City traffic lowers the bar for our humble sedan.
First published in the August 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
DRIVING a long-termer might seem at odds with the motoring journo’s job of testing lots of models, but it’s the other cars I drive that give me a better perspective on the Kia.
A recent run of hot-rodded German, Japanese and local medium/large sedans contributed to this month’s low kay-count. And the halving of torque from 700Nm (Mercedes-AMG C63 S) to the Optima’s 350Nm, with the simultaneous loss of premo-Euro interior finish, would surely be quite a come-down.
Turns out it wasn’t too bad, though. Given a slight adjustment in expectations to account for the fact the Kia costs less than a third of the Benz, the cabin only offended one out of five senses (though I didn’t lick anything – see breakout). And the Kia’s ride was certainly more forgiving.
Meanwhile, neither the Benz nor the BMW M3 I had for a while made my drive home much more exciting. By the time I wound up the BMW’s twin-turbo six, it started to feel antisocial and dangerous, so I ended up in nana mode while getting mildly annoyed by the low-speed ride and shunty dual-clutch gearbox. The C63’s burble made the compromises worth it, of course, and they’re both must-drive thrillers on the open road.
By comparison, the Kia benefits from a torque-converter automatic transmission and not having to overcome the inertia of a beefy engine and drivetrain; it fairly whizzed up to speed in the urban rush-hour zone. It hadn’t occurred to me that the 1600kg Korean sedan is actually quite lively until back-to-backing with the Germans.
I can’t help but take my old Subaru WRX to the office at least once a week. It’s desperately lacking in active and passive safety – I’ve almost backed into cars when reverse parking because I half-expect to hear warning beeps – but it frequently demonstrates how much less fun cars have become. The low-speed engine NVH is woeful, but the glaring lack of refinement comes in a reasonable trade-off for the unfailing involvement. Hey, I want to drive, not go along for the ride.
I guess some buyers do just want to be an occupant and on that front, if you’ve not experienced one for a while, you might be surprised how vault-like a modern Kia is. The Optima’s doors are heavy, the body feels drum-tight over bumps, which are ridden pretty well, and it’s quiet.
By comparison with everything I’ve driven lately, the kids seem miles away from me in the back seat, and a big, solid car is exactly what I want for family duty.
The flipside is that I feel I’m shoehorning the Optima through the urban rat-run I blitz regularly in the Rex – the Optima is about the same size as a VZ Commodore, while the tinny, tiny Subie is smaller than a VB.
Making sense of plastic
Taste and smell being interlinked, I wouldn’t expect to like the flavour of the Kia’s trim because I’m not a fan of its new-car smell; it’s a bit plasticky. Audis have the best-smelling interiors, I reckon, and it wouldn’t surprise me to discover there’s a small team at Ingolstadt dedicated to developing fragrant plastics, leather and adhesives. Since Kia has a history of nicking staff from the four-ringed maker – Peter Schreyer is now doing great work as design chief there – they should get those guys on board immediately.
Read part two of our Kia Optima GT long-term car review.
Kia Optima GT
Price as tested: $43,990
Part 3: 356km @ 14.4L/100km
Overall: 1587km @ 13.2L/100km
Date acquired: February 2016