When: January 2012
Where: Hampshire, England
What: 2012 Kia Optima
Occasion: First drive
Overall rating: 5/5
Striking looks, a spacious cabin and a super-frugal engine mean the new Kia Optima really does have the tricks it takes to surprise its rivals. Add to that the firm's seven-year warranty and attractive service packages and it's easy to see why the Kia's appeal is so far reaching.
Pricing: Estimated at €25,000
Engine: 1.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Toyota Avensis, Ford Mondeo, Hyundai i40
CO2 emissions: 128g/km (Band B, €225 per annum)
Combined consumption: 4,9 litres/100km (57.6mpg)
Top speed: 201km/h
0-km/h: 10.2 seconds
Power: 136hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 324Nm at 2,000rpm
In the Metal:
Head turning - we lost count of the amount of neck injuries the latest Kia gave bystanders as we passed by. Just like the Sportage the Optima looks to have slipped straight out the back door of a motor show, a concept for the road if you will. Taut surfaces, LED running lights, sharp detailing and shallow side windows make it the most eye-catching model in the segment.
The cabin follows in the Sportage's footsteps as well, with plenty of shared switchgear and plastics and a generous level of equipment. The biggest bonus is the rear space though, which could rival a Skoda Superb if it wasn't for that shallow roofline.
Only one engine is available (for now): a 1.7-litre diesel with 136hp, which on paper looks a little lacklustre but is fine when out on the open road. Sure it's not as smooth as some of its rivals' units but from our initial test it looks like economy will make up for any shortcomings in refinement.
Still, with plenty of sound deadening and relatively long gearing it proves plenty relaxing at motorway speeds. And thanks to the electrically adjustable seats it's easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, though the squab could be slightly deeper to support those with longer legs.
The steering could do with more weight too, and though our test car only rode on 17-inch alloys, we found the ride to be a little firm, occasionally crashing over broken surfaces. Nevertheless the chassis proves to be natural and neutral in its balance, with safe understeer at the limit and decent body control.
We can't help feeling that this car would be even more impressive with a more powerful diesel engine, taking its very impressive fight straight to its larger capacity rivals.
What you get for your Money:
As you'd expect with Kia, there should be plenty of kit included; all models will hopefully come with alloy wheels, air conditioning, LED running lights, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity (though Kia Ireland has not released the details as yet). Some versions could even have heated leather seats, a brilliant seven-inch satnav system and a powerful 12-speaker Infinity premium hifi system as standard. And of course there's the firm's seven-year warranty, adding to the value for money quotient.
As a sister car to the Hyundai i40, it should come as no surprise that the Optima saloon will likely be joined by a practical estate model as well. The Hyundai has already proved to be a capable contender, and with the Kia's good looks the Optima wagon could be truly tempting. Even more intriguing are the hints of a forthcoming coupé variant that could use the 270hp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine found in American saloons.
Considering Kia admits its previous D-segment models have been rather lacklustre, the new Optima is an incredible achievement. From almost nowhere the company has produced a model that can challenge the very best for design, space, economy and efficiency, equipment and even driving dynamics - the most complete Kia yet?