Optima the 'Kia' to luxury
The Optima, Kia's newly arrived stylish saloon, looks like it has had a fleeting, intimate affair with an Avensis, Jaguar or Mondeo Declan O'Byrne reports.
They should have called it the Kia Chameleon! Mind you Optima, as a name, is not half bad, like the car itself.
At the least, it accentuates the positive aspects of Kia's latest offering, which, in fairness, are many.
It's just that. Perhaps, Chameleon, though admittedly a bit long, would have best encapsulated the notion the Optima at times conveys, through its design DNA, that it’s a composite of several other classy, D-segment saloons.
You can look at the Optima and, at times, see a few brush strokes, which would not have been frowned upon even at the Jaguar XF design school.
At other times, the Optima's perplexing but stylish exterior appearance suggests that, somewhere along the line, it has had a fleeting affair and successfully mated with an Avensis, a Mondeo or, even, half a dozen other curvaceous and alluring marques you care to mention. The hussy!
All the more to the credit of Kia designers, then, that even if any or all of those aforementioned, formidable rivals did subconsciously exert a creative influence on them, they have managed to conceive a car that is still modern and refreshingly unique.
That probably explains why the Optima, rather than turn heads, more often induces bouts of head scratching in those who come upon it for the first time.
I've seen it for myself, through the kitchen window as passers-by on the kerbside almost invariably gave the car a prolonged and quizzical once-over, rather than the more customary and momentary admiring glance.
So, on appearances alone then, it’s clearly a winner, an assertion verified by the fact that it has already deservedly scooped a string of design awards.
The car is longer, lower and wider, with an extended wheelbase, compared to previous offerings from Kia and, according to Kia's feted Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer, it embodies a "bold, athletic and visual sporting energy".
Nicely put - and accurate enough. But, hyperbole apart, how does it score under the hood and in the cabin and cockpit on which any true test of its mettle will inevitably focus?
The short answer is, well, again, not half bad.
As we gleaned during an initial test drive at the car's international launch earlier this year, it's spacious and well equipped and affords a high level of comfort.
Here the car comes in two trim levels both powered by a 134hp, 1.7D engine.
The entry level EX is priced at €26,995 and comes with generous specification that includes 16-inch alloys, cruise control, voice-activated Bluetooth, power lumbar support on the driver’s seat, steering wheel audio controls and full-size spare wheel.
Then there's the Platinum model, the test car. A little more pricey at €28,995 it, too, comes with a top-notch luxurious spec that includes all of the above along with 17-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery with heated front seats, reversing camera, driver memory seat, UV reducing glass and rain-sensing front wipers.
The reversing camera is an extremely helpful device that also greatly enhances safety, while the panoramic sunroof added to the airy aspect of the interior.
The seat-memory function, coupled with lumbar support, took most of the hassle out of settling on a comfortable driving position while the leather upholstery added to the overall impression of luxury.
The Platinum model is also available with 18-inch alloy wheels at €29,495 while an automatic will set you back €32,695.
In terms of safety, the instrument console is pleasingly located at eye-level, while the Optima is also fitted with front, side and curtain airbags, along with front seat head restraints designed to minimise whiplash injuries. An emergency-stop braking system (ESS) is part of the package.
And, of course, the car comes with Kia's groundbreaking seven year / 150,000km warranty which is fully transferable to subsequent owners.
In terms of economy an overall return reaching into the mid-50's will add significantly to the car's appeal in these straitened times.
After that brief acquaintance on the continent on launch, a week’s trial run here, encompassing some 500 or so kilometres, underpinned initial positive impressions of the car.
It doesn't set the world on fire and you won't find your palms sweating as you accelerate from 0-100kmph in, well, a pretty leisurely timeframe.
Thereafter, though, you'll find the ride a tad more exciting and enjoyable.
Acceleration is reliable and punchy making motorway driving a particular pleasure.
Over more challenging and rougher surfaces, though, the suspension will not incubate you from the worst reverberations while some road noise manages to creep in to the cabin, too.
However, of most concern was the fact that, again, we found that the steering required constant, if only slight, adjustment to keep the car on track.
A gentle nudge here, a gentle tap there and all was well but, without constant attention, which can become tiring especially on long journeys, the car appeared capable of veering off course with considerable, disconcerting ease.
That concern apart, though, the Optima are a noteworthy addition to the South Korean manufacturer's growing portfolio. Despite intense competition in the segment, you’re likely to see quite a few on the roads here over the coming months, notwithstanding the continuing economic slump.