Luxury Kia will strike fear into rivals
It takes a very brave marketing manager of a major motor company to tell the media at the launch of a new car that when the first model of the range graced South Africa in 2001 it was "very agricultural and industrial".
Well, Kia's David Sieff did just that at the launch of the new Optima this week. The car was called the Magentis back then and it was very rough, did not sell well and was, in fact, a bit of a "dog".
But, in saying this, Sieff was secure in the knowledge this the new model is unrecognisable from that shoddy offering launched 11 years ago.
Kia was battling to find its feet back then and had been though troubled times. However, as we have said many times before, Kia is growing by leaps and bounds and has become a world-class brand - the envy of many European and US companies.
What is it?
It is first and foremost a family car that is punching above its weight.
The Kia Optima is the third generation of the model range and was designed by Kia's legendary chief design officer, Peter Schreyer, who worked at Audi for more than 25 years, and created the original Audi TT.
This five-seater family car has enough space for large South Africans. In fact, the Bok front row could scrum down in the rear passenger section.
How does it look?
Stunning. It is after all a clone of the Hyundai Sonata and shares many of the mechanicals, such as floor plan, engine and transmission.
Having Schreyer work his magic has brought about wonders in the styling department.
Finally laid to rest in some far-flung field is the "agricultural look" and in its place is Schreyer's new Optima, which is focused on four key areas:
Stand-out styling - a unique exterior with a driver-oriented interior;
Excellent performance - a more efficient engine with a six-speed transmission;
Superior packaging - new, longer wheelbase platform; and
Advanced features - high-tech features to boost Optima's status and Kia's brand identity.
Some say its looks are really more "masculine" than the Sonata's.
What's it like to drive?
The 2.4-litre engine, coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, powers the car along at a fair lick, as we experienced on the roads among KwaZulu-Natal's sugarcane fields.
The automatic transmission offers two operating modes - fully automatic or "Sport", which allows for clutchless manual sequential gear changes for greater driver involvement.
With 132kW at 6000rpm, and 231Nm of torque at 4000rpm, the Optima was able to make short work of passing big trucks loaded with sugar cane and other produce.
The suspension is stiffer than that of the Sonata and this is perhaps our only gripe.
On bumpy roads it was too stiff. We prefer a more comfortable ride as opposed to a sporty feel. However, there will be many drivers who disagree and will opt for the "sportier" feel.
Any special features?
Too many to mention. The Optima comes fully loaded.
What you see, is what you get; is what you buy.
The only option is a panoramic sunroof, which will set you back R10000.
Every other conceivable option comes standard.
This is what makes Korean cars stand head and shoulders above competitors.
A neat feature is Kia's new "Active ECO System".
Controlled by an on/off button on the steering wheel, this electronic system is programmed to optimise the settings of the engine's ECU and the transmission to achieve fuel savings of up to 7.5%.
Should you buy one?
Yes. There's is no doubt that, like its counterpart, the Hyundai Sonata, the Kia Optima shows a clean pair of heels to the opposition.
It's all about value for money and fantastic styling in this highly competitive segment. Oh yes, and it also has a full-sized spare wheel. Making a quick buck out of cash-strapped motorists by saving on the cost of a spare is not the way the Koreans do business.
Engine: 2400cc Theta II MPI
Power: 132kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 231Nm at 4000rpm
0-100km/h: 9.5 seconds
Top speed: 210km/h
Fuel consumption: 8.7/100km (claimed combined)
Price: R305995 (R10000 sunroof optional)
Value for money, styling, finish and interior space
We don't like:
Stiff ride because of suspension set-up