Kia Optima saloon
Price £19,995 - £27,350
- Spacious cabin
- Great value
- Stylish looks
- Boot could be bigger
- Only one engine available – and it's noisy
- Not as much fun to drive as a Ford Mondeo
At a glance
"The Optima is the first Kia family saloon that can battle it out with the best thanks to its bold looks and well rounded drive."
The Kia Optima is a four-door family saloon that competes with cars such as the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, and Mazda6. The Optima is not as a good an all-rounder as those cars, but it offers good value for money and a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.
The car has been revised for 2014 in an attempt to make it more fun to drive and quieter at speed. The handsome styling has remained largely unchanged, although the updated Optima does have revised daytime running lights, new alloy wheels and updated bumpers.
Kia only offers one engine in the Optima – a 1.7-litre diesel that performs reasonably and is pretty economial, but we'd welcome a bit more choice. The Optima also lags behind rivals such as the Ford Mondeo and Mazda6 when it comes to offering an entertaining driving experience. Buyers can choose between six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes.
The Optima is offered in three different trim levels, called simply 1, 2 and 3. All models get alloy wheels, electronic stability control and air-conditioning as standard.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Not the most efficient car, but manual returns decent economy
There’s only one engine in the Optima range – a 1.7-litre diesel that returns 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 128g/km. The latter figure translates to free road tax for the first year of ownership and an annual bill of £110 after that.
While there’s no other engine to choose, going for the optional six-speed automatic gearbox will hurt your wallet, as the Optima can only manage fuel economy of 47.1mpg when it's fitted. CO2 emissions also jump to 158g/km, so road tax costs £180 a year and you don't get a free first year as you do with the manual.
Kia offers three and five-year service plans that allow you to spread the cost of maintenance – they cost £330 and £610 respectively. Another big attraction of any Kia is the company’s seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is pretty much the best after-sales package you'll get with any car.
Engines, drive & performance
Handling is good, yet not a match for the class leaders
Driving fun isn't essential in a family car, but the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo are both better for it. In contrast, the Optima’s steering feels light and doesn't give you enough confidence for quick cornering, while the manual gearbox is notchy. The suspension follows the same formula as the steering – it's relaxing, but allows too much body lean during fast cornering.
Having only one engine to choose from is another drawback. The 1.7-litre diesel produces 134bhp, which sounds fine on paper, but it doesn't offer the sort of punchy motorway overtaking ability of some rivals. It’s also noisy and rattly, which feels out of kilter with the rest of the car. Accelerating from 0-62mph takes 10.2 seconds, but choosing the automatic gearbox increases that to 11.5 seconds.
Interior & comfort
Plenty of passenger space and comfortable suspension
Inside, the Kia Optima has a stylish-looking dashboard, reminiscent of those in class leaders such as the Volkswagen Passat. However, when you get up close, you'll notice a huge gulf in quality between the Kia and the VW.
The revised Optima has new door seals, extra soundproofing and thicker carpets to reduce interior noise by 3.3 decibels. Sadly, making the interior quieter only serves to make the diesel engine's rattle more noticeable – it continues to send trim-shaking vibrations inside.
Kia has also had a go at improving seat comfort – something that the Optima was marked down for in the past. There's more padding on the bolsters and leg rest, but they still don't offer adequate support. The steering wheel has a good range of reach adjustment, but it's still hard for taller drivers to get comfortable.
Practicality & boot space
Rivals have bigger boots, but there's enough space for most occasions
Space in the front of the Optima is good and the driver’s seat is height-adjustable, giving excellent visibility. The back seat is also roomy with good amounts of head, leg and footroom for two passengers. The middle seat is raised, making it only really suitable for children, but there is a fold-down centre armrest with cup-holders.
The Kia has a 505-litre boot, which is a useful size, even if it is 60 litres smaller than a Skoda Superb’s and 20 litres short of a Hyundai i40’s. The boot opening is also large, although the tall boot lip makes it tricky to load heavy items. The back seats fold flat and split 60:40 to free up even more space, but Kia has never quoted a total luggage capacity figure for this car.
Storage spaces include door bins, a lidded central cubby and a cooled glovebox, but none of them can hold our favourite in-car item – a large bottle of water.
Reliability & safety
Kia’s seven-year warranty gives buyers peace of mind
Our Driver Power 2014 owner satisfaction survey didn’t feature the Kia Optima, as not enough owners responded to give a useable sample size. The company as a whole did finish in a strong seventh place out of 33 brands in our manufacturer rankings, putting it just behind Porsche and ahead of rivals such as Mazda, Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, and Citroen.
The Optima has never been tested for safety by Euro NCAP, although it did receive a top score in the US equivalent. It's also based on the Hyundai i40, which received five stars from Euro NCAP. All models have driver, passenger and curtain airbags, plus electronic stability control.
Price, value for money & options
Basic models are cheap and well equipped
Understanding the Optima range is easy, with models running from the basic Optima 1 to the Optima 2 and top-of-the-range Optima 3. Even the entry-level model has 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, electronic stability control, hill-start assistance, a Bluetooth phone connection with voice recognition, LED daytime running lights, plus front and rear foglights.
The Optima 2 adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen with sat nav, black leather upholstery, Bluetooth music streaming, a reversing camera, heated front seats and a superb 550w premium stereo. The mid-range models' generous equipment makes it our pick of the range.
Extra equipment on the Optima 3 includes keyless entry and start, an autonomous parking system, powerful xenon headlights with headlight washing and a panoramic sunroof.
The Optima's high standard specification means that options are limited to things such as a boot liner (£44) and metallic paint (£495).