Road test: Kia Optima CRDi ‘2’
Exclusivity is a funny thing. It is a combination of rarity and desirability. The Kia Optima certainly ticks the rarity box with just over two-and-a-half-thousand sold in the UK in the first quarter of 2015. So let’s look at desirability.
First impressions are good: this is a sizable and attractive saloon. We have praised Kia’s design work in the past and the Optima upholds the company’s aesthetic standards with a taut body, crisp shoulder line and strong, resolute nose. The deeply chiselled lights front and rear lighten the visual weight of the car and details such as the cosmetic front vent on the wing and quad driving lights add to the appeal. This Optima has turned a few heads, too. Whether this is down to the fact there are very few on the roads or its good looks is hard to tell.
Step inside and it is a different design philosophy: it’s all very transatlantic, pointing to the importance of Kia’s US customer base. The overall dashboard profile has heavy-set bezels and the switches are large and a little last-decade compared to many European models. Looking around, our mid-specification Optima ‘2’ Ecodynamics CRDI has most of the equipment one would expect with full dual zone air-con, powered leather seats, rear camera and a few other trim upgrades such as the wood-effect panels over the base model. The ‘3’ adds additional cosmetic items: alloy pedals plus keyless entry/ignition, vented seats and a glass roof. One significant omission on all models is a DAB radio.
On the move, our six-speed manual version is comfortable and an easy drive. The 1.7 diesel is willing and for its relatively small displacement, the car never felt lacking in performance (even with five occupants). It is a good handling car too and quite happy being chucked around corners. A run through the undulating and twisty roads of Delamere Forest showed it hangs on well to the black top with crisp turn-in.
It’s not without issues though, so let’s cover these off. First is the motorway ride which is a little unsettled and on the noisy side with both wind and road sounds making their way into the cabin. The height of the front central arm rest is also a little too high and catches the driver’s elbow during gear changes.
On reversing, the useful rear camera and audible sensors do their job but after backing-up close to another object, the noise continues even when the car is dropped back into neutral. The sound is only cancelled when driving away or by cutting the ignition. In fact, the rear sensors were triggered when an ice cream van pulled-up too close behind and the car couldn’t be pulled forward far enough to shut the thing up until the traffic queue started moving.
The final assault on the ears comes from the chiming dashboard (rather like a Windows PC) on start-up and switch-off. It is completely unnecessary (but we eventually found the menu option to turn it off).
Tough one, the Optima. We really want to like it because of those looks, sensible engine and plentiful equipment. However, the reason d’être of any large saloon is to cosset and waft its passengers to their destination and it just falls short on sophistication. In the US, the Optima retails at over 25% less than the UK, so perhaps it makes greater sense on economic grounds but here in the UK, it is undercut by a significant margin by the well-equipped and competent Insignia and sits just a grand below a basic all new Mondeo. With such competition, we think it might remain a rare beast.
Kia Optima CRDi ‘2’
Power: 134 PS (@ 4,000 rpm), torque: 239 Nm (@ 2,000-2,500 rpm), emissions: 128g/km CO2 (band D), 0-62 mph: 10.2 secs.
Motor Writer rating: ●●●○○