Turbo punch for sporty Kia Optima

KIA OPTIMA GT: True touring car.

It’s cars such as the Kia Optima that we are going to see a lot more of on Kiwi roads when the Australian motor vehicle manufacturing industry shuts down at the end of this year.

The Optima is a large four-door sedan which has already proven its worth here in New Zealand and stands out for its clean, bold coupe-like styling and large car attitude, especially with the amount of onboard space it offers.

If it is just the need for extra pizzaz that’s standing between you and buying the Optima – now is your chance to pick up a GT version – although you’d better be quick, for the turbocharged 2-litre model is only available in limited numbers.

Yes, instead of getting the 2.4-litre engine of its stablemates, the GT gets a 1998cc turbo unit which is rated with a healthy 180kW and 350Nm. The four-cylinder engine is a smart piece of kit, not only does it give solid boost for lively performance – 0-100km/h in 7.4sec and a 240km/h top speed – the engine is also rated with an 8.5l/100km (33mpg) combined cycle fuel usage average.

These are healthy figures all round and result in solid overall performance. If you are a driver who likes to hear what an engine is doing, Kia has also manufactured engine sound so that an angry howl enters the cockpit when it is getting a bit of a workout.

There are times when I think that sound doesn’t need to be so audible, such as when battling the city street traffic, but it is quite melodic when the high country back roads beckon.

On a filthy late June weekend I took the test car on a run up to Terrace Downs. The roads were drenched, so I was quite circumspect as to how quickly I pushed the evaluation car. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion the Optima is worthy of a GT badge, it covers ground quickly and handles with much dignity.

The GT variant rides on high quality Michelin Pilot tyres and they have a wide footprint at 235/45 x 18in. Given its family-car dynamics, the Optima in this form steers with directional accuracy greater than I was expecting, and it has suspension control which is still well biased towards comfort.

However, at just under 1.5m tall, the Optima sits low on the road and isn’t bothered by directional change. Gravitational force doesn’t load the suspension and that is the bonus of a fully independent set-up.

Drive is directed through to the front wheels, but there’s a neutrality associated with the way the GT handles; I’m not saying it has the perfect feel but it has been engineered so that the driver gets a lot of satisfaction.

That taking into account, too, the surge of power from the engine, which is not blisteringly fast, but does have a strong torque pattern as a result of the boost process. It feels fluid and smooth through the mid-range and doesn’t lurch the transmission.

The six-speed automatic is easily capable of handling the power outputs and seemingly to always have the correct ratio selected to enhance performance.

Since turbocharging has become fashionable again, I’ve written many times how it is not so much a way to glean performance, but it is also a way to even the power outputs so that fuel burn is not wasted. During my four days with the test car it was showing a constant 10.5l/100km (26mpg) combined cycle average along with a 7l/100km (40mpg) instantaneous figure sitting at a steady 100km/h cruise (engine speed 1750rpm).

Inside, the Optima is also a class act. It has a specification level which would sit well in a luxury car and would seem amazing value for a vehicle which lists at just $53,990.

Major features on the GT include full leather trim with heated and cooling front seats, heated steering wheel, satellite navigation, paddle-shift gearbox levers, panoramic roof, keyless entry and ignition, radar cruise control, and a whole alphabet soup of safety kit which not only looks impressive on paper but earns a five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program rating.

The Optima GT is no pretender, it is a fine sport-tourer worthy of the badge. If you are a buyer, be prepared for a bit of a wait, it needs to be placed on indent order.

Price – Kia Optima GT, $53,990

Dimensions – Length, 4855mm; width, 1860mm; height, 1465mm

Configuration –  Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1998cc, 180kW, 350Nm, six-speed automatic.

Performance –
0-100km/h, 7.4sec

Fuel usage – 8.5l/100km