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Kia Optima 2 Tech 1.7 CRDi ISG

Click to view picture gallery“While the American President has
  sleepless nights worrying about
  what the North Koreans are up to,
  the big worry for Europe’s
  carmakers is the latest new models
  coming out of South Korea

IN PARTICULAR, THE NEW OPTIMA SALOON. Just weeks after going on sale it became Kia's top-selling car and the Americans can't get enough of them, which is why we Brits have had to wait quite a while. But it's here now, and you can buy one from 19,595.

The Optima is Kia's generously-proportioned and elegant new four-door saloon; elegant enough to be mistaken — really — for a Jaguar. But then it has been styled by Kia's design chief Peter (original Audi TT) Schreyer and his team who have made the most out of its 4,845mm length with long deep flanks, a wedgy profile and an assertive 'tiger nose' grille emphasised by dual projector headlights.

Who will buy it? Customers who may have been looking at a Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia or perhaps even a Passat; family drivers who enjoy driving and want something that's distinctive as well as practical; and, above all, customers who appreciate value for money and something that will return lots of miles per gallon.

“The Optima will stretch
a gallon of diesel
quite a long way —
officially 49.6mpg urban,
57.6 on the combined
cycle and 64.2mpg
A week behind the
wheel saw a real-life
Talking of economy, the Optima will stretch a gallon of diesel quite a long way — officially 49.6mpg urban, 57.6 on the combined cycle and 64.2mpg extra-urban.

A week behind the wheel saw a real-life 48.7mpg. And this from a big car (it's 20mm longer than a Mondeo) powered by 1.7-litre turbodiesel (the only engine available on UK-spec cars) that kicks out a substantial 239lb ft of torque at 2,000-2,500rpm alongside 134bhp.

It's an agreeably game performer, too. Happy to rev and, when maximum torque kicks in around 2,000rpm, pleasingly responsive, getting to 60mph in 10.2 seconds. It feels more like a 2.0-litre rather than a 1.7 and there's always enough on tap for sensible overtaking. At motorway speeds just a squeeze on the accelerator will see you add another 15mph+ without needing to drop out of 5th or 6th — even up long hills. Not that you'll have need of it in the UK, but the top speed is 125mph. A smooth-acting gearlever takes the strain out of the six-speed manual 'box's changes.

Pull open a door and you'll find that the Optima's big outside is reflected honestly inside — there's lots of space for front and rear passengers with room for five adults. Seats, upholstered in black leather with cloth centre panels, are cool in summer and warm in winter and supportive all year round — oh-very-comfortable seats, in fact, that quickly prove their worth on long journeys.

Front and rear space is more than adequate for six-footers; those travelling in the back definitely have enough legroom to stretch out comfortably in all directions, from head to toe. The rear seatback angle is just right for lounging, helped by a wide, padded centre armrest. Give up the armrest and three can easily sit abreast — made better for the middle one's feet by the virtually flat floor. Wherever you sit, the cabin feels very airy to travel in. And quiet, too.

Pop the bootlid and it's quite a way to the 60:40 split-fold rear seatbacks. Not that you need to reach in: pull the release knobs in the top of the boot and the rear backrests drop forward — almost, but not completely, flat. But enough to usefully extend the load carrying capacity of the 505-litre boot. Look under the boot floor and you won't find a puncture repair kit or even a space-saver but an honest-to-goodness matching full-size alloy spare wheel!

Along with loads of room the cabin also contains loads of kit: black leather and cloth upholstery, a 7-inch touchscreen display (serving the SatNav and various media functions and the integrated reversing camera), heated front seats, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, electric windows (all four are one-shot auto up/down) and a first-rate 12-speaker Infinity sound system with a 550-Watt external amp and an 8-inch subwoofer.

“The rear seatback angle
is just right for lounging,
helped by a wide,
padded centre armrest.
Give up the armrest
and three can easily sit
But wherever you sit,
the cabin feels very airy
to travel in
You also get an 8-way power adjustable driver's memory seat, dual-zone AirCon with air filter and auto defog, cruise control with speed limiter, on-demand powerfold heated door mirrors, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, parking sensors, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, tinted UV reducing solar glass, speed-sensing automatic door locking, Aux+USB connectivity, and auto wipers and lights — are all standard on the mid-rage '2 Tech' trim.

And there's more: external equipment includes ten-spoke alloy wheels, cornering lights, and LED daytime running and tail lights. Out of sight there's electronic stability control with a stability management system, Intelligent Stop & Go to save fuel and minimise C02, Emergency Stop Signalling system, Hill-start Assist and, of course, front, side and curtain airbags.

Apart from physical plusses such as power lumbar support, plenty of height and reach adjustment on the wheel and a height-adjustable front seatbelt, the driver also benefits from a logically laid-out centre stack and dash. The dials are beautifully clear white-on-black items, and with their fine chrome bezels and slim red needles they look especially smart. Thoughtful storage includes a centre console tray for a mobile close to Aux and USB points as well as not one, but two, 12v sockets, a cooled glovebox, and a sunglasses pocket.

The grippy multifunction (audio, cruise, driver information, voice and phone) four-spoke wheel has the added advantage of good-looking satin-finish spokes that don't dazzle on sunny days. And the heated seats go all the way: from the top of your back right to the end of the seat under your knees. And all key information and switchgear is within the driver's sight-line — the fascia and centre console are angled, aircraft-style, towards the driver.

Another simple but amazingly handy feature is the illuminated ignition keyhole. The A/C is on the ball and blows out lots of quick-chilled air without blowing a gale. And, very unexpected at this price, the powered driver's seat glides back several inches for an easy exit when you withdraw the ignition key; when the key is inserted the seat glides forward again to it's last used position.

But is impressive fuel economy, generous kit and handsome looks enough to not just go head-to-head against the leading and long-established mainstream saloons from Ford, Vauxhall, VW, Mazda and Peugeot, but to persuade buyers to vote with their wallets?

Dynamically it’s a nice
car to drive — actually,
‘polished’ pretty well
sums it up — whether
you’re picking up
the kids or it’s just you
and the Optima enjoying
an interesting B-road
When you factor in the Optima's competent road dynamics then, Yes, there will be many who will put their money firmly on the Optima, whose ride and handling are more than able to stand favourable comparison.

Our 'Tech' spec test Optima was running on 17-inch alloys shod with 215/55 profile tyres, and it's a well-considered partnership for both comfort and handling. The Optima provides good shock absorption and copes easily with the mixed patchwork of British blacktop, keeping the worst of the disturbances out of the cabin — something that also contributes to its easygoing and pleasantly hushed motorway gait.

Handling-wise it feels surprisingly athletic, with decent grip and minimal body roll, and the handling/ride balance struck by Kia will suit drivers who enjoy their everyday driving but still want some reward when driving enthusiastically. Also unexpected, because it's an electrically-assisted power steering set-up, but nonetheless welcome is the Optima's good response to the steering wheel. Judged alongside its peers, it feels easily as nimble as a Mondeo and it tracks straight and true on motorways.

Dynamically it's a nice car to drive — actually, 'polished' pretty well sums it up — whether you're picking up the kids or it's just you and the Optima enjoying an interesting B-road together. The powerful brakes (discs all round) can be relied upon to shed speed without any drama as and when. Overall the Optima feels every bit as confident as its well-established European-born rivals.

Offering sharp-suited looks, spacious family accommodation and a more than agreeable driving experience, the Optima is hard to ignore. Even more so when you look at the comprehensive standard equipment, pound-stretching economy and Kia's seven-year/100,000-mile warranty. To paraphrase Laurel and Hardy: 'Well, Kia, here's another nice car you've gotten me into!' — MotorBar

Kia Optima 2 Tech 1.7 CRDi ISG | 21,695
Maximum speed: 125mph | 0-60mph: 10.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 48.7mpg
Power: 134bhp | Torque: 239lb ft | CO2 128g/km