Pros
    • Well Equipped
    • Fantastic audio system
    • Excellent room for rear passengers
    Cons
    • Sluggish gearbox and turbo lag equals no fun
    • Kia service experience needs significant improvement
    • Faded green Kermit replacement window mirror on a white car
    Specs
    8.5L
    180kW
    199g
    5 Star

    About the Kia Optima

    Russ B purchased this Kia Optima new for $40,000 (including all on-road costs). Russ B wouldn’t buy this car again because: “There are many objective things you can measure with a car, such as power, acceleration, economy, weight and towing ability.

    However, an important subjective measurement is how the car makes you feel.

    Does it put a smile on your face during school run? When you merge at the on-ramp and accelerate up to 110km/h, did that feel exhilarating? When you turn into a roundabout to beat the annoying P Plater driving a pink 1997 Hyundai Excel (with stickers) to the exit merge, how sharp and engaging is the steering?

    The Kia Optima GT feels like your favourite pair of tracksuit pants. You love those pants because they can do everything, as long as you don’t need a great result. Good for watching TV. Excellent for shuffling about the house. Perfect for a Zoom meeting – if you have your good shirt on – but terrible for granny’s funeral. Not that she would mind.

    So when you really want to put your foot down in this handsome GT car, the Optima simply does not deliver. Turbo lag, a dumb gearbox – confused as a Dachshund confronted with stairs – and not quite GT suspension, equals a 7/10th car at best. The GT will eventually get up and boogie, but it isn’t engaging. The Optima lacks precision. It isn’t a true GT car. It’s a superbly appointed, warmed-up Korean sedan, dressed up to the nines but delivering sevens on good day.

    I’ve driven the Optima further than any car I’ve owned in my entire life. It was okay. It was decent. But I wouldn’t buy it again because I am bored out of my mind driving it. There is no X factor. There is no fun. There is only a delay whenever you want to do anything remotely sporting or GT like and a feeling that the car does not want to do anything outside of its comfort zone.

    In 2016 it was one of the best value sedans available in this Australian market. But today it doesn’t stack up against the competition.”

    How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

    I bought the Optima new six years ago, and in that time it’s had three issues. They weren’t big issues, considering the sheer number of features and quantity of electronics in the vehicle. The main issue was that it took five trips to the dealership to repair a faulty wing mirror.

    And finally, after it was replaced, it turned green from white after six months. That’s right. Green. Like a sad faded Kermit.

    Imagine leaving your favourite Wrigley’s gum under your cousin’s couch for a month. The white wing mirror went full zombie. Probably acceptable for old chewing gum. But not for a brand-new, Kia factory-supplied white wing mirror. I had the wing mirror re-sprayed after a minor bingle. I simply could not go back to the dealership the sixth time to argue about it.

    When the camera based Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) and auto-headlight module failed, that was only three or four trips! And now the air conditioning has failed. But I couldn’t get into my local Kia dealership for over a month, so the AC hasn’t been repaired in winter. Thank goodness for heated seats.

    I suppose over a six-year period this isn’t too bad.

    What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

    If you’re good mates with your Kia service manager, then the ownership experience would be fantastic. You would be able to see them regularly for the same issue and talk about the same thing over and over again. Just like you do at the pub after the sixth schooner. Same old footy story.

    That’s assuming you can actually get into a Kia service centre within a reasonable timeframe. I’m out about a month for my AC repair but I am told its longer for servicing. I only got in early because Cheryl and I are now besties.

    The service people are friendly enough, it just takes far too long and too many trips to get anything done. That has been a consistent theme for both my Kias. To be fair, I don’t know if that’s much different to other car manufacturer, as I’ve only been to a Kia dealership in the last six years.

    The service experience makes me feel disappointed with the Kia brand. I can’t imagine what it might be like to buy a new $90,000 EV6 and have to wait multiple weeks for spare parts, assuming you can get in within a reasonable timeframe for them to diagnose the issue.

    The service experience is the main reason I won’t buy another Kia.

    How has the purchase and aftercare experience been with your car?

    Purchase experience was fantastic at a Kia dealership in Brisbane. They gave me a decent trade and good pricing, because I bought two Kias at the same time. An Optima GT, and a Sorento Platinum (now GT Line) diesel. That was about a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of Kias.

    Really friendly, professional and no pressure at all. The whole process felt great.

    The aftercare was 100 per cent handled at my local Kia dealer in the Gold Coast. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the experience has not been enjoyable.

    They are decent people but simply cannot deliver on reasonable expectations. Too many trips for basic warranty repair. Too many days without the car. I got a courtesy car once in six years and the car was serviced 100 per cent at a single dealership.

    Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

    The Kia Optima GT is certainly well-equipped. I can’t think of many features that are missing. Heated and cooled seats. Active radar cruise. Autonomous emergency braking. Decent hard wearing leather interior with sunroof. Excellent steering wheel and driving position.

    Decent power from the 2.0L, 180kW, 350Nm turbo engine, noting the significant lag. Fantastic room for passengers in the back. I bought it with about 150km on the odometer, so it was effectively a demo.

    I paid $40,000 for it on road which is fantastic considering the equipment levels and on paper performance. I don’t think you can get anything like this car today with this much equipment, for that little money.

    In 2016 this Kia really delivered on features, looks and pricing.

    What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

    180kW/350Nm is similar to the power output of the car that it replaced. My E90 BMW 330i (190kW/300Nm). These cars drive and deliver power completely differently. Like Onions and ice-cream.

    The BMW had sport suspension and was a precise, exact tool. You could clinically devour a sweeping road in the BMW. You delivered that kick down with that sneaky button under the accelerator pedal and that instant throttle response felt good. The power delivery was very linear.

    I had enormous confidence in the BMW to get the job done safely and quickly. And don’t get me started about how that straight six naturally-aspirated BMW masterpiece sounded.

    I didn’t need a bible in that 330i. Because every time I drove it, I was having a religious experience. But of course, the expected BMW reliability and ex-warranty repair costs were consuming dollars faster than a BMW heated seat subscription in Canberra. But that’s enough about my needy ex-girlfriend.

    The Optima is like that “friend” you used to have a high school. You know the guy that would never get off the beanbag? He might commit to going to the movies but then doesn’t show up. He is vague. You can never get a straight answer out of him. You like him, but you really can’t rely on him to do anything properly or with precision. That friend is the Optima. The GT beanbag.

    Performance is OK to about 7/10ths and then it falls in a heap. The suspension doesn’t have the firmness for sports driving and it isn’t soft enough for super-comfortable cruising. If you throw it into a corner too quickly it just feels wrong. There’s too much mass over the front and the suspension is not well sorted, even though I’m running Michelin PS4 tyres.

    If you plant the right boot, you must wait for things to happen. If you’re in a hurry, allow for a one second delay, due to the combination of the turbo lag and the “dumb as a bag of hammers” gearbox.

    Not fun. Forget about using the paddles on the wheel. The lack of precision with the power delivery and gearbox is a letdown, even in “sports mode”. Sports mode should be labelled “Optimist Mode” in all honesty.

    Once you’re rolling above 60km/h an hour it does have adequate power for most people. It’s just that the power delivery feels annoying. Especially coming from the older but excellent ZF six speed automatic in the E90.

    The Optima averages about 1L/100km around town and about 8L/100km on the highway, which was reasonable in 2006 but isn’t competitive today.

    What do you think of the technology in your car?

    For 2016, the technology was excellent. Everything you might need, with the exception of Android Auto and CarPlay.

    As far as I can tell there is no aftermarket solution to convert to a newer system. So you’re stuck with the maps from 2016 or you can pay the inflated price to the dealership to have the maps updated.

    The adaptive cruise is expertly calibrated and confidence inspiring. The auto headlights and auto-hi beams are blazingly fast to respond. And the premium audio system in the Optima GT is fantastic at this price point.

    You’ve never heard the dulcet tones of Bon Jovi or Bryan Adams played with such fidelity in a Kia before, and my kids will never want to hear them again. The car has two sub woofers. That is fully sick, so I’m told.

    What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

    The Optima fits the bill of a GT car… mostly. It’s generally compliant in an urban scene. However, there is some firmness that does not help the handling as much as it should.

    I would rather a suspension set up with a more sporting approach or commit to a slightly softer ride. The middle GT ground doesn’t work in this case.

    Once you get up to speed on the highway, the Optima delivers a discount GT experience. It works reasonably well at high speeds, and you can devour distance confidently. You don’t need as many gear changes at higher speeds, so the turbo lag is less aggravating.

    The engine ECU limits torque in first and second gear, which makes the car feel slightly sluggish off the mark. That “feature” does not manifest itself at higher speeds. It pulls hard above 80km/h. There is almost no torque steer. I wish there was. That might actually be fun.

    The steering in this vehicle is excellent. The GT features rack-mounted electrically assisted power steering versus the column mounted on the standard Optima, which absolutely does improve feel. The steering wheel is flat bottomed and looks fantastic. The leather feels good and has hardly worn over six years. I always make sure that the tyres are at the correct air pressure to take full advantage of the steering. Sport mode loads up the wheel but not too much.

    The Optima is confident at high speeds and when I need to cover some serious distance. But the GT is disappointing when driving in urban environments. It’s just moping about with its head down and really doesn’t want to do anything special. The GT will do what you tell it to do, but it’s not happy about it. It’s not excited. It’s not trying to provoke you into doing something naughty.

    The handling compromise has not been achieved, even though I believe this vehicle had locally tuned suspension.

    Kia aimed for BMW and delivered microwaved Weet-Bix.

    Do you have any additional comments about your car?

    Despite some of my comments, this is the best value car I’ve ever owned. You can travel long distances comfortably. It has all the technology you need. It is reasonably powerful. It looks fantastic. The interior has hardly worn. The seven-year warranty is brilliant – once you can actually get into a dealership.

    It wasn’t very expensive at $40k. It’s almost impossible to replace this car with this much equipment at this price point right now.

    They no longer sell the Optima GT in this market. I understand the new US 2022 Optima model is an impressive improvement in every way, but Australians want a station wagon with an acronym.

    The Optima GT just doesn’t make you feel good. On paper it looks like it can do everything. But it can’t. It lacks precision, and it lacks fun.

    So sadly, the Kia Optima GT was Killed In Action.

    I’ll see myself out.

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    6.6
    Overall Rating

    Technology8
    Reliability7
    Ride & Handling6
    Price & Features10
    Purchase & Aftercare5
    Performance & Economy6
    Ownership Experience4