OPTIMA PRIMED: Kia's updated Optima Si and GT are loaded enough to challenge and exceed some mid-size sedan rivals, with the GT scoring a new and powerful 2.0-litre turbo.
OPTIMA PRIMED: Kia's updated Optima Si and GT are loaded enough to challenge and exceed some mid-size sedan rivals, with the GT scoring a new and powerful 2.0-litre turbo.

Kia Optima Si and GT road test and review

WHEN Kia revealed its third-generation Optima five years ago it created some pretty positive ripples.

Lovely looking thing. Well priced. Good all-rounder. Well done, Kia.

You never saw a huge number on the road however - the mid-size sedan segment being eaten away by SUV shoppers while Toyota's Camry dined out on the bulk of remaining sales. The Korean brand shifted 1800 Optimas in 2013 and just 1300 last year, but it has 3000 annual sales in its sights with this, the next generation Optima.

Kia's Australian sales are creeping up, and it hopes for a 14% increase in 2016 on the strength of its new models, the mid-size sedan Optima included.

So the new Optima works to its most obvious strength by evolving rather than revolutionising the body style (don't mess with a good thing and all that), has upped the safety and specification, and refined the noise, vibration and harshness.

2016 Kia Optima GT. Photo: Contributed.
2016 Kia Optima GT. Photo: Contributed.

But most important was modernising the four-cylinder powerplant of old, which was something of a weak link in the outgoing Optima.

Here there's good news and bad. The new Optima comes in two variants - Si and GT - and the entry-level Si retains the old naturally aspirated 2.4-litre. Positively though, a turbocharged 2.0-litre - with a healthy 180kW and 350Nm - arrives for the GT cars.

But with an asking price of $34,490, and that fantastic Kia seven-year warranty, the Si will remain a fleet buyer's favourite. Kia expects private shoppers to favour the GT, but you'll have to dig deep: $43,990 is the sticker price, putting the new Optima in some lofty mid-size sedan company.

Comfort

Credit to Kia, the new Optima's cabin is a spacious and well thought out thing, and in the leathery GT a premium feeling offering.

The dash is divided into an upper "display" zone and lower "control" zone which is unfussy and simple to navigate, while the touchscreen (8.0-inch GT and 7.0-inch Si) is fast and reasonably intuitive.

The steering wheel - the flat-bottomed GT version lovely in the hands - is awash with buttons that take some getting used to, but it keeps the centre console controls pleasingly minimalist.

Seats in both Si and GT are wide and cosseting - again the GT impressing with leather and red stitching (while we loved the no-cost option full red interior trim) - and touch points throughout are decent and most hard plastics banished.

TEMPTING: GT Optimas come with leather, with red trim a no-cost option to liven up the classy cabin
TEMPTING: GT Optimas come with leather, with red trim a no-cost option to liven up the classy cabin

The interior fit around the B-pillars wasn't perfect, but you'd be harsh to mark down the cabin as we had to search hard to find much to grumble about in the Kia.

Rear space is superb with the new Optima given a longer wheelbase and taller and wider body.

Much like its closely related Hyundai Sonata it feels more large- than mid-size out back, with three adults being able to travel in comfort.

On the road

The Si and GT are two very different animals. Common, however, is a high level of ride comfort and insulated cabin feel: the Optima feels solidly screwed together and excels as a cruiser.

Kia's Australian ride and handling team has been busy optimising the suspension for local conditions, and much like its similarly underpinned Korean stablemate Hyundai Sonata, proves itself as a competent all-rounder. The Optima absorbs the bumps well, offers nice balance, and grip from the 18-inch Michelins on the GT car is superb.

ENTRY LEVEL: Optima Si carries over the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine of before, which feels somewhat out of date compared to the GT's turbo 2.0-litre.
ENTRY LEVEL: Optima Si carries over the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine of before, which feels somewhat out of date compared to the GT's turbo 2.0-litre.

Both cars feature a six-speed auto which didn't miss a beat on our test, but the engines offer very different drives. Kia calls the Si's 2.4-litre "proven" but I'd call it tardy by modern standards and feels past its sell by date. No real problem for fleet buyers, but private purchasers should aim for the GT as the all-new 2.0-litre turbo is a mighty step up.

It helps the Optima GT hit 100kmh in 7.4-seconds - excellent for a big bruiser like this. GTs also get a rack-mounted steering system (the Si a cheaper column mounted version) to sharpen the feel, and particularly in Sport mode is nicely weighty and responsive.

Steering wheel paddles - something Hyundai's Sonata lacks - aid the new Optima's sporting ambitions. The GT is no sports car, but is good fun and competent to throw around if the mood takes you.

What do you get?

Kia said it didn't want to get into a battle on the Optima's price, and instead is focussing on high spec to match or exceed rivals.

And it's done well. Both Si and GT receive dual zone climate, sat nav, LED lights, front and rear parking sensors, rear camera, lane departure warning system and autonomous emergency braking as standard.

2016 Kia Optima GT. Photo: Contributed.
2016 Kia Optima GT. Photo: Contributed.

The GT gets appealing extra fruit. Blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert puts the safety systems up there with the best, while your $43,990 also brings smart key, push button start, aluminium trim, Harman/Kardon audio, ventilated and heated leather power seats, panoramic sunroof, sports bumpers, bi-xenon headlamps and an auto release smart boot. You also get very cool wireless phone charging (for compatible smartphones) in the GT's centre console.

Other options

Many strong rivals. Against the GT look at the Hyundai Sonata Premium ($41,990), Mazda6 Atenza ($46,420), Skoda Superb Elegance ($39,990), Ford Mondeo Titanium ($44,290) and VW Passat 118TSI ($38,990).

Practicality

As well as the vast rear seat space the clean cabin design allows for ample centre console storage space, and the boot at 510-litres is a monster.

Quoted economy is 8.3-litres/100km for the Si and 8.5-litres in the GT: nothing to wow you there, but unlike many rivals, Kia's figures look realistic. Our test drive returned close to quoted, and on highway cruising (where Optimas will typically be found) the average went well into the 7-litres/100km.

2016 Kia Optima GT. Photo: Contributed.
2016 Kia Optima GT. Photo: Contributed.

The lowdown

Spacious, refined and dynamic - not to mention holding on to its striking good looks - the new Optima offers plenty. The Si's aging engine is a weak point, making the GT with its excellent included specification and gutsy turbo 2.0-litre the one to aim for.

Its $43,990 sticker may scare buyers away however, not least with the quality rivals in this sedan price bracket, but the big Kia deserves its place among them.

2016 Kia Optima Si. Photo: Contributed.
2016 Kia Optima Si. Photo: Contributed.

 

What matters most

What we liked: Attractive design, included kit (especially the GT), spacious, smooth, quiet and comfortable cruiser, GT has some sporting guts when pushed, awesome warranty.

What we'd like to see: The Si's engine is tardy and past its sell by date, GT looks pricey.

Warranty and servicing: Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, seven-year capped price servicing ($4887 over seven years) and seven-year roadside assist. Servicing is every six months or 7500km.

 

Vital statistics

Model: 2016 Kia Optima Si and Optima GT.

Details: Four-door front-wheel drive mid-size sedan.

Engines: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol with 138kW @ 6000rpm and 241Nm @ 4000rpm (Si); 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 180kW @ 6000rpm and 350Nm @1400rpm (GT).

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Consumption: 8.3-litres/100km (Si); 8.5-litres/100km (GT) combined.

CO2: 194g/km (Si); 199g/km (GT).

Bottom line: $34,490 (Si); $43,990 (GT) before on roads.

2016 Kia Optima Si. Photo: Contributed.
2016 Kia Optima Si. Photo: Contributed.

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