Friday 28 October 2016

Taking the Optima route to recognition of new family saloon

First Drive in Frankfurt: KIA Optima

Published 11/11/2015 | 02:30

Due soon: Kia Optima
Due soon: Kia Optima
Substantial: A rear view of the Optima.
Optima comes with a host of extras.

One response you can be fairly sure of when you mention KIA is its "seven-year warranty". It is a unique selling point (USP).

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Unlike the 'Optima' which, I'm prepared to wager, wouldn't come tripping from too many people's list. That's hardly surprising given that the large family/fleet saloon was unveiled in Ireland in the teeth of a recession and the fact that the marque has no real tradition in the sector. I guess it has to start somewhere on recognition so now is as good a time as any for this new one.

It is scheduled here in advance of January and will cost from €27,950 (entry-level EX). The mid-spec Platinum will cost from €31,450 and the GSE from €34,450.

I think this is a better proposition than the old one. And it needs to be because with little tradition to trade on, KIA will have to battle hard to attract buyers from a sector full of big, established names such as the Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Avensis, Ford Mondeo and, of more recent vintage, the Hyundai i40 etc. The latter, a KIA stablemate, is testament to how a car with the right credentials can quickly establish itself. On that basis there is hope for the Optima.

While I think its design is too conservative, it is a substantial piece of work. The cabin is much improved not just in looks and layout but with far better-quality materials all around. I liked the simplicity of the dash the easy-to-use new touchscreen and infotainment system centrally slotted.

I wasn't alone in feeling the steering was too light but, funnily enough, that didn't undermine or interfere with the drive or placing the car on the road, corners or parking. And better all-round handing is down to the stiffer body and newly-tuned all-round independent suspension.

It sat well on the road and the insulation of noise worked well. Certainly there wasn't much getting in from the heavily re-tuned 1.7-litre diesel engine (+ 5PS to 141PS) which powered the old one too. Work on it has cut emissions by 40g/km (14pc) to 110 g/km in the 6spd manual version. That means road tax drops €90 to €190. Not a bad bit of cost saving.

But I'd point you towards the 7spd dual-clutch automatic version too. With road tax at just €200, I think it's worth a test. It was slick, quick and smooth.

KIA executives in Frankfurt told me the 1.7-litre diesel is right in the middle of the market in terms of power as far as European buyers are concerned so it's going to be around for a while. But they are developing a plug-in petrol hybrid (second half of next year) and an estate and GT and GT Line versions.

It is a substantial car but as it is only a shade longer and taller than the old one, the substance comes from the 25mm stretch in girth. With the wheelbase up 10mm to 2,805mm and reshaped seats shaving space and 2.6kg each, rear passengers benefit from 25mm more legroom. The 510-litre boot is up just 5-litres to 510.

Spec on cars in this class is critical these days. Standard on EX versions are dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, cruise control, auto lights/wipers, 17ins alloys, 7ins nav/camera screen, lane assist, semi-leather seats, seven airbags and 4.3ins TFT.

Platinum trim adds 18ins alloys, full leather, 12- way electric driver seat, heated from and rear seats, rear LED, xenon lights, LED fog lamp, wireless phone charger (auto versions only).

And GSE gets a panorama sunroof, 8ins nav/camera display, 10 speakers, beige two-tone leather etc.

And, it goes without saying, all have that seven-year-warranty.

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