Kia Optima Turbo

Turbocharged, direct injection engine optimises Optima's charm

First Drive
Santa Monica Mountains, USA

Kia's good-looking Optima is available with a newly developed 2.0-litre engine employing direct injection and turbocharging... In the United States, that is. Unfortunately the company has not yet confirmed production of the turbo version for right-hand drive markets.

Nonetheless Kia Motors Australia invited us to sample the engine while in the USA as the local outfit is very interested in adding turbo versions of the Optima and Sportage to the lineup if RHD versions become available.

The 204kW/369Nm GDI (for gasoline direct injection) engine is substantially more powerful than the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre offering (148kW/250Nm) and can manage fuel economy in the low 7.0L/100km range on highway stints. It's the extra power combined with efficiency that makes the new engine so attractive, especially when compared to some of Kia's generally more expensive rivals.

We averaged around 8.0L/100km driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas; largely due to the air-conditioning being on full blast and slightly offset by the very long but very scenic interstate highway. Which can be travelled at 80mph (140km/h), mind you...

The turbo's a torquey engine but the Optima's chassis is reasonably well fettled and can readily handle the extra go. Feedback to the steering wheel is well controlled with minimal torque steer. We got some front wheel spin while taking off over a service station driveway, however, which inevitably called in the traction nanny.

We noticed some turbo lag down low but were otherwise impressed with the engine's response and smoothness. And it's reasonably quiet even at the upper reaches.

The standard-fit six-speed auto is also responsive and smooth; ready to drop a gear under some boot, and running easily and quietly through the cogs. Using the paddle shift wasn't necessary around the conservative American drivers but we know from experience Kia's set-up is a decent one.

The Optima we drove was close spec-wise to the model on offer locally but with even more bells and whistles, like cooling and heating for both front occupants and satellite radio. The North American Optima also has a different seat trim but we like our version better.

While on seats, the front pews could be plusher. After only a short while en route they felt flat and unsupportive due to lack of squab cushioning and bolstering. Some drivers may prefer firm, 'uncluttered' seating, however, the Optima's arrangement became uncomfortable for this flat (note: not fat!) bottomed tester over the long haul.

Add America's concrete roads and the locals' penchant for soft, wallowing suspension, and there's little doubt Kia Australia (with Graeme Gambold's help) sells us a better Optima in terms of dynamics on the road.

The test car wore 18-inch wheels (on Nexen rubber) which probably conspired with the shoddy surfaces to reveal road noise.

Kia's Sportage is also offered with the turbo GDI engine but is tuned for 190kW/264Nm. The blown version is badged 'SX' and comes with six-speed automatic transmission, sports-oriented suspension tune and 18-inch alloys. Both models are on Kia Australia's "wish list". At least after this early sampler, they are on ours as well...

Visit the Carsales Network again for our drive impressions of the turbocharged Sportage SX.

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Published : Tuesday, 19 April 2011
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