Jimmy addresses his long-running Korea crisis.
First published in the May 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
COULD I be happy with a highly equipped – and I mean loaded – Korean car? It’s something I’ve long wondered, yet I always thought I knew the answer (erm, no).
But along the way things have changed. First of all, today’s Korean car is a generally far more solid, much better handling machine that those of a decade ago. I’ve changed too. With kids, I’ve slowed down a bit, and living in Sydney’s inner ring means I now prioritise comfort and conveniences; dynamics don’t matter so much when the road is inevitably a car park.
However, I can only take this view because I not only have the luxury of a dedicated daily driver – the Kia Optima – but also a pair of cheap, lightweight, once-were-performance cars for relief. To put it another way, if I only had one car, well, it would have to have a manual gearbox to keep me sane for starters (which, in the Optima, isn’t even an option).
To recap the history of the Optima briefly, the model got relatively sexy in the 2010 transition from the second to third generation (with the arrival of a new design chief, former Audi man Peter Schreyer), but it still had little in the way of engine or dynamic appeal. This new fourth-gen model brings a GT option with turbo torque and more polished dynamics, but doesn’t look quite as sharp.
A two-tiered line-up provides an appliance and a warm sedan. The $34,490Si is pitched against up-spec Camry variants, with either an internal combustion engine or a hybrid set-up. Equally as exciting as the Toyota, the Si is nonetheless very well equipped, with more than double the warranty.
Then there’s the GT you see here. At $43,990 – almost 10 grand more than the Si – it feels kinda pricey; you can have any Passat you like for less than $50K, for example.
A 2.0-litre turbo engine endows it with 180kW and 350Nm, sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic, and marks a big grunt improvement over the atmo 2.4-litre petrol four in the Si (and previous-gen Optimas). But those outputs aren’t nearly as effective in a 1605kg sedan as they would be in something 200kg lighter (say, a Skoda Octavia RS).
Aurally, the engine doesn’t inspire, which it probably should, at least a bit, in the context of the (seemingly misplaced) GT badge. And, not unexpectedly, it’s seems a bit thirsty in urban driving.
The Optima steers surprisingly heavily – and that’s before you press the system into Sport mode – and the ride is firm, though not uncomfortable. The handling, meanwhile, is better than the old one, and the current-gen Si.
I’m more sold on the cabin space, build and equipment. The Optima is quiet, feels solid and is roomy in the back, and the ventilated front seats, pull-up mesh rear window blinds, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, and intuitive infotainment and navigation systems are proving useful. However, I’ve already caught out both the autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot indicator systems without trying.
I’m quick to direct friends towards a new Kia because, if they’re happy with the way it drives – which is pretty well if the Optima is any guide – the rest of the package is full of positives; solid build, attractive styling, well-finished cabins, high equipment levels and, not least, a seven-year warranty.
But would I buy one myself? I’ll be a lot closer to knowing the answer at the end of six months with the Optima GT.
Eyebrow-raising fuel consumption
You may not have noticed, but since Dieselgate every time I’ve used the word ‘official’ in the description of fuel consumption test results, it’s carried the implication of a raised eyebrow. The GT’s 8.3L/100km official combined-cycle figure looks good compared with a turbo-petrol Volkswagen with similar outputs and weight (and, for all their woes, VW builds efficient engines), but in my urban reality, it’s been closer to 15.0L/100km so far (which really should be compared with the 12.5L/100km official urban figure).
Maybe I’ll eat my hat one day, but I just don’t buy driverless cars (and, as a keen driver, I don’t care about them). My rationale is that the driverless car can’t possibly take off until driver assistance systems work flawlessly. I’ve already had the Optima’s AEB system inexplicably slam the brakes (it may have been the rubber lane dividers, or my late braking, that confused it) and the blind-spot indicator beeps at me daily when, with neighbouring cars, I turn right from the outside lane on a dual-lane road.
Kia Optima GT
Price as tested: $43,990
Part 1: 483km @ 14.5L/100km
Overall: 483km @ 14.5L/100km
Date acquired: February 2016