From $43,990 (MRLP) – GT Model
For a long time, Kia wasn’t high on my list of cars to consider. But a few years ago I took a job working in a Kia dealership. I think it took me less than a week to change my opinion. Within a month I had driven every model in their Australian line up and I liked them all. Yes, even the Carnival.
So when Kia Australia told me they had a new Optima GT for me to drive, boy did I jump at the chance.
Of all the Kia models, the Optima has been my absolute favourite for some time. But driving the old model, I often said that such a big car needed more power, or a turbo-charger. Low and behold the folks in South Korea must have heard me because here, sitting in front of me, is the latest Optima; now turbo’d.
It’s a bit different from it’s predecessor. Yes the old 2.4 litre 4 pot has remained in Si guise, but Kia have done away with the Platinum model and now only offer the GT as the ‘top-of-the-line’ model. That’s where the improvements really lie.
There are a number of facelifts around the car, mostly designed to make it appear more sporty and aggressive. The interior has been touched here and there to make it more refined and European. But under the bonnet is the magic. Gone is the 2.4 litre. In it’s place is a monster than should be making the German’s quiver a little in their boots.
Here are the stats. 2.0 litre displacement. 4 cylinders. 180Kw at 6,000rpm. 350Nm from 1,400-4,000rpm. 6 speed automatic with flappy paddles. Drive through the front wheels. A whole lot of grinning.
Aside from the styling, the first thing you really notice is the power. The second your foot touches the accelerator the turbo is spooling and it’s go time. Even in ‘Eco’ mode, this car goes like it’s pissed of Satan.
Next thing you notice is the comfort. The car has been exclusively tuned for Australian roads, with a special suspension setup that makes the car ride ‘just-so’. Does it work? Yes, yes it does. In fact it works so well in the 5 days I spent driving it around Central West NSW (where the roads are probably the worst in the state) it felt like I was driving on the City motorways. Smooth, comfortable, fast. Worried yet Germany?
But it’s not just the exterior features that are good. The technology that has been fitted to this car is are Euro as you can get. The 8” touch screen is one of the simplest, efficient models on the market. It’s fast, direct and nice to look at. The Sat Nav works well. It features a number of great functions that can guide you to the nearest petrol station, Kia dealership or restaurant. Thanks to SUNA Traffic Information, it even knows the speed limits and warns you when you are in excess of them – this got turned off very quickly.
Connecting my phone was easier than sending an SMS. At a guess, it took less than a minute and my music was blasting through the 10 speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system. USB connectivity is available as well as an AUX input. For about $50 you can purchase a wireless charging case for your smart phone and the car can do that too.
The traditional roof has been replaced with a glorious Panoramic Sunroof that makes enjoying the countryside that much better. When the headlights come on at dusk, they give off a soft, clear white light and turn as you corner to give you that little extra vision around a bend. Tap the high beam function, and the Auto High Beam kicks in, sensing oncoming lights and dimming the globes as required.
But it doesn’t stop there. There is also Speed Dependant Volume Control and one of the crispest bluetooth Phone Systems I have ever used. The Dual-zone climate control is nice. Cold mornings (-3) made it earn it’s Petrol, but within minutes the car was warm and ready. The Heated Seats and Steering wheel also got a work out. The downside to those is that the wheel gets very hot all of a sudden and your hands end up rather clammy – so turn this off quickly. The seats on the other hand have cooling functions, so a sweaty back(side) is easy to remedy.
Along with the usual safety features of 6 airbags (Driver and Front Passenger, Front Side and Curtain), Front and Rear Parking Sensors, Reversing Camera (with dynamic parking guidelines) and Seatbelt Warning Lights, the car features a surprisingly large number of premium functions usually reserved as options for the likes of Audi and BMW.
Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Smart Cruise Control (or Adaptive Cruise Control depending on where you come from), Autonomous Emergency Braking, Automatic High Beam and Cornering Headlights all come standard on the GT.
I want to touch on the Smart Cruise Control briefly. This is a brilliant function that I think all vehicles should have as standard. Essentially, you choose your desired top speed (110km/h for this example). The car motors along at said speed until it detects a vehicle in front of you. You can choose the distance you want to travel behind this other vehicle and the GT will slow down, speed up and maintain that same distance behind that car until you choose to overtake or turn off the system. The car will even go as far as to come to a complete stop and move off again if the car in front does so.
I tested this whilst travelling on the gridlocked M4, with some trepidation. But by god, it worked. It was a terrifying experience at first but after a few stop/starts, it became quiet a pleasant trip – even stuck in slow moving traffic.
So, why should this be in all cars? It’s a simple safety feature that could and would safe a lot of lives.
Anyway, on with the story.
Now that we have got all the facts out of the way, we can talk about the drive ability of the GT. It comes with 18” alloys strapped in 235/40 r18 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 rubber. Now to the average punter this won’t mean much. But to simplify it, it means that these are some serious tyres. They’re grippy is almost any condition and with that big Torque figure coming through them, they need to be.
The car is fast, we know that. But it handles like a sports car. Twisting country back roads are morning tea for the GT. The Electronic Power steering, something I’ve never been a fan of, is actually responsive and very light. But you never feel like it’s too easy to control, but you know you’re always in complete control. The suspension absorbs everything like a luxury car should and when you press the Sports button, everything becomes just a little more fun.
The gear shifts are quicker, the throttle is more responsive and the exhaust growls in a way that just makes you grin.
And that’s where that little badge on the back comes in. GT historically means Gran Turismo, or Grand Tour. The idea is you have a large, fast, comfortable car that you can tour the countryside in with easy and luxury. A lot of manufactures put these little badges on their cars with no relation to the car being Grand Tour-y, but the Kia actually fits the bill. Little wonder from the people with the Slogan “The Power to Surprise”.
Everything about this car oozes GT-ness. The way it drive, the way it rides, the mod-cons, the styling, the panoramic sunroof. It’s a car that has been engineered to traverse Australia in style and comfort and it wins every category it enters. And we haven’t even gotten to the price yet.
It’s all well and good to say that the car fits one purpose that it’s badge describes, but it’s another to say that it is good as an every day car too. So, is the Kia any good to live with?
Yes. In fact, it’s almost perfect.
It’s a shade less than 5 meters long, so you can park it at Woollies or in a multi-storey. Front and rear parking sensors as well as the reverse camera make it a breeze. It’s quiet around town, effortless almost. Even in bad traffic, it’s such a nice place to sit that you can just enjoy the features of the car without being that bothered by the lack of movement.
The Economy is great too. Kia claims a combined 8.5 L/100km. Over the week I saw it sitting around 9.3-9.5 L/100km. I wasn’t being polite to the fuel tank either and it still managed to be that economical. With a 70 litre capacity, a full tank of 95 will get you the better part of 750km.
The car is quiet, whether around town or cruising on the highway at 110km/h. You can hardly hear the road noise and the engine isn’t struggling at highway speed – it will sit just under 2,000rpm at speed. The only gripe I had was a small amount of wind noise from the side mirrors, but it was such a minor noise on such a great car I’m willing to overlook it.
But all these things are no good if the price is wrong. That where Kia’s ‘Power to Surprise’ really shows it’s true colours.
Starting at $43,990 (MRLP), the Optima is possibly the bargain of the century. Now you might be thinking, ‘yes but with all those features optioned on that price would skyrocket’. You would be right, except everything I have spoken about comes standard.
In fact, the only things you can option are Metallic Paints and Red Leather interior. Move over XR6 Turbo, I think we have found the best bang-for-your-buck Sedan on the planet.
Still not sold? How about this then. Not only is it fast, luxurious, comfortable and well priced, it also comes with a 7 year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Yes you read that right. 7 years. Unlimited Kilometres.
This car is good enough to take on the Germans. It could even be the next Police Highway Patrol car. I urge you. Stop wasting time and money on SUV’s you don’t really need, use or want. Head down to Kia and check out the Optima GT. It will put a smile on your face. And that is the mark of a great car – one that you smile about.