For a cloning exercise to be successful it has to create something which is at least as good, or better, than the original – and Kia has just shown that it can be done with remarkable success when they unwrapped the new Kia Optima inSouth Africa.
Based on the excellent value for money Hyundai Sonata sibling, the new Optima essentially has the same chassis, drive-train and engine but on the Kia all the bits seem to come together in a classier, smoother and more efficient manner than on the Hyundai.
And whilst the Sonata was impressive enough to make the short list of finalists for the 2010 South African Car of the Year, the Optima takes everything to a higher level. The Hyundai surprised the local market with its Eurocentric styling and Kia has gone the same route with the Optima but with the application of a few extra layers of finesse.
In terms of looks the Optima is a neat little attention-grabber. Designed at Kia’s studios in Frankfurt, Germany and Irvine, California, the Optima is “a product that people would not have expected from Kia and this is what we set out to achieve” according to Peter Schreyer, Kia’s chief designer, who likens the new Optima to a perfectly-tailored Italian suit.
A good mix
In essence the styling is a good mix of quality and exuberance with attractive features such the car’s coupe-like profile, low crouch, projector-style headlamps, a sweeping chrome arc that flows from the A- to the C-pillars, flared wheel arches, steeply sloping rear window, snazzy day-time running lights, embedded fog-lamps, sexy exhaust outlets with chrome tips and macho-sized 18inch alloys wrapped in low-profile rubber.
Inside the cabin, the smartness continues with an ‘aircraft cockpit’ design and lay-out created to focus on driver convenience and pleasure, from the short gear lever mounted on the high central panel and the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel to the specially designed accelerator pedal, comfortable leather and cloth seats, ‘mood’ lights and an instrument panel slanted towards the driver. It looks chic and high-tech but in reality it is tremendously user-friendly.
The front seats, for example, are power adjustable (driver 8-way with 2-way lumbar support/ passenger 4-way). All the seats have heating and ventilation for both front occupants. The IMS (Integrated Memory System) retains the seat settings for two drivers and provides an ‘easy access’ function which raises the steering wheel and lowers the seat, while sliding it back, whenever the car is parked.
To add to the ambience of the living quarters, temperature control is fully automatic with variables for the front occupants and twin adjustable air vents in the back of the centre console which provide ventilation to rear seat occupants
Cool for theCape
A popularCapewinter feature will no doubt be the automatic defogging system that monitors the humidity and the opacity of the windscreen, triggering the air-conditioning system to remove condensation and ‘de-fog’ the screen whenever necessary.
The fully adjustable steering wheel has remote controls for the audio system, cruise control, ECO mode and trip computer, and a Bluetooth hands-free system.
A rear-view camera is fitted to assist drivers during reversing manoeuvres. The camera uses a wide-angle lens to transmit images to an LCD display set within the interior rear-view mirror so that the driver can check the rear view and the blind spot immediately behind the car.
However, one of the features of the new Optima I was most impressed with is its sound system made up of a 6-CD changer with 8 speakers including a 6.5-inch speaker integrated neatly into each door armrest, a 2.5-inch tweeter housed at each end of the dashboard, a 4-inch centre speaker, an 8-inch sub-Woofer and an external amplifier. The sound is absolutely amazing and good enough to blast any Big Base ‘doef-doef’ taxi into submission!
Other high tech comforts include Bluetooth wireless connectivity, a centre stack which houses the AUX, iPod and USB connections, a Smart Card (for keyless entry, together with engine start/stop button), ‘welcome home’ escort lights, LED side repeaters in auto-folding door mirrors and rain-sensing automatic wipers.
Spoilt for choice
The new Optima also presents buyers with a wide range of state-of-the-art active and passive safety systems and equipment as standard. Active safety technologies to help Optima drivers avoid potential accident situations include ESC (Electronic Stability Control), TCS (Traction Control System), BAS (Brake Assist) and HAC (Hill-start Assist Control).
Make-up and design aside, out on the road is where the new Optima shows its superiority over the previous model and the Hyundai. The much-improved high-tech engine feels livelier and when I piloted the new Kia family sedan during its introduction to local motoring Media in KZN recently I was pleasantly surprised by the extra zing with which the 2.4-litre engine kicked out its 132kW and 231Nm. It still won’t threaten the land record sprint time but its 9.5 second sprint to 100km/h is bouncy enough to take it beyond sleepy.
On cold take-off the engine sounds a touch ‘growly’, but not unpleasantly so. Out on the road it quietens down, helped along by the excellent cabin insulation. The car cruises along comfortably and effortlessly, even when pushed beyond legal limits and it seems equally at home on the open roads than in city congestion. Kia says top speed is around 210km/h.
Along undulating stretches of road the engine did seem to lose a bit of urgency which will no doubt be felt even more up in the thin air of Jozi-land.
Fuel consumption figures are impressive on paper with Kia claiming 8.7 litres/100km in the combined cycle and CO2 emissions as low as 207 g/km. An interesting feature is the car’s ‘Active ECO System’ which optimises the settings of the engine and transmission to reduce fuel savings of up to 7.5%.
Six speeds, two modes
New on the Optima is a new six-speed automatic transmission which offers two modes, standard automatic (ideal for city driving) or Sport (when the open road or mountain pass beckons) which can be operated via flappies on the steering wheel. Cog-swapping is smooth and reasonably rapid, although more enthusiastic drivers will find the up and down happenings a tad slow. Having said that, the Optima is hardly the kind of car an enthusiast will buy and for the average family guy the transmission set-up is more than adequate.
Korean cars have improved dramatically in recent years but the one area where they have not yet been able to match the Europeans (particularly the Germans) is in the under-carriage and suspension set-up. The new Optima glides along OK when the black stuff is smooth but hit bad sections of road and the going becomes decidedly thumpy and bumpy.
The car handles reasonably well although some might find the steering a little too light: OK for parking but not ideal for feedback through the twisties. The steering and suspension work noticeably better as a partnership and the car feels secure enough through the corners even when pushed reasonably hard.
Inside, the cabin the smartness continues with an ‘aircraft cockpit’ design and lay-out created to focus on driver convenience and pleasure.
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What the Optima does do very well is stop. The all-disc braking system is backed-up by ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) and BAS (Brake Assist Systems) and even during simulated emergency stops by some drivers in our group there was no hint of fade or wander.
Safe, my mate
The Optima is armed with a full arsenal of safety kit including ESC (Electronic Stability Control), TCS (Traction Control), BAS (Brake Assist) and HAC (Hill-start Assist Control), six airbags (dual front airbags, dual front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags), active head restraints in the front seats and Isofix child seat anchors which all add to the Optima’s family sedan appeal.
One of the main attractions of the Optima is that it comes standard with all the above features included in the purchase price of R305 995. Only the adjustable sunroof is an optional extra which will add R10 000 to the purchase price. Included in the purchase price is a five-year/90 000km service plan, a five-year/100 000km warranty and a three-year/unlimited kilometre roadside assistance plan.
The Optima is a smart and sensible family sedan which offers stylish looks, a wide range of convenience and safety features, lots of high-tech goodies, much improved ride quality, comfort and practicality at a price that makes it extremely competitive when weighed up against opponents such as Mazda 6, VW Passat, Volvo S40, Suzuki Kizashi, Alfa Romeo 156, Citroen C5, Honda Accent and Hyundai Sonata.
With an initial sales target of about 150 cars a month the Optima is one of the smartest Koreans to be launched in this country and it could well be an early bidder for the next South African Car of the Year title.