It's amazing how often in the automotive world you come across a model that doesn't quite get the recognition it deserves. There are always some models that, for no good reason, struggle for oxygen.
One such car is the 2018 Kia Optima, it's one of the Korean brand’s most comprehensive models, yet in the current market, the Optima is living in the shadow of the newly released and much hyped Stinger.
Unfortunately for Kia, the Optima has become something of a slow burner. It's only logical buyers would struggle to see the point of having two models that effectively offer very similar things.
The Optima is fighting battles on more than one front. With the Stinger to its right and the ever-growing market share of SUVs on its left, the Optima finds itself caught in a perfect storm.
Swaying family buyers to consider a sedan, even a good one, is becoming increasingly difficult. In some cases, this is to their detriment, some sedans still have plenty to offer family buyers wanting something a little different.
On test here is the 2018 Kia Optima GT, it's the top spec variant of the current Optima range. The list of standard features is so long it could be turned into a sleeve tattoo. I won't bore you with information that can be easily Googled, however, leather trim, panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats and a 10-speaker harmon/kardon sound system are all standard inclusions. Not bad for a car priced at $44,990 before on-roads.
As evidence of how fast the market now moves and how competitive the car business is, the Optima GT is loaded with features that not so long ago would've only been found in cars from expensive premium brands. It certainly is a brave new world.
The Optima GT is an interesting looking car, one of the reasons sedans are on the backburner is most of them are just too beige. The GT’s exterior is decorated with sporty touches such as Kia’s Tiger-nose grille, two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels with red calipers, a well-sculpted roofline, dual exhaust and some subtle touches of chrome.
If the Optima’s exterior doesn’t float your boat, we have all been told not to judge a book by its cover, it’s worth keeping this in mind when walking past an Optima. The nicely styled exterior conceals the car’s inner beauty.
It's the inside of the Optima GT that delivers a genuinely premium-rivalling experience. The cabin is trimmed in a lovely dark red leather with the majority of surfaces covered with beautiful soft-touch plastics and brushed aluminium trim. Everything is as crisp as a winter’s morning, there’s an undeniably premium feel.
If anyone doubts Kia’s ability to deliver a premium interior, this is the cabin that will change the minds of swing voters. Kia hasn’t attempted to reinvent the wheel, instead, it has focussed on emulating some of the better aspects of interiors from European cars.
There are styling cues no doubt inspired by successful cars from Germany, for example, the media and air conditioning controls look like they've come straight out of a BMW 3 Series and the gear selector appears to have been borrowed from Audi.
The only aspect of the interior that we can criticise is the size of the infotainment screen, it looks very small for an 8.0-inch screen. A larger Lexus type screen could be accommodated and would better suit the dash layout.
In the search for some genuine reasons why people have developed a love for the SUV, the comment we hear most often is the upright seating position is very appealing, which is interesting, it’s not always about the ride height. The Optima possesses a brilliant seating arrangement so occupants won't feel like they are sitting low.
If space is important, the Optima has a very roomy cabin with heaps of space, people who find themselves in the second row on long trips will enjoy comfort levels that are well above average.
Most cars that wear GT badging can often suffer from an identity crisis. Manufacturers get confused about what the two letters mean. The Optima isn’t a sports car, it’s a genuine GT car. During our week of testing, it was obvious the Optima is about comfort and refinement.
The Optima GT does have a sport mode yet it's not the sort of car that will lead its drivers to feel it should be pushed hard, it doesn't really have that kind of personality. There are some features like the lovely flat-bottom steering wheel and paddles that suggest a sporty drive can be expected but in reality that’s the domain of the Stinger.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that’s good for 180kW and 350Nm which is plenty. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain is responsive, planting my size 14 Onitsuka Tiger into the accelerator pedal delivers an immediate response, there’s no noticeable lag. Kia claims a respectable 0-100km/h time of 7.4 seconds.
The locally-tuned suspension is excellent. The ride is pleasant even on poor roads, which in Australia is pretty much all of them. Regardless of whether you’re commuting through town or enjoying a long Sunday drive, the Optima will pamper you until the destination is reached.
It’s not just the suspension that stands out, the steering is well weighted for this type of car.
When driving the Optima GT, everything comes together as smoothly as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. It’s all supple and relaxing, it’s a car you won't feel the need to rush around in. During our test drive, I would often find myself asking, what’s the rush?
Fuel consumption on a combined cycle is claimed to be 8.5L/100km, we were able to equal this figure over our 540-kilometre test. On the open road, expect the figure to start with a six.
Kia’s ownership package donkey licks every other car brand doing business in Australia. Kia backs its cars with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, seven-year capped price service program and a seven-year roadside assistance package – the last two are dependent on returning to a dealer to complete the required maintenance.
What hurts the Optima’s ownership credentials is the very short 6-month/7,500km service intervals. The costs average out to $312 for each service under the capped pricing structure, which seems reasonable enough if you can live with the moderate inconvenience of the short turnarounds. For those who cover long distances, this might be the Optima’s Achilles heel.
Buyers with nothing to prove who objectively assess the Optima GT will find that with 50K on the table there's not really a lot of sensible competition if the purchasing brief calls for a wonderfully comfortable sedan.
With that amount of cash to play with, you might be lucky enough to get a poverty pack 3 Series that in no way will have a standard inclusions list that can compete with the Optima GT.
But it’s not the premium segment that poses the biggest challenge, Kia’s new Stinger is a formidable opponent that is aiming for keen drivers. In a nation of car enthusiasts, the pull of a rear-wheel drive offering might keep the Optima GT in the shadows. The Optima is a strong car in its own right, but when kryptonite takes the form of another car parked in the same forecourt, it might take some help from the man of steel to get Optima sales moving.
2018 Kia Optima GT Specifications
Price from $44,990 plus on-road costs Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol Power 180kW @ 6000rpm Torque 350Nm @ 1400 - 4000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 8.5L/100km Tank Capacity 70L Length 4855mm Width 1860mm Height 1645mm Wheelbase 2805mm Performance 0-100km 7.4 seconds Turning Circle 10.9m Tare Weight 1605kg Service Intervals 6 months/7,500km Warranty seven year/unlimited kilometre
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