Sampling the new Optima in S. Korea

By LEE PANG SENG | 2 January 2014


The current-generation Optima is Kia’s most successful car in the mid-size segment, having achieved global sales of more than 815,000 units since its introduction in 2010.

Now at its mid-life stage based on the current model span of about five years, Kia sees the need to maintain that momentum.

Kia Motors Corp’s Overseas Marketing vice-president Soon-Nam Lee, says the updates were based on customers’ feedback.


And the result is a facelifted Optima that is more than just an aesthetic update – it is enhanced with new infotainment, convenience and safety features, has increased refinement, improved quality and a more premium finish.

The first visual change is the external update, as in the new headlights, front grille, foglights, rear lights, bumpers and alloy wheel design.

Up front, the LED daytime running lights are moved from the bumpers to the headlights to maintain a consistent image with other newly introduced Kia models.

At the rear, the lights are now LED units to achieve parity with “premium models from Germany,” Lee says.

The interior sees a satin chrome finish being adopted, along with a bigger multi-function LCD screen (4.3-inch from 3.5-inch previously) in the meter panel, a new three-spoke steering wheel with flattened bottom for automatic models, and improved front seats, among other improvements.

There is also the option for ventilated front seats.

To improve ride comfort and refinement, interior noise is reduced by fitting a dynamic damper to the rear multi-link suspension, changing the rear wheel arch covers to another material for better sound proofing, and using stronger alloy wheels.

Combined, the interior noise is said to be reduced by 3.3dB.

Another added detail is the Drive-Mode-Select button on the new D-shape steering wheel for the automatic model: it provides the option of Normal, Active ECO (fuel economy driving) and Sport modes.


In Sport mode, the engine responds more immediately to throttle input, the transmission holds each gear longer, and the steering weight (feel) is increased to provide for more dynamic driving.

The paddle shifters may be used for a more engaging drive.

We had a go at the refreshed Optima recently in South Korea: the drive started from the Grand Hyatt, which sat on a hill and provided a splendid view of the south Seoul skyline across the Hangang River, to the Jeongsan hill resort, complete with a casino a la Genting Highlands, some 240km away in Kangwon.


We had the benefit of driving the non-turbo Optima for the first half of the drive to Kangwon: this has the NU MPI engine delivering 162PS at 6,500rpm, while the T-GDI 2.0-litre turbo pushes out 271PS at 6,000rpm.

The transmission for both variants was a six-speed automatic.

As the route covered mostly highways in convoy format, the drive was a quiet and comfortable one, and the brief surges to 130-140kph between speed cameras revealed a relatively quieter roar as the engine revved up.

Though the Optima is designed for executive driving, we had the opportunity to gauge its handling limits at a more gung ho pace at the 2.5km Taebaek Racing Park.

Located a short distance from the hill resort, it sat on a level area nestled between two hills to provide a picturesque track.

Built in 2012, it has a single 900m straight (on which a race car can hit 300kph before the hairpin) followed by a series of corners of varying tightness and camber.

Again the circuit drive was done in convoy style (in groups of five) and no one was allowed to overtake during the three laps of driving.

Though we were limited to 140kph on the straight, we hit the accelerator earlier on exiting the sweeping curve to try for a higher top speed. We hit almost 160kph before reaching the pack leader’s car.

We chose the turbocharged Optima for this track session to see how much more responsive and powerful its engine would be over the normally aspirated model’s.

It may not be a fair comparison as the drive impressions were done over different road conditions and driving style, but we just couldn’t resist sampling the turbo power that would not be made available in Malaysia.

The automatic transmission was duly engaged in Sport mode for this racy pace and we used the paddle shifters on one lap to gauge the difference in gear-engine response between manual and automatic shifting for the respective corners.


As we had driven the Cerato Koup earlier, we had a reference point of sorts to compare the Optima’s handling performance (Kia says the Optima’s suspension is tuned to provide better performance while maintaining comfort).

We could feel more body roll around the corners – which were often taken above the suggested pace of 50kph to 100kph as dictated by the lead car – but we could maintain a similar level of speed with a slightly higher understeer, given that the Optima is a four-door car with more weight to lug around.

All the cars were running on Korean-made Nexen tyres, with the Optima running on bigger 225/45 R18 tyres.

This drive certainly reinforced our earlier impressions of the current Optima regarding its respectable handling limits on public roads.

Local Kia distributor Naza Kia Malaysia is expected to launch the new Optima this month.