Kia is earning a reputation for well-designed cars and the new Optima, which has recently joined our fleet, is no exception.
Most car manufacturers have been able to bend metal in ever more interesting ways in recent years, but I struggle to find a better rendition of the automotive art in this sector than the Optima.
The Kia grille and front end seems easy to adapt from the small Venga to the soft-roader Sportage and now the firm’s upper-medium contender, and the design flows well all the way to the boot.
The fluid form surrounds a straight-forward model range, called 1,2,3 with ‘Luxe’ or ‘Tech’ packages available if you choose for the middle option.
We have chosen the 2 Tech, which doesn’t really seem to differ to the Luxe apart from seat trim.
At £21,695, it is aimed squarely at models such as the Ford Mondeo Business Edition (£21,795 for the 2.0-litre TDCi), which means it needs more than good looks to give it a place on any fleet choice list.
Equipment levels are generous and include cornering lights, cruise control, all-round electric windows, heated seats, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, satellite navigation and Kia’s trump card, a 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty.
Inside the cabin, the central console doesn’t reflect the exciting exterior, but everything feels solid and is easy to reach.
There are some nice touches too, such as needles on the instrument binnacle that sweep around the dials when you start the engine and a cheesy ‘Thank you. See you again’ message that appears when you switch off.
The driver’s seat also moves back automatically when you take the key out and returns you to your favoured position when you put the key in – a convenience for some, an irritation for others.
The auto-dimming rear view mirror reflects a small rear window with a high sill that obscures nearby objects, especially when reversing, but a boot-mounted camera fills in the gaps.
The 134bhp 1.7-litre diesel engine is the only choice you have, but it’s a great unit and easily returns more than 50mpg, so it seems odd that some of the fuel economy gauges only go up to 50. At 48mpg, we are some way off the 57.6mpg official figure, but expect future tests to bring us closer.
Ride quality is firm, but it doesn’t crash over potholes and at motorway speeds the cabin is quiet. However, my attempts to listen to my iPod have met with stubborn resistance from the car so far, unlike the Bluetooth connection which has proved faultless and intuitive.
In 2010, Kia sold 6,251 cars to the corporate sector; last year that had risen to 11,897, an increase of 90%. So far this year, sales are up another 23% taking it to 13th place and that’s before Optima has really had chance to make an impact.