2016 Kia Optima review
Paul Murrell’s launch-based 2016 Kia Optima review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
IN A NUTSHELL: The new Optima is a better all-round package with improved interior, materials, ride and handling. And it still looks a million dollars.
2016 KIA OPTIMA
PRICE $34,490 (Si, +ORC), $43,990 (GT, +ORC); WARRANTY seven-year, unlimited kilometres; SAFETY five-star EuroNCAP, five star US NHTSA; ENGINE 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder DOHC petrol engine (Si), 138kW at 6000rpm, 241Nm at 4000rpm; 2.0-litre inline turbocharged four-cylinder DOHC petrol engine (GT), 180kW at 6000rpm, 350Nm at 1400-4000rpm; TRANSMISSION six-speed auto; BODY 4.86m (L); 1.86m (W); 1.47m (H); WEIGHT 1585-1650kg; THIRST 8.3L/100km (Si, combined, 91 RON); 8.5L/100km (GT, combined, 91 RON).
IT’S BEEN A BIG YEAR for Kia. As with most car companies, things can move in cycles, and some of their models were getting a little long in the tooth (in this era of accelerated model life) but the company is showing a renewed vigour with the recent launches of the new Carnival and Sorento and this week, the new Optima.
It’s always a gamble whether to come out with an eye-popping headline price, or to make your pitch with plenty of standard equipment. Looking at the segment, Kia came to the conclusion that most buyers were tending to opt for the top-spec models and strong growth was being seen in the $60k-plus end of the mid-size segment with mid to upper end models consistently outselling entry level models.
The Optima has always been a support player in the class. Toyota’s Camry has dominated, with the Mazda6, Ford Mondeo, Subaru Liberty, Hyundai Sonata, VW Passat and Honda Accord squabbling over the leftovers.
For a company that was once seen as “cheap and cheerful”, the move upmarket is a brave one. Especially since it now means that the price point of the previous Optima at a tad below the psychological $30,000 mark has now lifted to a more challenging $34,490 (plus on road costs).
The issue becomes even more important because the “entry level” Optima Si is aimed squarely at the fleet market. That’s not to say families won’t buy it, but the car most people will aspire to (rather than “accept”) is the up-spec GT (pictured), and that means paying a significant premium of $9500.
In a class where design is, to be kind, fairly anodyne, the Peter Schreyer-designed Optima has always stood out. The new one is a subtle reworking that can be described as more mature. Some of the extreme elements have been toned down and the high-bling wheels replaced with more acceptable alternatives. It’s a great looking car.
Kia COO Damien Meredith pointed out that the new Optima brings improved safety, convenience, technology, ride and handling and quality. After our two days with the car, we agree that it’s a real step forward.
The cabin feels immediately classy, with tighter tolerances and higher quality materials. However hard you search (and we did!) and you are unlikely to find any hard plastics. But there is a caveat. The Optima is being offered in just two variants. The Si inherits the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder 138kW/241Nm engine while the GT gets a new all-aluminium 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 180kW and 350Nm. Both are mated to Kia’s own six-speed auto.
The new 2.0-litre engine is excellent, so much so that it shows up the comparative lack of refinement in the 2.4-litre unit. We don’t recall having any issues with this motor in the old model, but it is only when compared side-by-side with the new engine that it comes up short.
On the road, the GT feels capable and even (dare we say it?) somewhat sporting; the Si, in contrast needs to be revved to keep up, and doesn’t feel particularly happy doing it. Steering response in the GT is beautifully weighted with good feedback and response. The Si less so. Even the ride characteristics are different: while the absence of noise, vibration and harshness is exemplary in both models, the Si just manages to feel a little short-changed. Judged on its merits (and without the disadvantage of being compared on every factor against the GT), the Si rates very highly, certainly able to hold its own in the class. It’s just that the GT does everything that little bit better. Buyers will have to decide for themselves whether it’s $9500 better, and time will tell.
At speed or on challenging roads, the Optima immediately impresses with its quiet, unruffled composure. Strenuous efforts have been made to reduce NVH and noise transmitted to the cabin. The Optima is a relaxed high speed tourer with agile, responsive handling, once again benefitting from local input. The GT leads the way with high performance dampers, slightly firmer ride and more immediate handling response, plus having the power steering system mounted on the rack rather than column, all combining to make its driving experience one step up from the Si.
The official fuel consumption figures are 8.3L/100km for the 2.4-litre engine and 8.5 for the 2.0-litre. On a relaxed drive in a GT initially on country roads and then along freeways and motorways back to Sydney from the south coast, we saw a reading of just 6.0L/100km on the trip computer. Even after sitting in Sydney’s notorious peak hour traffic and crawling many kilometres to the airport, the readout had risen to just 6.6L/100km – impressively better than the official figures.
Both models have excellent on-road presence. Surface details have been enhanced, a chrome garnish highlights the sweeping roof line and the elongated silhouette , the nose has been refined with longer and wider headlamps and there are twin exhaust tips at the rear. The distinctive upturn at the rear quarter light has been retained. The GT adds LED tail lamps, spoiler-shaped bootlid, 18-inch alloys and a rear diffuser. Overall, the new Optima is marginally longer (10mm), wider (25mm) and taller (10mm). These apparently tiny changes result in improved head, shoulder and rear seat leg room, plus a larger luggage capacity (510 litres).
Tyres on the GT are 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 3 while the Si gets 17-inch Continental ContiPremiumContact5. Both get a full-sized spare wheel.
The high-spec interior will attract many new buyers. In the GT, there is stylish leather and two tone trim. Black with red stitching is standard while red with grey stitching is a no-cost option. The Si gets subdued but pleasant black cloth trim. The GT has an 8.0-inch touchscreen (7.0-inch in the Si) and both get dual zone climate control.
Safety has been well addressed with six airbags, stability management, ESC. Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, high beam assist, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection (GT only) and rear cross traffic alert (GT only).
Certain to diminish the pain of an increased ask for the new Optima is the comprehensive standard equipment. In fact, the only option is metallic paint at $595. Sat nav, six-speaker audio system (ten-speaker surround-sound Harmon Kardon in the GT), wireless mobile phone charger, front and rear USB charging points, hands-free boot opening, rear view camera and parking sensors front and rear and active headlight system (GT).
And that brings us, inevitably, to the price. The Optima Si is $34,490 plus on road costs. The GT comes in at $43,990. There is no way to bridge the gap because the Si can’t be optioned up, and the GT can’t be optioned down. We suspect many private buyers will love the features and performance of the GT, but the price of the Si. It remains to be seen if they will want to (or be able to) find the extra cash.
The new Optima is a clear indication of increasing confidence from Kia. If intending buyers judge the car on its merits, rather than simply heading off to their local Toyota/Mazda/Ford dealer, they will be tempted by the refinement and overall value, and drive away in something a little different and distinctive. They will also have the reassurance of Kia’s remarkably generous and industry-leading 7-year warranty, 7-year capped price servicing and 7-year roadside assist.