Kia’s Optima nameplate has been with Australian drivers for well over a decade, being launched under that nomenclature in 2001. Based on Hyundai’s Sonata, it’s been a quiet seller yet has a high level of loyalty. When the third generation was released to the Aussie market in 2010, it quickly gained recognition for its slinky, sexy, good looks. The latest version with a mild reskin, now comes with the standard 2.4L in Si trim or a turbocharged four cylinder 2.0L engine. Called the Optima GT, it’s this that A Wheel Thing spent an enjoyable week with.
Torque is the now seemingly standard 350 Nm for 2.0L turbo engines, available between an immensely usable 1400 through to 4000 revs. Peak power is 180 kW, at 6000 revs. The engine itself is a square bore design, with bore and stroke at 86mm x 86 mm. Drive is put to the ground via the front wheels, through a slick six speed auto, complete with paddle shifts.
One of the more subtle yet noticeable things (once you give it some thought) about the GT’s driveability is the lack of torque steer. For a front wheel drive car, with a good dose of twist across such a rev range, Kia have performed some magic on the drive train. Under all forms of acceleration, there’s no noticeable pull, no is there any lack of traction from the 235/45/18 Michelin Sport rubber. Bluntly, it’s a superb piece of engineering and greatly aids the driving experience.
As a result, it goes like a hungry dog after a thrown bone. Sink the slipper and expect to see the rev counter’s needle zing around the dial. Expect the speedo to change numbers rapidly as well and potentially see Kia’s quoted fuel figure of 12.5L of 91 RON being slurped from the 70 litre tank. Even if you match that figure it’s still good for 560 kilometres. A Wheel Thing saw around 9.0L/100 in a predominantly urban drive. Hit the other extreme of 6.3L/100 km and that’s somewhere in the order of 1100 kilometres. That’s Perth to Kalgoorlie. And back. Overtaking? Simple. Safe. Belying the 1605 kg kerb weight, it’s a matter of correctly picking the moment and then it’s done.
Consider the dimensions of the Optima and you’ll quickly see why that although it slots into the medium segment because of the engine size, it’s a big car otherwise. It’s 4855 mm in length, 1860 mm wide yet sits close to the ground at just 1465 mm in height. Lob in a wheelbase of 2805 mm and what you’ll get is plenty of interior room, with rear seat passengers getting loads of head space and there’s oodles of shoulder room all round. Boot space? A mafia pleasing 510 litres.
It’s a long, low, slinky and very much an aero shape, the Optima, with swept back headlights, LED driving lights (and LED interior lights, by the way), a high belt line and an almost coupe swoop for the rear window line. The “tiger grille” is bracketed in the lower front bar by sporty looking intakes inserts, looking as if they’ll divert cooling air to the front brakes. The tail lights have been modified slightly, as has the point where the rear door roof section meets the rear window, compared to the previous model. A minimum ground clearance of 135 mm has the Optima GT looking as if it’s a low riding European sports car, which isn’t far from the truth.
The chassis work that goes into a Korean designed, engineered and built car to have it suitable for Aussie roads is astounding. Get into one and you’ll be driving possibly the best handling and riding car in its class. A Wheel Thing has lauded the updated Subaru Liberty and Outback range for the on road abilities they have, however the Optima GT takes them on and wins.
It’s beyond precise in its handling; point it at any curve or turn and feel the nose tuck in exactly where you expect it to go. Come down to a tightening radius corner and there’s no need for brakes as the nose follows the line in, communicating back to the driver’s seat the subtle and not so subtle variances in tarmac conditions. Undulations in the road have the GT barely move in the suspension as it rolls untroubled across them whilst unsettled surfaces genuinely seem to be reduced in impact to the quiet cabin. Even with the low profile rubber (which certainly helps in handling) the ride is just simply superb.
All of this can be enjoyed from the sumptuous cabin. Leather look stitching in the plastic on the dash, a sweet looking dash, spot on ergonomics, heating and cooling for the electric front seats (the driver gets eight way adjustable and four settings for the lumbar support), an updated look to the touchscreen (finally showing station info with RDS but no DAB, lacking that factor against its Euro and some Japanese competitors), the firm yet comfortable seats and the almost suede look and feel to the buttons. It’s fair to say the overall presence is better than its sibling, the Sonata. There’s the panoramic glass roof, dual zone climate control and a somewhat flat sounding Harman Kardon sound system.
The dash stays with mechanical needles for the dials; perhaps a move to LED screens would imbue the GT with a higher level of tech-look and ambience. What is techy is the wireless charging pad ahead of the gear selector, but currently only suitable for LG and Samsung phones. no surprises given the Korean origins. There’s also a heated steering wheel, surprisingly useful during the the cold snap Sydney experienced during the test. Yes, it might seem a bit wanky but cold leather look materials do benefit from heating on a cold day and this was a welcome addition.
Backing up the ride and handling is the comprehensive safety package: ABS, stability control, Hill Start assist, Emergency Stop Signal (flashing brake lights under emergency stopping), Blind Spot Detection and Lane Change Assist, an intrusive (but thankfully switch off-able) vocal speed alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, reverse camera, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning System, auto leveling and swiveling head lights, plus the usual curtain and front airbags (no driver’s knee bag?) and that seven year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
What should you expect to pay for the Optima GT? Kia says $43990 as the recommended retail price plus ORCs. That’s getting up there in price, thanks to the government charges, but there really is a fair amount of car for the money. Servicing costs aren’t bad either, with the first service due at six months or 7500 kilometres, oddly, not a gratis item, at $191.00. It’s $408.00 at two years/30000, about the same at three years/45000 but a hefty $769.00 at four years/60000…
At The End Of The Drive.
In simple terms, A Wheel Thing believes the Kia Optima GT is one of the best cars in its class currently available in the Australian market. It’s a gorgeous thing in the flesh, a superb handler, a great ride and except for those fuel figures, unacceptable in today’s environment, a cracker package overall.
There’s a wagon, a “shooting brake” in the works and potentially a slightly larger, more upmarket, REAR wheel driver version also.
The Kia Optima GT‘s details can be found here: Kia Optima GT details