2014 KIA OPTIMA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium Sedan
Price: $35,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 148kW/250Nm 2.4 4cyl petrol | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.9 l/100km | tested: 10.2 l/100km
As any middle child will attest to, life in the middle can be tough.
The same is true in the medium sedan market. There’s a lot of choice there for buyers and many of those choices are thoroughly good cars.
Tougher still is being a 'middle-of-the-range' medium car: squeezed between the price leaders at the bottom of the segment, and the luxo-spec models at the top.
That's where the mid-spec, mid-size, Kia Optima SLi finds itself. An in-betweener.
Why, with good looks and bravado of course.
Quality: Inside the Optima, the SLi does a good job of looking and feeling more the premium buy. The driver-centric dash and centre-stack look good and the plastics, in concert with the clever design, are visually appealing.
The standard leather seat-trim also would seem to offer the right balance of suppleness and hard-wearing durability.
The alignment of panels between the dash and doors can look a little ‘off’ but otherwise there were no glaring build quality issues to be found in our tester.
Comfort: Up front, the seats have just enough shape to be supportive, and broad enough to cradle bigger frames in some comfort.
Electric adjustment for the driver, with memory, makes locking-in your prefered driving position a snap.
In the rear there’s not quite the same attention to detail. The sweeping window-line can cut into rear passenger visibility and the short seat-base won’t suit leggy travellers.
Unlike the top-spec Platinum, the SLi - which does without a sunroof - liberates additional headroom.
Equipment: Standard SLi features include dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, leather seats with powered driver's seat, two position memory and easy exit, auto headlights, auto dimming rear-view mirror and reverse camera.
The multi-function steering wheel is leather-wrapped and includes buttons for cruise control, trip computer and audio controls, plus gear-shift paddles. Infotainment is delivered via a 7-inch touch-screen and six Infinity speakers plus subwoofer and USB, and aux-inputs plus Bluetooth streaming and telephone.
Outside there’s HID headlamps, new LED taillamps and 18-inch alloy wheels to set the SLi apart from it’s more utilitarian Si sibling.
Storage: Inside the cabin there are long door pockets, lidded cup-holders, a phone-cubby at the base of the centre stack, bottle holders in each door plus generous glovebox and console storage.
Pop the boot and you’ll find 505 litres of space and a 60:40 split fold rear seat.
There’s a release lever for the seats in the boot, but they don’t drop by themselves so folding them becomes a two person operation.
With rear seats folded there is a flat, level floor and the boot itself is both deep and wide.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Optima has something of a Jekyl and Hyde personality on the road. There’s urgent acceleration when moving from standstill, but it quickly evaporates into very pedestrian mid-range performance.
On paper the 2.4 litre direct-injected engine has the goods.
A respectable 148kW at 6300rpm is not bad for a naturally aspirated engine, but torque measures just 250Nm at 4250rpm and is likely the cause of the engine’s struggles.
The six-speed automatic transmission however delivers unflappable smoothness with barely perceptible gear changes, both up and down. But it skips through to taller gears a little too quickly, exacerbating the engine’s limp feel.
Away from the city bustle, the Optima struggles to find its mojo.
At a steady freeway cruise it’ll do just fine, but overtaking needs a long run-up and hilly roads have the gearbox utterly perplexed as it shuffles around to find a ‘comfortable’ gear.
Also, with very limited rearward and over-shoulder visibility, the 'blind-spot assist' and 'rear traffic alert' of the higher-spec Platinum model make a lot of sense.
Refinement: Refinement, like performance, is neither in one place nor the other with the Optima. It starts at idle: crank it into life and engine vibrations can be felt via the steering column.
Then, once moving, if you push to get the best of the available performance, the engine can sound pretty thrashy and intrusive. The jerky throttle response around town also does little for comfort.
On the open road however, engine noise settles and wind-noise is also very low.
But we’d like to see something better than Nexen tyres on those 18-inch rims though, as they throw up a fair din on most tarmac surfaces.
Ride and Handling: As is so often the case with low profile tyres, big hits and rough-edged potholes can make themselves felt inside the cabin. Aside from that, the Optima is refreshingly comfortable over most roads.
There’s no nervous jiggling or limited suspension travel, just good old fashioned long-haul comfort.
That comfy feel does come at the detriment of handling though - again we’d point the finger at the tyre selection, with early understeer and a lack of feel from the front-end taking the verve out of the handling.
Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes offer category-average braking performance. Not so aggressive, nor soft or spongy - the Optima provides quibble-free stopping.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 35.58 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability and traction control come standard.
All seats feature three-point seatbelts with anti-whiplash front headrests and height adjustable pretensioning front seatbelts. All seating positions feature adjustable head restraints.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Scheduled services are set for every 15,000km or 12 months, and under Kia’s fixed-price servicing scheme range from $299 to $536.
Over a five year/75,000km period the Optima’s total service cost be $1887. For full details and inclusions consult your Kia dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mazda6 Touring 2.5i ($37,500) - For quality build, comfortable interior and impressive economy the Mazda6 is hard to beat. The infotainment interface feels a touch dated, but everything else is up-to-date.
With the longest wheelbase of these assembled competitors, rear seat space is impressive but headroom and boot space are a little tight. (see Mazda6 reviews)
Skoda Octavia Elegance 132TSI ($34,690) - A touch less power, but equal torque from lower in the rev-range makes the 1.8 litre turbo Octavia feel deceptively spritely. Fuel consumption benefits too, and the seven-speed dual clutch transmission is a technology highlight.
Inside, the Octavia is spacious, but rear seat width is tight. The value-equation is strong and equipment levels are high, but there’s evidence of cost-cutting in some of the interior trims (see Octavia reviews)
Holden Malibu CDX Diesel ($35,990) - Our wildcard entrant. The Malibu CDX is a price match for the petrol Optima, with a hefty torque-boost courtesy of its diesel engine.
It’s a big bugger too: same length as the Mazda6 but much wider. Inside Holden’s excellent MyLink media system leads the pack for usability, but the rest of the interior doesn’t feel as upmarket. (see Malibu reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
On paper the Optima SLi impresses. It comes loaded with features, doesn’t ask for much money and looks like nothing else in the often-mundane medium class.
Putting it through its paces on the road however reveals some shortcomings in driveability that may deter some buyers.
But if style and convenience matter most, the Optima is a solid choice. There’s a long list of standard equipment and enough luxury touches at a low price-point to seal the deal, not to mention a stand-out warranty package.
For those after a more complete package, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Subaru and more are all standing-by with more balanced offerings.
Kia has come a long way in a short time, and we have no doubt the next-generation Optima will be a giant-slayer. But this time around it doesn’t quite tick all the boxes.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 2014 Optima Si - $30,990 (up $300)
- 2014 Optima SLi - $35,990 (up $1000)
- 2014 Optima Platinum - $40,490 (up $1200)