Kia is going for Optima exposure
KIA's new large-family car, the Optima, is due here in March and after a first drive, it may well be worth the wait.
It follows a sustained assault on the market by the South Koreans -- Kia and Hyundai.
The Optima is an attractive marriage of designs, with, depending on the angle from which you view it, definable BMW and Ford Mondeo-esque lines.
Eventually, there will be a choice of diesel or petrol engines, manual and automatic.
First here will be a new 1.7-litre VGT diesel (136bhp, 128g/km when fitted with start/stop system).
Kia expects to sell around 300 next year and there are plans for a petrol/electric hybrid from late 2012.
There will also be an estate later on. Expect to pay between €24,000 and €25,000 for the new Optima, which should have high equipment levels.
Among the several high-tech items on the test car were LED daytime running lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, air con and sat nav.
Even in middle-grade trim versions, you can expect heated front seats, with cooling (air ventilation) for the driver's seat.
Kia doesn't expect much growth in the large-family car segment here but is intent on claiming a larger share.
Both the six-speed manual and automatic transmission versions of the car were driven over a 100km test route on public roads, including the Monte Carlo race circuit, on the glistening Cote d'Azur last week.
And the car behaved impeccably, save for some slight concerns with handling characteristics.
Even allowing for some variation in road surfaces, it still seemed to require excessive steering corrections, so some refinement in this area may be required.
Otherwise, interior cabin quality is impressive while instrumentation layout, though not as attractive as in the latest Hyundais, was functional and uncluttered.
Gear changes in both versions were seamless, while generally quiet engine noise levels were raised only slightly in the automatic, though not to any significant level of discomfort.
From the outside, the car looks every bit aerodynamically efficient, its raked roofline, in particular, probably being the chief contributor to an impressive coefficient drag figure which, in turn, enhances performance and, crucially, fuel economy.
Frankly, the Optima looks terrific. Whether it will be as impressive on our wide mix of road surfaces remains to be seen.
But one thing is certain -- it'll set the cat among the premium pigeons when it gets here next year.
Kia is now also planning to bring in the face-lifted version of its iconic Soul early next year.