Kia’s replacement for the unloved old Magentis was slick, sleek and quite sexy, but a bit too focused on the American market for its own good.
In the late years of the last decade, Kia really came of age and started selling cars that you no longer had to justify with the suffixes of ‘…but it’s cheap’ or ‘but it comes with a seven-year warranty.’ The first-generation Optima was a major turning point for the brand, replacing the anonymous old Magentis with a four-door saloon that looked gorgeous and which gave rivals a serious run for their money in the value stakes.
The Optima was a pretty simple soul when it first arrived in Ireland. There was but one engine choice – a 1.7 CRDi diesel with 136hp and a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearboxes. There were just the two trim levels – EX, which came with plenty of toys including 16-inch alloys, cruise control, Bluetooth and power seat adjustment, and Platinum, which added 17-inch alloys, panoramic roof, heated, leather seats and more.
It was always a sharply priced car – the entry price was around the same as that for the most basic Mondeo or Avensis, but the Optima came with far more equipment and a much more powerful engine as standard. Actually, that engine was kind of its downfall in the Irish market. It’s closely related to the 1.7 diesel found in the Hyundai i40, a car that shares much with the Optima, but the Hyundai could be had with a 115hp version of the engine with very low CO2 emissions (113g/km). The Kia was, oddly, only ever offered with the 136hp version, which emitted 128g/km, meaning higher (Band B1) tax. The gap in tax cost is actually quite small, just €70 a year in the difference, but it was enough to hand sales dominance to the Hyundai. Many blamed Kia’s focus on the North American market for the underdeveloped Optima diesel range.
They may have had a point – the Optima’s dynamics had a distinctly American twang as well. It was always very softly sprung, which made for relaxing progress in a straight line, but light steering and lots of roll in corners meant trickier roads could sometimes be a chore. The Optima compensated for that with terrific comfort (it always had great seats), lots of space in the back and that gorgeous styling (“It’s a Korean Jaguar” as one Alan Partridge put it…).
Reliability is pretty well close to absolute. We’ve heard no horror stories of any major recurrent issues and even the oldest Optimas still have two to three years left to run on their original manufacturer warranty (assuming the mileage has stayed below 160,000km…).
Spend circa €18k and you’ll get a main-dealer 2012 EX spec model, with plenty of mileage left to run on the original warranty.
Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi EX
Engine: 1,685cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Maximum speed: 202km/h
0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.1 litres/100km
Euro NCAP: not tested
• Great to look at
• Bulletproof mechanicals and long warranty
• Lots of space, plenty of equipment
• Ride and handling a bit 'soggy'
• Relatively high emissions
• Cabin plastics look a bit dated
As long as you’re not looking for the last word in pin-sharp handling, there’s really no good reason not to buy an Optima. Although overall values are holding up well (which makes the purchase price a little steeper than it might be) it’ll be better equipped than most rivals, hugely reliable and a really comfortable way to travel.