Prejudice can be a thing of blinkered ignorance. Over twenty years ago Alan Bond decided to import a cheap and cheerful car from Korea. They were cheap, they were cheerful and they weren’t expected to be around in a few years. That brand is now regarded as being the benchmark. Another Korean brand, Kia, was also greeted with Mr Spock-like raised eyebrows and the expectation of a short lifespan. Cars came and went yet…they WERE getting better. The engineering was improving, the feel was becoming better and the cars were becoming prettier. Then, one day, Kia released a car that had a profile not unlike a premium car from England. That car was the Optima.
The Optima is a good sized car; over 4.8 metres long, virtually matching the Holden VE Commodore. It wins in the diet battle, some 300 kaygee’s less than Holden’s venerable warhorse. A Wheel Thing had the top of the line Platinum edition, powered by a 2.4L petrol engine (backed by a 70L tank, range on the highway should be well in excess of 600km), there’s 148 kW peaking at 6300 rpm….of more importance is the torque. It’s a seemingly low 250 metres of Mr Newton’s torques, at 4250 rpm, yet doesn’t seem to lack with a four membered family on board climbing the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains. The ride is supple, talkative, communicating the yumps, bumps and thumps of the road clearly to the driver and sits flat on the road, with no float and absorbs speed bumps with a shrug. Another inconsistency in the Optima’s torque curve is that the front wheel drive is clearly noticeable as such; unusual in FWD cars nowadays. However, even in full cry, it’s not enough to deviate what is clearly a well sorted chassis, sorted specifically for Australian roads. Rolling on stylish 18 inch alloys, shod with 225/45 tyres, it’s quiet inside, allowing the Infinity audio to punch and cut through any residual tyre noise. Acceleration is brisk, but not neck snapping, not unexpected with the high revving torque figure. Through the standard six speed auto, whether by itself or with the paddle shifts, changes are slick, smooth, barely noticeable and drops down rapidly when required.
It’s a sweet interior, as you’d expect. Ergonomics were clearly high on the priority list, with switchgear simple, uncomplicated and smartly laid out. The touchscreen was legible, simple to operate and became a rear view camera screen when Reverse was engaged. The satnav was also simple to operate. Comfort was important too, with soft yet supportive bolstering in the leather clad, eight way electrically adjustable seats plus heating as well. The seat for the driver allows two memory settings, with a charm being sounded on entry and the seat moving to a preset when the Start button is pressed. Height adjustable seatbelts, curtain and thorax airbags add to the safety package along with techno gadgetry for the drivetrain such as Hillstart Assistance Control. There’s a soft red backlight to the Kia logo in the scuff plates as well, along with lights in the door when open. Boot space is huge, due to the sloping, shapely rear end, offering 505 litres capacity.
The exterior is sublimely gorgeous, with the aforementioned profile harkening to the gorgeous XF Jaguar. A pert rear end finishes off a sweeping, sharply angled prow, with LED running lights and HID main headlights. The multispoked alloys on the Platinum meld well with the external design. The beltline is high, with a correspondingly small area glasshouse, adding to the svelte look. Designed by German car design guru Peter Schreyer, it’s a look that captures eyes, with what he terms the “Tiger Nose”, adding a distinctive stamp to the Kia brand.
With three models available, Si, SLi (added late 2012) and the Platinum, priced up to just under forty thousand (excluding promotional offers) and with a standard five year warranty, plus talk of a turbo version for late 2013, the Optima is a healthy buy on any level.