The second-generation Kia Optima launched recently, and the all-new-from-the-frame-up re-do of the original advances on all fronts, once again taking a place as one of the market’s most persuasive choices in a high-style, highly attainable family sedan.
Outside, Optima’s daring sculpting, big dual exhausts, plentiful details, and Kia’s signature tiger-nose grille, flanked by bi-xenon headlamps, help set the new model apart.
The top-line tester even got a little ‘turbo’ decal set inside of each front fender-vent, so would-be stoplight challengers know not to mess around. Numerous styling touches here could do double-duty in a far pricier ride, any day of the week.
Moving or stationary, the slathering of design details across Optima’s body make it look like a big deal.
Occupants are surrounded by a world of stitching, quilted leather, modern interfaces, and trim materials of various colours, textures and lustres layered one over the next. Pick nearly any part of the cabin for investigation with the eyes and fingertips, and you’ll notice touches of modern flair, quality and attention to detail. It all contributes to a luxurious atmosphere that’s formal, high-tech, rich, and uniquely modern.
Don’t miss the quilted leather pattern on the seats, either. Once reserved for high-dollar luxury cars, quilted leather looks gorgeous, and was dispatched across the tester’s seats in full force.
There’s a massive panoramic sunroof, a vivid and potent Harman Kardon stereo with Quantum Logic processing for clean playback of digital files, and a big and bright central command screen underlined with logical tactile buttons for easy navigation of hundreds of functions.
Control interfaces spill down onto the center console, with various controls integrated around the shifter plate. Among these is the drive-mode selector, which switches the Optima from a lazy eco-cruiser to a riled-up sports sedan with a click or two.
Highway cruising sees the so-called ‘sport tuned’ suspension offering a layer of softness around some mildly stiff shocks, enabling responsive handling, a comfortable ride on nearly anything, and neither attribute cutting the other’s grass.
Around town, Optima doesn’t float over or smash into bumps and potholes, preferring instead to absorb them with minimal upset, and a feel of durability that’s quiet all the while. And though it doesn’t steer or handle with gut-twisting intensity, Optima is unbothered and notably stable when tossed around vigorously.
The electric power steering provides minimal actual feel of the tires interfacing with the road beneath, though the steering is precise, smooth as glass, and isolated fully from any underfoot abuse directed toward the front wheels.
Virtually no harshness is ever transmitted back through to the drivers fingertips from the road beneath, and a low-speed lightness and easiness to the steering gives way to a touch of heavy stiffness at highway speeds, helping Optima stay centered within its lane with minimal need to readjust. In all, like the suspension, the steering supports a laid-back dynamic.
One gripe: given the luxury look of the cabin, some test-drivers may wish for a quieter ride. The Optima’s cabin is sufficiently quiet, though noisier than it looks at highway cruising speeds and beyond.
Elsewhere, look for plenty of room for even generously-proportioned adults up front, plenty of at-hand storage, proper cupholders, numerous power and charging ports, and wireless recharging, a newfangled form of electronic wizardry that juices compatible phones by simply placing them onto a surface, no plugging-in required.
Rear seats are laterally spacious, and even roomier where leg-room is concerned. The tester’s rear windows even offered pull-up shades, a la high-dollar Benz or Audi. Rear seat headroom proved adequate for your 5”10 writer, and taller passengers will need to lean their heads back beneath a notch at the very rear of the Optima’s ceiling for maximum space above.
Further rearward, the trunk is extra deep, wide, largely square, and generous enough to handle a weekend road trip for four, or a $500 Costco run with ease.
Optima’s top-level engine option is a two-litre turbo four cylinder, providing 245 horsepower (30 less than last year’s model), backed by even more torque, and all sent to the front wheels via a paddle-shift automatic gearbox.
The less-powerful engine still scoots when given the boots, and though it lacks the nearly ferocious forward consumption of pavement boasted by its predecessor. Still, the new turbo engine sounds more pleasing, and still delivers deep reserves of torque for passing and merging.
Other notes? Optima is a confident machine to operate in tight quarters, thanks to feather-light steering, the high-resolution around-view camera system, and parking-assist beepers and cross-traffic alerts for added awareness of the driver’s surroundings.
Additionally, though navigation and infotainment interfaces aren’t the segment’s most visually stunning, they’re logical and easily learned. Mileage on my watch, including plenty of highway cruising, landed at a highly respectable 9.5L/100km of regular-grade fuel, which is particularly thrifty overall. The reduced power output of the new engine may be partly to thank.
Complaints? Keeping context in mind, few presented themselves. Paddle shifting isn’t responsive or quick enough to warrant much use, especially if you’re coming out of a BMW or Volkswagen.
And the brakes are powerful, but lack any meaningful feel at the pedal, which itself feels like it’s connected to a cinder block.
End of the day, Optima is a highly worthy test-drive where feature content, a well-mannered drive, and especially, stand-out styling, are at the top of your family sedan wish-list.