The skinny: THE 2016 KIA OPTIMA ARRIVES WITH A FRESH NEW LOOK, SPRUCED-UP INTERIOR AND A POWERFUL TURBO ENGINE. It's also more expensive than before, with a $3000 price-hike for both the base model Si and the range-topping GT (which replaces the Platinum grade). The mid-spec SLi has been axed.
That means the Optima occupies a price bracket between $34,490 and $43,990. This makes it a couple of thousand more costly than its Korean compatriot the Hyundai Sonata - with which the new Optima shares much of its mechanicals.
Is it worth the extra outlay? We drove both the Si and GT at its local launch this week, and while the base model Si is a bit ho-hum, the GT is a worthy contender.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $34,490 (Optima Si) to $43,990 (Optima GT)
Engine/trans: 138kW/241Nm 2.4 petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic, 180kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.3 l/100km (Si), 8.5 l/100km (GT) | tested: 7.1 l/100km (Si), 8.5 l/100km (GT)
The SLi is gone and the Optima is now available in just two flavours - fleet-spec Si and the more appealing GT. The Si makes do with Kia's 2.4 litre direct-injected petrol four, but the GT packs a far livelier powerplant - a turbocharged 2.0 litre petrol four.
It's the same powertrain line-up that you'll find in the Hyundai Sonata, and while there are some other similarities in the undercarriage, that's where the resemblence ends. The Optima's styling, interior fit-out and spec list is differ markedly from those of its corporate cousin.
- Standard equipment: Daul-zone climate control, trip computer, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, HID headlamps, auto highbeam. GT adds panoramic sunroof, active cruise control, heated/cooled/powered front seats, bi-xenon cornering headlamps, leather upholstery.
- Infotainment: Satellite navigation, USB audio inputs, Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity, 7-inch display and 6-speaker audio system standard on Si. GT adds 10-speaker harman/kardon audio, 8-inch display.
- Cargo volume: 510 litres with all seats up.
We like what Kia is doing with interiors. Even something as prosaic as the Carnival people-carrier presents well, and the Optima's cabin quality is very high for a mass-market midsizer.
The last generation Optima was the first design-led car for Kia and one that changed a lot of minds about the value of that brand. The new Optima goes even further - especially in the gadget-laden and leather-bound cabin of the Optima GT.
The centre-stack has more than a faint whiff of BMW to its button layout, milled aluminium covers the centre console, most of the switchgear feels great and the two-tone red leather upholstery option adds an extra touch of luxe.
Add to that the alloy pedals and kickplates, powered front seats, panoramic glass sunroof and plethora of soft-touch plastics, and the GT's cabin is a very nice place to be.
Our only quality qualm lies with the hard plastic shells on the front seatbacks - why?
And then we come to the equipment list. The GT is loaded, well and truly. Heated steering wheel? It has one. Heated and cooled front seats? Present. Ten-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio? Crank it up. There's no shortage of toys to comfort, inform and entertain you in the GT.
There's even an inductive charging pad, meaning the Optima is one of few cars on the market to offer cable-free phone charging. The GT also gets a motion sensor for the boot opener, allowing hands-free operation.
The Si isn't quite so lavish, but you do still get satellite navigation (albeit in a 7-inch display, not an 8-incher), dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlamps.
The Si also has Apple's Siri Eyes Free and Google Now voice controls for compatible smartphones, but no availability of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring software.
Both cars boast more interior space than the outgoing model, with a 10mm longer wheelbase yielding 25mm more backseat legroom, and the wider body giving 20mm more front shoulder room and 17mm more rear shoulder room.
Headroom has also grown by 5mm and 15mm in the front and rear respectively, and the panoramic glass roof of the GT doesn't really impact on that either. If you're in the back seat, you also get your own air-vents and retractable sun blinds in each door.
And it's a comfy thing. If you're looking to step down from a larger sedan like a Falcon or Commodore then the Optima will quite adequately fill the bill. Four adults can be seated in comfort for long trips, and we can vouch for the revised cushioning of the front seats.
Boot-space has also swelled slightly; with the Optima now able to take up to 510 litres (VDA) of cargo (five litres more than the previous model). The boot aperture has also been enlarged to aid loading, and the back seats fold down as well.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 138kW/241Nm 2.4 petrol 4cyl, 180kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: 320mm ventilated discs front, 284mm solid discs rear
- Steering type: Electrically assisted (column mount motor on Si, rack mount motor on GT), 10.9m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 1700kg (Si), 1400kg (GT)
We spent most of our time in the one Kia reckons will be most popular with private buyers: the turbocharged flagship Optima GT.
With 180kW of power at 6000rpm and a sizable 350Nm of torque spread between 1400 and 4000rpm, the turbo engine (which is the same as that in the Hyundai Sonata turbo) is a very appealing unit.
It pulls the 1.6-tonne Optima with ease, and has no shortage of low-end tractability. It's strongest between 2000rpm and 4000rpm, and the six-speed auto prefers to keep it within that range. Zero-100km/h happens in 7.5 seconds.
It did show a bit of thirst though. An average of 10.5 l/100km on some fairly easy country cruising (with a few hills thrown in) is higher than we'd have expected, and it's obvious that this engine likes to drink when acceleration is called for.
The naturally-aspirated Si goes easier on the juice, with us seeing a 7.1 l/100km average on a highway/urban jaunt. Then again, it's pretty weak with just 138kW/241Nm for a 1.5-tonne car.
Peak torque also arrives at a relatively high 4000rpm, meaning the engine needs to work harder than the more relaxed turbo.
While our time in the Si didn't take in any challenging roads, we found the handling and ride quality of the GT very agreeable.
Rolling on 18-inch alloys the ride is a touch more brittle than the smaller-wheeled Si, but the steering response is sharp, the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres provide high levels of grip, and there's good body control thanks to the localised suspension tune.
It's also quiet. NVH suppression was a key focus of the new Optima's development, and thanks to greater use of sound-absorbing materials it provides a refined experience behind the wheel.
ANCAP rating: The 2016 Kia Optima has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Standard safety features include ABS, EBD, traction control, stability control, a reversing camera, high-beam assist, front and rear parking sensors and six airbags.
The Optima GT grade also has active cruise control, blind spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and lane departure warning.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Optima is the latest in a string of all-new midsize arrivals this year, many of them being very highly-polished offerings. Here are the ones you should cross-shop it against:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It's been a busy year in the world of midsize sedans. The fresh-faced Camry launched with a bargain-bin pricetag that ensures it will dominate on volume sales, while the Mondeo, Sonata, Liberty and Passat have all had all-new models drop this year.
How will the Optima fare in such a competitive environment? Despite the increase in price, the company's local operation remains confident it can sell around 3000 a year - roughly 250 per month.
And so it should. The Optima looks great, and in the top-spec GT it's stuffed with high-end equipment and has a peach of a turbo engine. A seven-year warranty and servicing deal also helps the Optima's cause.
Yes, it's more expensive than before. However, balance that against a bulging equipment list and it's still great value.
It's by no means the most expensive option in the segment either, with the Mazda6, Ford Mondeo and Subaru Liberty easily eclipsing it.
If you're looking at a midsize sedan that feels a bit upmarket (but still don't want to pay top dollar), head in the direction of your local Kia dealer.