Road Test: Kia’s Optima in its prime
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Sedan sales are an increasingly tough assignment for many car makers as customers migrate into the SUV and crossover segments.
Though they might have become unfashionable, there are still some accomplished cars built in the traditional four-door format — like the Kia Optima. It fits the medium-large sedan template by offering a modern 2.4-litre powertrain, an impressively roomy cabin and plenty of standard equipment treats in a choice of EX and Limited grades.
Just as 2016 closed, the Optima took a step in a more athletic direction with a GT variant arriving as a new flagship model.
It’s a polished sports sedan that continues Kia’s progression as a builder of engaging cars, but the opportunity to showcase its talents to potential customers is constrained a little as the GT has indent order status in the Kia line-up with limited stock available within the dealer network.
Under the bonnet, the GT version replaces the 2.4-litre GDi engine with a 2.0-litre direct injection turbocharged unit.
It serves up a useful power increase and a significant torque boost with accompaniment from the growly engine note.
The 1998cc T-GDi engine develops 180kW while 350Nm of torque is available across a 1400-4000rpm range to assure eager response. The power delivery and modern efficiency also offers an early taster of the engine set to be turned through 90 degrees to power the upcoming rear-drive Kia Stinger.
The Optima GT has a claimed top speed of 240km/h and can sprint from 0-100km/h in a respectably brisk 7.4secs.
Photo / John Borren
But it’s the mid-range overtaking response prompted by a gentle squeeze of throttle and a smooth downshift that is the most accessible of the GT’s talents.
The muscular turbo urge is matched to a six-speed auto transmission with sequential paddle shift and ratios well-suited to a low effort highway journey.
On a return run between Tauranga and Taupo — which allowed the turbo engine to run at a relaxed 1700rpm to maintain 100km/h in sixth gear — the car achieved an impressive 7.2L/100km consumption average.
Looking beyond the powertrain Kia has also fettled other aspects of the Optima to make sure the GT badge has credibility.
The steering feel has been sharpened by switching to a rack-mounted motor and there is tauter spring and damper tuning.
A contributor to the GT’s confident stance comes from its excellent Michelin PilotSport3 tyres and their generous 235/45 R18 footprint on the road, that is discernible in body control and grip levels which come to the fore over a highway or back road journey.
Photo / John Borren
The GT theme continues with leather-trimmed front seats that feature prominent side bolsters, good lower back support and plenty of cushion length for a longer journey.
The driver’s seat has power cushion height/tilt, slide/recline and four-way lumbar support adjustments with a two-position memory. The front seats are heated but it was the ventilation function that was appreciated in midsummer driving.
The Optima GT also carries its long-distance ability into the night with excellent LED headlights offering auto high beam control and dynamic bending function.
The Optima GT also builds a little on the luxury specification of the Optima Limited.
Visually the GT is distinguished by a five-spoke alloy wheel design, red painted brake callipers and detail changes to the front apron and lighting layout.
The cabin is smartly appointed — black perforated leather trim detailed with red stitchwork and there is a black roofliner, metal pedals and a flat bottom leather sports steering wheel with manual reach and rake adjustment.
Comprehensive specifications shared with the Limited include dual-zone climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Suna Traffic updates, electric park brake, proximity key with pushbutton start and a 10-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system.
The GT replaces the 2.4-litre GDi engine with a 2.0-litre direct injection turbocharged unit. Photo / John Borren
One downside is that the large panorama sunroof takes away a considerable amount of centre rear seat headroom and compromises the five-seat ability of what is a roomy sedan with generous footwell space and plenty of kneeroom.
There’s a useful 510 litres of boot space with hands-free opening function. The GT delivers that generous space while still managing to stow a full-size spare wheel – something I’m always happy to find in a modern car.
The GT’s standard roster of active safety and driver assist functions includes adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, hill start assist and a reversing camera.
Pricing at $53,990 means a $5000 premium above a 2.4 Limited version but the separation in performance, driving dynamics and added value seems wider than that.
Kia has done some impressive work to evolve the roomy, handsome but somewhat formal Optima into an athletic sports sedan with turbocharged appeal and chassis refinements worthy of the GT badge.
It’s a case of unfashionable still looking good.
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