There was a time in Europe when sedans used to be the default choice when it came to choosing an everyday car. But with crossover SUVs and hatchbacks being as popular as they are today, affordable-brand sedans are often overlooked. But that hasn’t stopped Kia from putting the Optima on sale, giving a much-needed extra choice to the segment. But while having an extra choice is a good thing, the question is whether the Optima has what it takes to sway buyers away from the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 508, Toyota Avensis or Mazda 6.
The first thing that strikes you about the Optima – at least one as well kitted as this press car – is how stylish it is. With this black metallic paint and big dark-accented wheels, it manages to make an affordable-brand car look like a more expensive product. I’ve said it many times before, but Kia really are at another level when it comes to styling – gone are the days of dreary-looking budget cars. Step inside and you’ll find that it’s actually quite spacious, providing lots of legroom for rear passengers. The overall quality of the materials is quite good too, only a few cheap-looking plastics might spoil an otherwise nice interior. The trunk is a decent size too, being able to carry about three big suitcases and a few small bags.
Pricing and specs
For Switzerland, the Kia Optima can be had with either a 1.7-litre diesel engine like this test car, or a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain consisting of a 150hp 2.0-litre engine and a 47hp electric motor. The diesel engine produces 136hp and 320Nm of torque (330Nm for manual cars), and in the case of this test car, sends its power through an optional six-speed automatic transmission. The car can get from 0-100km/h in 11.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 197km/h. The as-tested price of this car is CHF 42,900, which includes the Style trim (more details below). As for fuel economy and emissions, this car has claimed figures of 6.0l/100km combined, 7.9l/100km in the city, 4.4l/100km on the highway, and a CO2 output of 158g/km.
On the road
Driving the Kia Optima is quite an easy affair. It rides quite well, even on its low-profile tyres, and the steering is electrically assisted so it’s very light when you’re doing manoeuvring speeds and adds a bit of weight when you pick up pace. You can drive the car in either ECO, normal, or Sport modes – with each mode setting the transmission, steering, and throttle to respond a certain way. I drove in normal mode most of the time, since it provided a good compromise between performance and fuel economy. Sport mode holds on to the gears a bit longer, makes the steering a bit heavier and makes the throttle response a bit sharper.
As far as diesel engine noises go, the 1.7-litre unit in this Optima is mostly well-behaved. Yes you do get diesel engine clatter when it’s idling, but when you’re driving normally around town and on the highway it isn’t intrusive. It does sound unhappy when you ask for hard acceleration though, preferring to be treated gently with fuel economy as a priority. The Optima is nice and stable on the highway too, in fact it tends to feel slower than the speedometer suggests – which is a good thing. Visibility out of the car is fine, the C-pillar is a bit thick, but that’s a characteristic most modern cars have these days.
As already mentioned, the interior is not a bad place to be, and you can have it specified with plenty of equipment. With the Style trim you get equipment like: a lane departure warning system, blind spot assist, hill assist control, front and rear parking sensors, automatic parking assist, front heated and cooled seats with electric adjustability, rear heated seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-button ignition, satellite navigation, a touchscreen interface and reverse camera, Bluetooth, USB and AUX slots, as well as an Infinity sound system with 12 speakers.
The user interface and satnav have very good graphics, and are easy as well as straightforward to use. Pairing smartphones is also quite intuitive, with the sound quality of phone calls and other Bluetooth-paired devices being very good. The Infinity sound system carries with it some good thumping bass too, so if you like loud music you’ll definitely enjoy this sound system. The only thing I don’t like about the touchscreen interface is having to agree to the annoying disclaimer every time you start the car. It would be better if the disclaimer only came up when you want to use the satellite navigation.
The bottom line
One unfortunate thing about the Kia Optima is that after the novelty of its goods looks has worn off, you’re left with a car that isn’t that exciting to drive. Yes it rides well and it can be had with a lot of cool gadgets, but in the two weeks I had it, I never once thought to myself I’d like to take it down some of my favourite roads. But this is coming from a personal, subjective point of view. As an objective motoring journalist, the Kia Optima’s seven year warranty definitely makes it worth consideration, but it faces very stiff competition and might have to do a bit more for the other alternatives to be forgotten. As it is though, it’s a good choice for a practical, everyday car.
Written by Alex Kisiri