The strong kicking Optima is worth checking out

OF ALL the cars I drove this year it was the one that surprised me most, and for a variety of reasons, all of which were good.

OF ALL the cars I drove this year it was the one that surprised me most, and for a variety of reasons, all of which were good.

It had style and space. It provided a strong, economical drive, delivered through a great engine. It had lashings of goodies, all nailed within a decent starting price of 26,995 Euro, writes John Knox.

And it had manners!

Yes, manners, because when you turned off the ignition the greeting flashed up: “Thank you – see you again”.

Not only that, when you took the key out of the ignition the driver’s seat flowed back to allow you oceans of space to alight from the cabin. And when you got back in again and put the key into the ignition a soothing tune welcomed you once your posterior touched the seat; the said seat automatically reverting to the last used position, a lá Lexus.

Okay, some people might think all that gimmicky and away from the point of core motoring value and whatever, but they would largely be the ones who haven’t yet discovered Kia.

7-year warranty

Kia is the home of the 7-year warranty (150,000 klm), the company’s slogan shouts. This is the company that had two cars – the cee’d and the object of this piece, the Optima – chasing the Continental Irish car of the year title 2013.

Politicians would have operated a vote management scheme in such a situation, but it wasn’t possible here, and two goods cars probably ended up spoiling each others chances.

The Kia Rio, by the way, is the current Car of the Year here.

The Optima is Kia’s new D segment saloon. It won a fistful of design awards before it even hit these shores.

According to Kia the product concept behind the creation focused on four key areas: stand-out styling – a unique exterior with a driver-oriented interior; class-leading performance – powerful and efficient engines with 6-speed transmissions; superior packaging – new, longer wheelbase platform; advanced features – high-tech premium options.

The Optima is offered in two trim levels, both powered by a strong kicking, all action 134hp 1.7D engine. The entry EX model comes with top level specification that includes 16” alloy wheels, cruise control, voice activated Bluetooth, power lumbar support on the driver’s seat, steering wheel audio controls and full size spare wheel, sunk in the floor of the boot.

The Platinum model (28,995 Euro) comes with a luxurious spec that includes all of the above plus 17” alloys, panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery with heated front seats, reversing camera, driver memory seat, UV reducing glass, rain sensing front wipers and more.

The Platinum model is also available in automatic (32,695 Euro) and also with 18” alloy wheels (29,495 Euro).

Diesel the big one

The 1.7-litre turbo diesel, the car driven, is expected to account for most sales right across Europe. This heavy punching engine – strong on take off and right across the rev range – is fitted with a Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT).

It produces 134 bhp and 325 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm for excellent driveability, and delivers best-in-class performance for an engine of its displacement.

There is a bit of an old diesel engine tick over on start up, but that fades quickly and the oomph in the drive and generous fuel returns drown that one minor crib. This is a genuine 5-seater car. For one drive to Galway I had four guys aboard, and all were hugely impressive with the comfort, space and zest in the drive of the Optima.

So you are not only getting my word for it!

A number of measures are designed to enhance engine efficiency, including fitting an overrunning alternator decoupler and an innovative battery management system. These measures also help produce low emissions of just 133 g/km CO2.

Heretofore I would have said Skoda offered the best interior space per square inch of car, but the Optima would suggest Kia are heading fast in that direction. This car offers serious cabin – especially in the rear - and boot space.

Kia will find it hard to break into this sector of the market, but if you are looking for genuine value for money, and a top end drive, then give the Optima a fighting chance and have a look at it.

If it doesn’t suit, then nothing more expensive than a small bit of time will have been lost. The Optima is worth that investment at least!

The car

Kia Optima 1.7-litre CRDi 4-door saloon Platinum 28,995 Euro.

Engine: 1685cc, 134bhp at 4,000rpm; 239 lb fit torque at 2,000/2,500 rpm.

Top speed: 202kph; 0 to 100kph in 10.2 seconds.

Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox.

Consumption: 6.1 litre (urban); 4.5 (extra urban); 5.1 (combined).

C02 emissions: 133 g/km.

Annual road tax: 225 Euro.