New Kia Optima promises wide-ranging improvements

Better chassis control, better steering and a new dual-clutch gearbox should cure some of the current Optima's ills

Kia has released comprehensive details of its new Optima range-topper, which makes its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show on September 15.

As Kia’s flagship model, the company has introduced a host of new technologies with the latest car, and claims improvements in safety, handling, performance and emissions over its predecessor.

What hasn’t changed significantly – and arguably didn’t need to – is the new Optima’s styling. As with the outgoing model, the latest Optima was designed under guidance from Peter Schreyer, who serves as both President and Chief Design Officer at Kia and Hyundai.

Kia calls the look ‘evolutionary’, building upon its predecessor’s neat proportions and sharp lines with fresher detailing and a marginally elongated silhouette. Dimensions have grown only slightly – the wheelbase, body and height have all increased by 10mm, to 2805mm, 4855mm and 1465mm respectively.

Width has also increased, by 25mm to 1860mm, which has liberated extra interior volume and greater boot space. Visually, Kia says the changes have helped introduce ‘a more swept-back, dynamic shape’.

That dynamic form includes the latest version of Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille, wider headlamps and more prominent edges to the front bumper. The Optima’s glass area is similar to that of the last model – retaining the neat, Jaguar XJ-style flash of chrome down the edges of the rear windscreen – while new LED tail lamps make the rear end more distinctive.

A side-effect of the revised styling and longer profile is a subtly improved drag coefficient, from 0.3 to 0.29 Cd.

The body shell itself is 50 per cent stronger with 50 per cent greater torsional rigidity than before. The recurring number theme continues, with over 50 per cent of the structure formed from ultra-high tensile steel – a side-benfit of which is the structure’s 8.6kg lower weight, and improved noise, vibration and harshness characteristics.

It also provides a solid base for a revised suspension setup. Suspension is fully-independent all-round, with different mounting points and improved bushing mounts to yield a smoother ride and improved steering response.

Kia also promises greater stability, greater feel from the electrically-assisted steering (a significant downside of the current system) and quicker responses. Optional electronically-controlled dampers, tuned to the tastes of European drivers, will allow drivers to select sport and normal settings.

Kia is yet to confirm the latest Optima’s UK engine range, but a development of the old 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel is sure to carry over. It gains a new turbocharger and lower-friction pistons in the latest car, with a higher output the result – 139bhp rather than 134bhp, and a boost in torque from 240lb ft to 251lb ft.

Of particular note is a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which should be a marked improvement over the old six-speed torque converter automatic. CO2 emissions also benefit, at 116g/km compared to the old car’s 156g/km. A six-speed manual is also available.

Technology is a major aspect of the new car. As well as improving the cabin’s materials, look and feel, Kia has loaded the Optima with the latest connected technology.

The first of these is a choice of 7- or 8-inch touchscreen infotainment systems, complete with navigation and digital radio. Connected services by TomTom are also available, with live traffic updates, speed camera alerts, local search functions and weather forecasts. Six-speaker audio is standard, while a 10-speaker Harman Kardon Premium Sound system will be an option.

You’ll also be able to charge your phone wirelessly, in a new cubby hole at the base of the centre console. Once again, UK specifications are to be confirmed, but Kia notes that 360-degree cameras, automatic parking and Dynamic Bending Headlamps will also be available in some markets.

The new Kia Optima will go on sale in Europe in the fourth quarter of this year, and retain’s Kia’s 7-year warranty. If the revised engine and improved handling result in a better drive than before, the Optima could finally be of interest to enthusiastic drivers in need of a family car on a modest budget.

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