2011 Kia Optima | first drive

Posted on Oct 31, 2010 by

The Optima is a great looking car – we’d rate the looks higher than any of its rivals

What? The UAE launch event of the all-new – redesigned from the ground up, with smart new design, features aplenty and promises of a sporty drive. Where? 160km from Dubai to Fujairah in the UAE, covering mostly highway with a few fast sweeping bends along the way. Any good? Fantastic to look at, great value and comfortable to sit in, but disappointing on the move. The Optima is fine at a cruise but despite ’s claim that it’s fun to drive, it’s too woolly and vague to be involving.

Sadly, the driving experience doesn’t match the looks

Background Kia first introduced the Optima in 2000 and the 2011 model is the third generation. It sits under the Cadenza sedan in Kia’s line-up and is intended to rival the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. It’s the third new generation Kia launched in the Middle East this year after the Cadenza and Sportage and represents the Korean brand’s continued reinvention with stylish, adventurous designs. This approach, headed by renowned ex-Audi design chief Peter Schreyer, has seen Kia improve its global sales by impressive amounts, even through the financial crisis. First Impressions We’ll say it straight away – the Optima is a fine looking machine. Sleek, aggressive and stylish, it boasts a shape, lines and features that make the Japanese opposition look positively dull. We particularly like the details within the high-intensity headlight units, the family grille and the LED light clusters at the back, which wrap around the side of the car and have a hint of Maserati Granturismo about them. The front LED running lights also look very cool. Peter Schreyer and his team have done a great job in making the Optima look like it’s moving at speed even when parked.

Sleek and sharp looks reflect a revamp for Kia’s image in recent years

There’s more good news with the interior design, which is penned to be driver-focused. The centre console is angled towards the left seat and the instruments laid out in a formation that projects towards the driver, rather than towards the whole car. It echoes Kia’s aspirations to produce a sporty four-door sedan. The quality of materials used is not bad, but perhaps not on a par with the more established Japanese rivals. The soft-touch dash and leather adorning our test car all felt fine, but some of the steering wheel buttons and the plastics lower down in the car feel rather cheap to the touch. Comfort-wise, we spent close to two hours crossing the UAE and never felt even a twinge in the lower back – the electrically-adjustable seats are more than supportive enough and also come with a cooling function, which is good news for the Middle East market. However, we’d prefer the seat to lower more than it does, as taller drivers may find their head brushing the roof lining as we did.

The interior looks great but isn’t quite up to the standard of the opposition

Features include a smart rear-view camera displayed with in the rear-view mirror and an impressive Infinity sound system on higher-spec models, complete with both auxiliary input socket and iPod or USB connectivity. There’s also a nice panoramic sunroof available, stretching the length of the car. On the move Higher-spec models come with a smart key that can stay in your pocket as you start the 178bhp, 2.4-litre engine with a press of the start button to the right of the steering wheel. Other GCC markets also get a 2.0-litre unit with 163bhp. Cruising on the highway, the ride is impressive. The Optima wafts along very nicey and we had no problems at all covering around 160km of highway in comfort.

The panoramic sunroof is one of the Optima’s more impressive features

But venture off the straights and the Optima sadly isn’t able to deliver dynamically on the promises made by its visual presence. Kia boasts of quick, precise responses and a car that’s fun to drive, but it can’t achieve these aims as yet. The steering is very vague and devoid of feel and the body roll when cornering is more than we want from a car promising a sporty edge. It means that if you want a spirited drive, to move close to the Optima’s limits, you’ll find yourself lacking confidence in the car’s stability and unclear on the feedback from the road. Compare the Optima to something like a Mazda6 and it falls far short, which is a shame. The engine sounds good on the move but needs to be worked hard for decent progress, with little grunt available lower down in the rev range. The gearbox is unremarkable – fine for general motoring in automatic mode, but using the paddle shifters is disappointing, feeling slow and sluggish in these days of dual clutch transmissions. Additionally, the full manual mode isn’t proper manual and will still change up and down for you as you reach the extremes of the rev range.

There’s plenty of room for five inside

Verdict The huge promise shown by the really cool design of the new Optima makes the driving experience all the more disappointing. If you want a stylish, stand-out car simply to cruise around in, you’ll find lots to like here and at 89,000AED for the top-spec EX model it’s great value for money against its rivals. But unfortunately the beauty is only skin deep, and the promises of sporty involvement behind the wheel are soon broken. If Kia can find a head of chassis development to match the calibre of its design chief then it’ll start cranking out some seriously impressive machines, but the Optima shows that it’s not quite there yet. 2011 Kia Optima Engine: 2.4-litre four cylinder Max power (bhp/rpm): 178/6,000 Max torque (Nm/rpm): 232/4,000 Transmission: Six-speed manual Driven wheels: Front wheel drive Kerb weight: 1,507kg Price (AED): 65,000 – 89,000

3 Responses to 2011 Kia Optima | first drive

  1. Ali Khan Reply

    December 12, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Great Car but the Price is little high !!!

    • Pankaj Dev

      Pankaj Dev Reply

      January 7, 2011 at 11:09 pm

      Kia has consistently improved quality – both inside and outside. The cars are much nicer to look at and quality of materials used has also improved over time, which also means the cars have become more expensive than what they used to be. Still, they are good value for money.

  2. Jamelah Solaiman Reply

    November 30, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    i love it!!! @:)

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