"The Optima is Kia's first model in the saloon segment that can battle it out with the best thanks to its bold looks and well-rounded drive."
You know we’re in the 21st century when it's Kia that is introducing a touch of class and daring to the large family saloon market. The Kia Optima is a stylish competitor for rivals such as the Skoda Superb, Ford Mondeo and the worthy-but-dull Toyota Avensis. It looks striking, just as all current Kias do, taking a similar sleek approach as the Hyundai i40. It drives well, and the interior is nicely laid out with plenty of equipment and accessories. The Optima also comes equipped with a 1.7-litre diesel engine that offers a strong balance of performance and running costs, and an eco-friendly hybrid model was set to appear in showrooms in 2012, but has yet to materialise on the UK market. The Optima is available in three specifications – the entry-level cars eschew Kia's conventional logic but dropping the original 1 model and starting at 2 Luxe, before progressing to the mid-range 2 Tech and the top-of-the range 3. And, of course, the Optima comes with Kia's class-leading seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty to further sweeten the deal.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The 134bhp 1.7-litre CRDi is at its most efficient when paired with the six-speed manual ISG gearbox, returning fuel economy of 57.6mpg and emitting 128g/km of CO2. Replace the manual with the six-speed automatic gearbox and consumption goes up to 47.1mpg and emissions rise to 158g/km, which adds £70 onto your annual road tax bill. You can certainly find cheaper to run and more environmentally cars on the market.
Interior & comfort
Kia has boldly claimed that the Optima offers class-leading legroom in the back, and top-drawer headroom for occupants in the front. To be fair, it may be right – the legroom comes from a long wheelbase that is 82mm longer than the one on the Volkswagen Passat. The suspension is also nicely judged, soaking up enough lumps and bumps on uneven roads while still remaining firm enough to cut down on body roll. However, if you opt for the large 18-inch alloy wheels, there are more vibrations transmitted to the driver and passengers than with the smaller alloys. There's also some noticeable wind, road and tyre noise when driving at faster speeds and on the motorway.
Practicality & boot space
The Optima doesn’t have the biggest boot in this class, but with 505 litres of space it's only 20 litres behind the Hyundai i40 and 60 litres behind the Skoda Superb hatchback. Most buyers certainly won’t often be left wanting more, but the 60:40 split-fold backs seats do go down flat to create more space, all of which is made easy by one-touch switches in the boot that drop the seats. The extra length of the car does create more legroom in the back, and, thanks to a higher driving position, general visibility is good. You also get lots of storage cubbies dotted around the interior, with a cooled glove compartment coming as standard. However, the door bins and lidded centre-console compartment can’t store larger water bottles or similar items.
Reliability & safety
Kia is getting better all the time, there's no doubt about that. Placing seventh in the manufacturers section of the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, it's actually climbed a healthy five places on its 2012 position, and if it continues at this rate, it well join the likes of Lexus and Skoda in the top spots. The Optima itself doesn’t rank in the top 150 cars, but it has been on sale elsewhere in the world since 2009 and no major reliability issues have been reported yet. If you need even more peace of mind, Kia offers a seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty that can even be passed on to next owners of the car when you do decide that the time has come to sell it second-hand. No car company would offer as long and generous as warranty as Kia does unless it truly believed in the reliability of its product. The Kia Optima still hasn’t been put through the Euro NCAP crash safety test, but it was awarded the top score in the US equivalent. It is the sister car of the Hyundai i40, which did secure the maximum five-star rating, so you can expect similar from the Optima. Plus, every car comes equipped with driver, passenger and curtain airbags, traction control, ABS and electronic stability control as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Even though a 2.0-litre petrol model and a hybrid version were promised for 2012, the Optima is still currently only available with a 134bhp 1.7-litre diesel engine, paired with either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. The diesel's not especially quick – going from 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds – but it actually feels brisk enough and is suitably quiet while on the move. The Ford Mondeo still handles better, but there's no body roll when driving around corners and the steering is nicely responsive. It’ll never be the choice of keen drivers, but it is a decent all-round family saloon to drive.
Price, value for money & options
Kia is no longer the budget brand of old, but with Dacia not occupying that place in the market, the Korean car maker is even freer to continue its attack on the mainstream brands. The Optima is also now actually cheaper it was on launch, even though it starts at a higher spec. It comes with a generous amount of equipment for its low price tag, including cruise control, dual automatic climate control, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, part-leather trim, electrically adjustable heated seats and a reversing camera all equipped as standard. Kias don’t have great resale value on the used car market, however, but this is improving and it's only a matter time given the brand's quality and superb reliability.