What is it?
Optima may not be a great name but it's a damn sight better than what went before: Magentis. This is Kia's replacement for the dreadfully dreary old square-edged saloon it used to peddle onto unsuspecting pensioners and minicab drivers. It was the epitome of old Kia. This is modern Kia though, and so the Optima is a different deal entirely.
For starters, this is a big Kia saloon you'll want to be seen in. Sharp lines and an almost Jaguar XJ-ish execution for the C-pillars mean first impressions are wholly positive, and help offset the surprise of discovering this Kia opens, rather than closes, at £20,000. See it in the metal rather than on a spec sheet and you know Kia's serious.
This is a big car with a suspiciously small-sounding engine: just the single 1.7-litre CRDi motor. This can't quite disguise the big Kia's sheer size on the road, proving polite enough but wholly reliant on its short burst of turbo power to make progress. You thus have to work the six-speed manual hard, although a sleek enough automatic is available if you can't be bothered. The ride will come as a surprise if you drawn conclusions from the big angry-faced front end: it's set up soft, with its pillowiness only occasionally undermined by the 18-inch wheels offered on certain models. The cracks and bangs they transmit mean we'd rather go for the 2 Luxe model rather than the 2 Tech they're standard on. Unfashionable they may be, but the standard 16-inch wheels give maximum squashability which is somehow in keeping with the mood of the Optima.
On the inside
The quality impression created by the outside is present within the Optima too. The dashboard is smart-looking and details such as a shiny wood insert at the top of the steering wheel help raise the ambience, taking attention away from the few cheap and shiny plastics that do remain.
It is also, yes, gigantic inside. Truly cavernous. You could get one adult sitting behind another and still have space to slot another row of full-sized humans in between.
The able Optima is primarily about metal for the money, so the sub £20k entry price brings a huge amount of space, kit and ability to worry rivals such as the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo. You don't really need to trade up, but if you do, you'll get features you even have to pay extra for in a Jaguar: air-conditioned seats, anyone? The only distraction is one from within: the Hyundai i40 is similarly able and, while it's derived from a different and smaller platform, it's also £2,000 cheaper. Kia will be hoping style wins through.