First Drive

2016 Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi review

Kia’s four-door family saloon has had a mid-life overhaul. Does it do enough to challenge the class-leading Skoda Octavia? We drive it in the UK to find out

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The latest model in Kia's growing range to get a refresh is its large family saloon, the Optima. In the autumn, the saloon will be joined by an estate version, called the Optima Sportswagon, adding more practicality to the range.

For now, the updated saloon gets minor exterior tweaks to the bumpers and light clusters and a redesigned dashboard. Mechanical revisions to the suspension and steering set-ups are aimed at making the Optima a more refined and engaging car to drive.

We are testing the 1.7 CRDi Eco with a manual gearbox in mid-range 3 trim. The engine now develops an additional 5bhp, while fuel efficiency has improved to a claimed combined figure of 67.3mpg and emissions are reduced to 110g/km.

What’s the 2016 Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi like to drive?

The 1.7 diesel model is decently swift when worked hard, but it never feels outright fast. It has enough torque available from low down in most gears, reducing the need for regular downshifting when overtaking or ascending steeper hills. Even in sixth gear, there’s just enough usable power to maintain the ebb and flow of motorway traffic.

The Optima is let down by the quality of its ride though. On a well-maintained road, the ride is comfortable enough, but on a less than perfect surface it becomes too fidgety. The suspension set-up is overly firm, meaning it rarely feels settled or composed; that wasn't helped by our 3 trim test car's relatively large 18in alloy wheels.

The Optima's basic handling isn't bad, with body roll being is kept to a minimum and plenty of grip. The steering, however, is a rather numb and is unlikely to entertain keener drivers. At low speeds, the steering is usefully light, allowing easier manoeuvrability around town, but it provides little feedback from the road and the steering weight is inconsistent.

Refinement is another issue; you never quite feel isolated from the outside world, as there’s too much road noise. The engine is quiet at cruising speeds, but is coarse and vocal under acceleration. Engine vibrations can be felt through the steering wheel, gearlever and pedals at most speeds. The gear change itself is smooth, if not particularly precise.

What’s the 2016 Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi like inside?

Inside is where you find the biggest changes to the Optima. The dashboard has been completely redesigned, with controls and air vents now tidied up and an 8.0in infotainment screen introduced. There’s a hint of Audi or BMW in its design, with plenty of classy looking materials, black gloss inserts and flashes of titanium trim. Soft touch plastics feature on the top and front of the dash and along the doors, all of which are replaced by harder plastics at lower levels.

In the front, there’s plenty of room and lots of storage. There’s a deep central bin, well-sized door pockets, a useful number of cup holders and a compartment for your glasses by the rear view mirror. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, while the eight-way electrically powered driver’s seat offers a wide variety of seating positions.

However, the driving position isn't perfect because the door and central armrest are set too low, although visibility is very good and aided by a rear-parking camera. Parking sensors are included too, which make it easier to park this fairly long car.

In the rear, leg room is good for adults and there’s enough head room for most, although taller passengers may find the sloping roof impinges a little. The sloping roofline means the shape of the rear door aperture demands some concentration on entry to avoid bumping your head. The boot is well shaped and competitively sized inside, but the boot opening is narrow and there's a sizable lip to lift heavy bags over before placing them inside.

Should I buy one?

Kia has worked to address the Optima’s shortcomings, but with only limited success. It remains a handsome-looking car, and now has a classier interior. However, its overall ride and refinement remain well below more accomplished alternatives in the highly competitive family car class.

If you are set on buying an Optima, 3 trim is a good choice because it comes with an 8.0in touchscreen sat-nav, auto lights and wipers, Bluetooth, electrically heated front seats and Kia's standard seven-year, 100,000 mile warranty.

The trouble is, a similarly well equipped Skoda Octavia costs around the same as the Optima, while a Volkswagen Passat will cost around Β£2,000 more, and both these cars are better all-rounders.

What Car? says...

Rivals

Skoda Octavia

Volkswagen Passat

Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi Eco 3 manual Engine size 1.7-litre diesel Price from Β£23,495 Power 139bhp Torque 251lb ft 0-62mph 9.7 seconds Top speed 121mph Fuel economy 67.3mpg CO2 110g/km