It’s interesting how the passing years can totally transform a brand image, for better or worse.
BMW were once sneered at as producers of bubble cars; Skoda’s offerings the butt of endless jokes, while Kia’s range was considered bland, boring and definitely down-market. Today, however, all three of these marques have totally re-branded themselves.
BMWs are up there with the best; Skoda owners no longer hide their cars away shamefacedly in the car park shadows. As for Kia, well, they now have one of the best ranges in the industry, with all the key market sectors brilliantly covered.
The latest offering is aptly named Optima business class saloon, which has already taken the USA by storm and is now available to British buyers at prices from £19,595 – a real showroom bargain for such a competent and comprehensively equipped machine.
This might sound a tad pretentious but Peter Schreyer, the head honcho at the Korean company’s design centre has, I think appositely, described the Optima’s handsome styling as: “Having a clean, stylish and uncomplicated cut, like that of a fine Italian suit.”
Whatever, you get more than just great looks. Key options features available on the spec sheet include a self-parking system, heated and ventilated seats, cornering lights, an automatic cabin defogging system, a six-speed automatic transmission and a high-end Infiniti audio system that delivers 55ow of stunning sound through 12 speakers in eight different locations. Four different specification levels contain e very essential for the business user.
At launch, just one engine is available – a new, commendably smooth and quiet 134bhp version of Kia’s proven 1.7-litre U2 power unit.
A clean-sheet design, the Optima is longer, lower and wider than Kia’s previous offerings in this market segment.
Light, airy and spacious – and said to have been inspired by aircraft design, the cabin oozes class and comfort. It benefits not just from superb aesthetics but from practicality too, with a range of useful storage spaces as well as a generous 505-litre boot.
There’s a cooled glove box, a generously sized centre console box, front and rear cupholders, a sunglasses holder, space for carrying bottles in both the front and rear door cubbyholes, pockets in the front seat backs, conveniently sited AUX and USB points and a centre fascia tray large enough for a mobile phone. And there’s lots of legroom too.
Top speed is around 125 mph, with 62 mph flashing up in 10.2 seconds in the manual version, 11.5 sec with an auto box. Fuel consumption figure for the manual car is a commendably frugal 57-mpg, dropping to 47 mpg for the manual.
Altogether, it’s a better car than a number of those in the sector above. I could even imagine some execs avoiding promotion so they don’t have to trade their Optima in for something more prestigious but less competent.