As the saying goes (well, I think it’s a saying), “It’s hard to improve on perfection”. Kia’s newest Optima is a shining example of that, especially at the highest level, the Platinum. With a side profile not unlike a Jaguar XF, a mild revamp of the exterior and an even milder interior refresh, it’s been left to the buying public to decide if that’s a wise decision. A Wheel Thing goes one on one with the new, 2014 spec, Optima Platinum from Kia.
With the current shape (since 2010/11) already a svelte and pretty one, exterior mods are simple: a redesigned boot lid for a integrated spoiler, redesigned tail lights, the inclusion of a diffuser style insert in the rear bumper whilst the front cops Kia’s new quad LED driving lights with the strip LEDs once situated under the headlights and lower down moving into and above the headlights themselves. It’s subtle, yet effective. With the test car presented in a pearlescent white, what was also noticeable was how cleverly a potentially slabsided car has been made to not look so, with a deep scallop at the base of the doors taking away visual weight, breaking up the look from windowline, to scallop, to bottom of the side skirts. It’s a sweet, cohesive design except, for A Wheel Thing’s eyes, the decision to align the bottom edge of the bootlid mounted tail light structure with the crease line underneath the body mounted tail lights, rather than the bottom of the cluster itself. It’s a small yet jarring design issue, detracting somewhat from the fluidity of the rear. Kia, refer to the tail light on the XK Jaguar on how to do it. Having said that, at night they have Kia’s new neon look, it’s attractive and classy. There’s sexy, new 18 inch alloys, grey painted and machined to give contrast, wrapped in 225/45 Nexen rubber.
The interior changes seem to be restricted to some plastics, moving to a piano black on the dash and steering wheel, replacing the deep grey metallic, plus a change to the screen look in the satnav, with a clean 3D look. There’s still the same red backlight KIA in the front aluminuim sill plates, the colourful dash display, comfortable electric seats with two place setting memory, sunroof, reverse camera and such like. It’s a nice office, with plenty of head and shoulder room, although the rear seats still suffer from the seat belt lock mechanisms “falling” into their attachment places. With a child seat for a four and a half year required, this lack of support can be troublesome at times. There’s a couple of niceties, such as cooling for the glovebox, dual zone aircon and a cobalt blue mood lamp for the centre console with audio from the Infinity supplied system clear, punchy and crisp. Boot space is Mafia requirement fulfilled, with over 500 litres of capacity available should one wish to fill it with a months worth of shopping…..or something else.
Of a troubling note (and, bearing in mind, there was less than 3000 km “on the clock” when the Platinum was collected, so still running in) was the economy from the 2.4L petrol, gasoline direct injection engine fitted, drinking, not sipping, from the 70 litre tank. Flexible enough to run on E10 to 98, the best figure attained in a week was 8.3L/100 kilometres. Worst was 10.9L/100km. Even with a run to Australia’s hallowed motorsport turf, Mount Panorama, on country highway dry roads, best was 8.5L. Kia’s own figures quote 11.2L/100km in an urban cycle, 7.9L/100km combined and 6.0L/100 highway. The engine produces 148 kilowatts at 6300 revs and 250 Newton metres of torque at 4250 rpm, through a six speed auto transmission driving the front wheels, in a car weight of 1600 kilos (dimensions are 4845/1830/1455mm) and a total gross weight of, call it, two tonnes. The Mazda6, possibly its closest competitor, has 138kw/250Nm at 5700rpm/3250rpm respectively and a kerb weight over 100 kilos lighter. Combined economy is quoted as 6.6L/100kms. For my money, the Optima needs to go on a diet.
The feel of the 2014 Optima Platinum through the tiller feels lighter than its predecessor. In the 2013 model, there’s a noticeable weight, a feel of requiring extra effort and a sense of front wheel drive, whilst the ’14 model feels better balanced and less front wheel oriented. On the road it’s superb; flat, neutral, no squat or roll when pushed hard, minimal dive under brakes and minimal understeer in tighter turns. However, there’s a feeling of skittishness from the front rubber, almost as if there’s marbles underfoot, taking away from the confidence in the handling somewhat. Acceleration is decent, the engine spinning easily through the gears, selectable via a tip shift or paddles, whilst brake pedal feel is light to start and progressive in travel. Technology comes into play with blind spot detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (sensors advise audibly if they sense motion behind the vehicle when reversing), auto headlights and wipers, guidelines on the eight inch reverse camera colour screen plus traction control and hill start assist.
At just on $40K for the Platinum, there’s a decent amount of kit supplied compared to the Si entry level. With supermodel looks, ride and handling of better than average punter capability or appreciation, the Achille’s heel is the fuel economy. In stop start traffic or even normal suburban conditions, a VF Commodore is more frugal, with an engine of V6 configuration, a litre plus bigger in size and bigger overall. However, it’s got great ride and handling, making it a worthy consideration. Go here for A Wheel Thing TV’s video review: http://youtu.be/ImPoAzolXr4