Optima(l) Comfort With a Bit of Thrill – the Kia Optima 2.4L
Which sedan enjoys an Optima(l) power-to-weight ratio, has great driver ergonomics, well-balanced passenger and luggage space, and the most equitable level of luxury compared to the price? The Kia Optima must have been the easiest naming exercise in the history of Kia Motors.
All of these aspects come packaged in a design that is aggressive and youthful, and still manages to provide an excellent road experience. In fact, the Optima has won multiple design awards over the years, including the 2016 iF, considered the Oscar of Industrial Design. Let’s take a quick look at each of these features.
Big and Beautiful
The Optima sits squarely in the mid-size category of sedans, but given the current ‘big is beautiful’ trend, it’s a large car. And yet, it’s not a heavy car. The use of advanced materials not only reduces the weight of the vehicle but also create a safer, more stable ride.
This allows the 2.4-liter inline-four power plant regulated by a six-speed automatic gearbox to go from
zero to 100 kph in less than 10 seconds, quicker if you turn off the ‘Eco’ option and let the engine add some revs before each gear change. This is one of the most powerful plants in its class. There is a higher level of fuel economy with ‘Eco’ on, but it’s not the best in its category.
Gear changes are completely unobtrusive, except when you push the box into changing two down for a burst of speed, which is when you feel a slight lag and lump before the acceleration kicks in. However, the engine is so well mated to the transmission that we were able to produce a satisfying screech of burnt rubber from a standing start with ‘Eco’ off – and this from a front-wheel drive!
The driver is the center of the cabin’s ergonomics, with the control fascia tilted just enough to be in comfortable reach while also being visible and accessible to the front passenger. The muted red lighting and lettering avoid the 90’s discotheque look in which most modern cars seem to revel.
Cabin and Boot
The elbow rest between the front buckets is wide enough for two, and the center console has thoughtful storage options left uncluttered by a parking brake lever, which is a pedal at the driver’s left foot. Leg room for five adult passengers is generous, while also leaving enough space for all five’s suitcases and bags in a cavernous boot. Seven airbags at strategic places provide a sense of safety.
The only niggle we had with the Optima is the tuning of the suspension, which we thought was a shade too soft. This gave us an additional bounce after bumps in the road, which can be eliminated by tightening the travel range of the independent shocks.
But the Optima doesn’t stop at being optimal. Just to surprise you, it adds little touches of luxury that are not only thoughtful, but also sensible. The wing mirrors fold in and out at the touch of a button, the sound box becomes a Bluetooth-connected phone, and both Android and iOS users will find it easy to stream their music through the six-speaker system.
Paddle and Shift
But let’s take you beyond boring optimization and touches of luxury. There is also the sheer thrill that comes from pretending to be on a Formula One track as you use the paddle shifts mounted on the Optima’s steering wheel. Chunk the stick into simulated manual shift, and the paddles become your gateway into F1 nirvana.
The paddles give you the option to redline the engine before each shift, squeezing every last drop of torque out of a gear change. Thankfully, the revs are electronically limited from going too deep into the red, preventing the pistons from melting down at the hands of paddle-shift newbies.
The steering wheel itself is smaller than most cars in the same category, with a nice thick grip all around and nubs at the 10 and 2 positions for greater tactile feedback. Steering feedback is excellent, and this adds to the pleasure of pretending to be an F1 driver. At the same time, the construction of the chassis and the frame add a higher degree of rigidity to the vehicle that results in minimal G-forces at turns.
However, don’t let all the F1 mumbo-jumbo get too strong a grip on you. When high-speed turns at low revs got the wheels squealing in protest, we started wishing that the car had a wider wheel, to improve road-holding. We remembered just in time that this is a family car is Optima-lly built for comfort and pleasant journeys, not for roaring around on a race track.
|Award-winning looks||Cabin materials could be better|
|Spacious cabin and boot space||Suspension tuning could be tighter|
|Electronically folding wing mirrors|
|Well-designed steering wheel|
|Excellent air-conditioning with rear ducts|
The 2.4-2.5L I4 FWD Family Sedan shootout
|Kia Optima||Honda Accord||Nissan Altima||Toyota Camry||Ford Fusion|
|Engine||2.4L I4 FWD||2.4L I4 FWD||2.5L I4 FWD||2.5L I4 FWD||2.5L I4 FWD|
|Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)||8.3||7.3||6.3||7.8||7.4|
|0-100 kph (sec.)||9.5||9.8||8.0||9.3||9.5|
|Top Speed (kph)||208||208||223||195||200|
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