Gareth Butterfield tests out the sleek new Kia Optima
I’M not entirely sure why, but the compact executive saloon market is in a bit of a decline. Sales of the once patriarchal Ford Mondeo have been lukewarm and the Volkswagen Passat hasn’t exactly flown out of the showrooms.
But here’s Kia having a stab at chipping away what remains of the market share, and just look at what it’s pinning its hopes on.
It’s called the Optima and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The Mondeo and Passat are stylish in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but the Optima is another visual treat from a firm that seems incapable of putting a foot wrong at the moment.
But anyone that remembers the previous efforts at a Kia Saloon will cast their minds back to monstrosities such as the Magentis and could be forgiven for running a mile – but it’s worth paying this newcomer close attention.
Let’s get one thing straight, Kia is not the company it once was. Kia is building cars which not only look good enough to compete with Fords and Volkswagens, they’re making cars that are, in some cases, better than Fords and Volkswagens.
But is the Optima all show and no go? Well, not really. Inside it’s nearly as good as it is outside. It’s comfortable, spacious and well laid out and there’s a premium feel to just about everything you can lay your hands on.
Build quality is so good it’s unlikely you’ll need to call upon its seven-year warranty and even the base models are loaded with plenty of standard equipment – another trademark with the current Kia family.
And then there’s the engines. The 1.7 diesel offering is unremarkable but decent enough and there’s also a petrol-electric hybrid, which plugs in to the mains for a recharge allowing you to top up with 33 miles-worth of juice.
The hybrid does give up on a lot of boot space and it’s obviously a lot more pricey, but company car users will love the 38g/km and strong fuel economy figures.
It’s not all good news. The steering is vague and the driving experience is fairly lifeless. Also, a well-specced version sits uncomfortably close in its pricing to the justifiably-named Skoda Superb – and that feels like a more grown-up and accomplished car.
But pick the right model and the Optima does all the things it should do very well. It’s a great mile-muncher, it’s comfortable and economical and it looks good enough to raise eyebrows in the office car park.
Its sector might be dying but there’s life in it yet. And comeback kids Kia has not only produced a viable contender in its Optima, it’s built a car that rises above its competitors in many respects.
For Mondeo man or Passat addicts its biggest problem might be the badge on its bonnet. But overlook it and you’ll be missing a treat.