2016 Kia Optima GT long-term car review, part 3

Kia Optima GT

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.

Kia -Optima -GT-rear -sideMeanwhile, 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.

Kia -Optima -GT-interiorI 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
Odometer: 3383km
Date acquired: February 2016

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