Handsome Kia continues trend

Last updated 13:00 04/04/2011
The Kia Optima.
Fairfax Media
HANDSOME: Kia's new Optima is the first of three new Kias due this year.

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They just keep on coming. In the past two years, Kia has launched all-new Sportage, Sorento, Soul, and Cerato models, the latter with two, four and five-door variants, all with either diesel or direct-injection petrol choices and every one with six-speed automatic options.

Thus every one out-engineers the mainstream Japanese competition and undercuts them for price, and with the new Optima model that has just arrived the trend continues.

There will be new Rio and Picanto models before the end of the year too, but the confident, Camry-sized Optima is an important car on at least two levels.

First, it's an attack on a market segment that has some seriously stiff competition in it and, second, it is the first car at Kia to have been designed completely under the aegis of design director Peter Schreyer.

He arrived after years with Audi, Ford and Porsche partway through the development cycles of Kia's other recent new car designs, and thus had only a little influence on them.

But the striking new Optima is all his, and while it's instantly recognisable as a modern Kia, thanks to its tell-tale Schreyer grille and smiley under chin execution, it's special from every angle, disguising a roomy, load friendly sedan in a slick, well-proportioned profile that from side on could easily be a coupe.

A chrome bow runs from A to C-pillar via the roof line to reinforce the coupe premise. This is one handsome car, made a little more so by Kia New Zealand's opting of a sporting body pack for the EX model we are getting at first with subtle extended sills and a front valance, which work well with the standard flush-spoke alloy wheels.

For the time being, New Zealand will have two models. The 2.4-litre EX and a slightly better- equipped Limited version, which will pack a big glass sunroof and heated seats on top of the EX's already leather-and-all-the-fruit specification level.

The two cars will be joined by 2.0-litre petrol and 1.7-litre turbodiesel siblings some time late in the year, and it strikes this writer that the presence of the latter version, which will coincide with Kia's serious thrust into the fleet market with the Optima, that could carve the Korean a huge chunk of the sub-Falcon/ Commodore large car cake, currently dominated by the Toyota Camry.

The leap of Kia from also-ran cheapie to mainstream contender coincides with the establishment of its partnership with Hyundai, and while it might share platforms and engine architecture, there is no doubt when you use the Optima as an example that it's the more sporting half of the deal compared with the Hyundai i45.

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Staple powerplant for the striking four-door will be a 148-kilowatt, 250-newton-metre Theta II 2.4-litre four, with a six- speed paddle-shifted automatic, and while the looks and technical specification might be impressive, the car's classy interior and impressive handling dynamics will silence any remaining doubt that this is a world-class car.

I discovered a car of hushed refinement levels, even on New Zealand coarse chip, and while a misnavigation took me on a near 85-kilometre gravel road detour, the car revelled on the surface, displaying an innate sense of balance and poise that surprised.

The power unit was more than adequate in terms of whisking the car along ahead of the ambient traffic in the capital, and with paddles to help things along, it was a model of brisk, quiet and mature demeanour.

We can only guess the 2.0-litre petrol and 1.7-litre turbodiesel prices when they come, but if they offer the same relative value as the 2.4 EX and Limited models, at $46,990 and $51,990, respectively, then Kia will be on to a real winner with the Optima.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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