably, a full-size spare tyre is tucked away, though there's a raised tyre outline on the boot floor that looks and feels a bit nasty.
On a positive note, the boot opening is nice and wide and the floor is deep with a low loading lip.
How does the Optima drive?
Right off the bat, it’s nice and quiet, thanks to more sound proofing, and Kia's Australian-specific suspension tuning is again very well-sorted, smoothing over harsh bumps with grace.
The six-speed automatic transmission is fairly unobtrusive, shifting gently and seamlessly. It generally makes the most the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine’s outputs, cited as 138kW and 241Nm.
Those figures are perfectly good for the class, though naturally the Optima GT’s 2.0-litre turbo with 180kW/350Nm ramps up the desirability. As is standard for the class, torque is sent to the front wheels.
Kia claims combined-cycle fuel use of 8.3 litres per 100km, which isn’t exactly cutting edge by modern standards.
In modern style, the Optima has normal, eco and sport driving modes that can be changed simply with a push of the button located behind the gear-shift. These re-calibrate the car’s drivetrain settings.
From an ownership perspective, the Optima is a big winner. A seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is as good as you can get anywhere across the industry.
Kia also offers a capped-price servicing plan that adds up to $3196 after seven annual services. Interestingly, the 2.0-litre turbo petrol GT model is considerably more expensive to service, at $4933 with servicing due every six-months over the seven-year period.
Rather than following the crowd and swarming SUVs, medium sedans like the Kia Optima are worth a look. Indeed, the Kia my not be one of the best-known contenders in its class, but its spacious cabin, good list of features and great ownership prospects make it one to shortlist.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.