The packed challenger
A few years ago I tested a big Korean SUV and while I couldn’t fault it in any meaningful way, I was overcome by a sense of pity. The preferred flashy 4×4 is German and great value for money even counts against its snob appeal. Does the same apply to Kia’s Optima luxury sedan?
I sincerely hope not as there isn’t a thing I can do against brand preference and aspirational purchases. Having blue propellers, four rings or a three-pointed star at the pointy end of your middle management prize is completely understandable. But what if the Kia’s a better car?
As we can’t measure personal preferences, my only source of information is a small spread sheet I just made. This contains most important specifications of the Kia Optima 2.4 GDi Automatic and the closest models of its beloved three German rivals.
…trumps its challenger when it comes to standard features.
Unbelievably, the Kia is not the cheapest but completely trumps its challenger when it comes to standard features. The other two Fritzes can’t match the Kia’s specs either but have, among others, slightly better safety kit, full leather interior and superior maintenance plans.
Although it’s marginally bigger, Optima somehow has the smallest boot. It’s also the heaviest and only non-turbo car, which would explain why the superior power and average torque from its new 2.4 GDi engine (plus 16kW, 19Nm) attains the slowest 0-100km/h time (9.5 claimed, we did 9.1) and top speed (210km/h).
This also affects its consumption which, at 8.7L/100km claimed average, is far above the more efficient turbo engines. An Optima may have the biggest fuel tank (70L) and new direct-injection but its optimum range is only 805km – those annoying Gerry’s all crack four figures.
But this is where the Kia beating ends and may I remind you that it costs just N$336,995 with the only options being a towbar and wind deflector? Spec the Germans up to the Optima’s level and you’ll be sailing well within N$400,000 territory – which will leave enough change to forget its higher thirst.
I’ve driven various versions of the A4, 3-Series and C-Class which, hand on heart, do feel more solid than the Kia. With their premium prices, that was to be expected. However; I find the Optima to be extremely good-looking, its boldness and rarity perhaps even appealing to me more than the evergreen trio.
Only the tacky door handles need some work.
The same goes for its interior which is so un-German that it’s refreshing. Kia’s bright red radio, overly-friendly info screen and cool white instruments are contrasted by chrome detailing, snazzy multi-function steering wheel and two-tone upholstery. Only the tacky door handles need some work.
Optima’s ride is smooth and comfortable, those eye-catching wheels with low profile rubber are reasonably noisy yet provide decent grip. The body leans quite a bit in fast cornering and I quickly awarded this Kia the prize for the world’s most interfering traction control.
Its sluggish 6-speed automatic gearbox was my final reminder that I wasn’t piloting a hot hatch; it may have shift paddles but ignores most of your commands. No, the Optima will only tolerate a modicum of sporty driving and would much rather be an executive cruiser. And it’s very good at that.
Gear shifts are smooth, the engine’s quiet, there’s plenty of space, the Infiniti sound system’s not bad, you can part-open the dual panoramic sunroof, the headlights are excellent, Bluetooth or CD changer keeps you entertained and you need never take the key out of your pocket.
The Optima is not as revered as the cool kids but it’s also less expensive and more generous with its freebies. Those savings and its big warranty should put your mind at ease for a few years and the only thing I can’t comment on is its resale value.
0-100m: 6.5s / 83.0km/h
0-200m: 10.1s / 105.7km/h
0-300m: 13.2s / 122.1km/h
0-400m: 16.0 / 135.1km/h
1/4mile: 16.0s @ 84.1mph (135.4km/h)
Climate Sunny, mild
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/3