What you’re looking at is the facelifted Kia Optima saloon. No, seriously, this is a different car from the one that was launched here a little under three years ago.
Can’t quite spot the changes? Well, you’re not alone there – even we had to squint a little when trying to discern the changes to the refreshed Optima’s exterior.
The big changes (and we mean that metaphorically) are the LED daytime running lights, which now form “eyebrows” above the main beams, four-point LED foglights and a redesigned rear diffuser. On the inside, the Optima gets a reworked steering wheel, a colour touchscreen infotainment system, electric parking brake and best of all, an 8-speakerInfinity audio system.
Not that the Optima needed much cosmetic improvement, mind you. It was (and is) one of the smartest-looking cars in the mid-priced, mid-sized saloon segment. It was also easily one of the smartest choices one could make with its impressively long list of kit and comparatively modest pricing, made smarter now with the addition to its standard equipment.
But while the new Optima may not be all that different visually against its forebear, Kia has made the bulk of the improvements in slightly less tangible areas. For example, the click of the window winders is more assuring, there’s a reassuring thunk when the doors close and the dashboard’s fascia is more solidly put together.There’s also how the Optima’s cabin is now an even more hushed affair than before, and how its ride is less jittery, with it better able to gloss over smaller road surface imperfections.
It’s even more powerful, too – its 2.4-litre engine has 180bhp/231Nm, or 15bhp/33Nm more than the 2-litre mill it replaces. Whether it’s down to the greater power or the improved directness of the (unchanged from previously) 6-speed automatic transmission, but the net result is the Optima’s newfound pep is noticeable and quite welcome.
But unfortunately, for all the gains the Optima has made in just half a model generation, there’s a dark lining to its silver cloud. While its price is comparatively affordable against the Toyota Camry 2.0 ($158,999 versus $170,988), the Optima’s bigger engine attracts an annual road tax bill of $1,634 against the Camry’s $1,210.
That aside, the Optima is smartly-styled, well-equipped and priced reasonably. The Optima deserves to do well, but perhaps the biggest thing standing between it and Camry levels of ubiquity is how prohibitive COE premiums and lack of easy credit have made gambling on the Korean upstart a little too risky.
When COE premiums are expected to come down around 2016, that might all change, but for now the Optima looks to be a bit of a tough sell and that, in light of the car in question’s strength, is a real shame.
ENGINE 2359cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 180bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 231Nm at 4000rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic
0-100KM/H 9.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 210km/h
CONSUMPTION 11.7km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 197g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
$158,999 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)