Kia Motors’ announcement of its India launch was met with a whole lot of enthusiasm. Hyundai’s sister brand has been a popular choice in international markets, and buoyed by Hyundai’s success, has a very elaborate plan for India. It had the biggest show floor among all brands at the 2018 Auto Expo, and suitably, when I took the 2018 Kia Optima out for a spin around Delhi, I was stopped multiple times by eager car enthusiasts asking about the brand, the car itself, and even how to get dealerships for Kia Motors.
This itself is a clear sign of the brand’s intent, and how they aim to establish themselves in the Indian market once the SP Concept compact SUV rolls out of its Anantapur plant in production guise. The bigger sign, meanwhile, is the car itself and what it represents for the brand. The Kia Optima will possibly not be a part of the company’s portfolio when it rolls its first cars out on to the road, but going by what it has on offer, we certainly hope that it does make it to India some time ‘round.
Design and aesthetics
There is no other way to put it – the 2018 Kia Optima is one gorgeous set of wheels. The nose is sharp and flat, with the uniquely shaped, chrome-studded grill easily setting it apart from Hyundai’s Fluidic design language. The glass cabin is gently sloped, and is swept back in similar stance as the Jaguar XJ. To accentuate this sloping line, there is a chrome strip that runs along the upper trim of the windows – from the edge of the bonnet to the tip of the boot lid.
The panoramic glass roof is tinted and insulated to prevent greenhouse effect inside the car, should you choose to retract the fabric sheath and have only the glass expanse above your head. Then there are the alloys – the 18-inch five twin-spoke wheels that fit the arches perfectly, and the chrome strip running along the car’s wheelbase further add definition to its design. The spillover LED tail lamps and the overall design of the car’s rear end does look similar to a Hyundai (in particular, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata that is not sold in India right now). That said, it is still classy, and in the muted shade of titanium that we got the Optima in, makes for one classy piece of car design.
On the inside, the colour scheme is divided into two halves – the upper half with light off-white fabric and the lower half, dashboard and seats with black leather. The dashboard has a sharp texture, and is divided by the horizontal axis line. While the dash is not adorned with leather, the material used here is high quality, textured plastic that feels nice. The central column includes a seven-inch touchscreen above the dual-air conditioning vents, the very BMW-like audio controls and shortcut tabs, and the dual-zone air conditioning control module. Between the driver’s seats, the gear shifter is shaped similar to Audi’s. The input ports and the power socket are concealed by the hydraulically-retractable plastic cover, and a second sliding tambour door covers the two generously-sized cup holders. The leather armrest looks and feels premium, as do the overall quality of buttons, and all tiny elements inside the car. The seats themselves are well-bolstered and fairly comfortable, and the black leather inside makes the interiors look suave.
All of this combined makes the 2018 Kia Optima SX quite the looker, and it turns heads in its own way. It is not an iconic design, but one that has seamless flow of continuity and a beautiful overall composure, offsetting its impressive equipment package.
Technology and electronics
When it comes to the infotainment package, the Kia Optima has just about enough to provide you all the basics that you would need from your in-car system. The top-of-the-line unit in our car is a part of Kia’s optional package, using an 8-inch infotainment display with integrated navigation, FM radio, multiple input ports and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Things work fairly smoothly, although the interface itself is not too intuitive.
You use a combination of physical buttons placed below the air conditioning vents to switch between different windows of the screen, and even though the buttons are placed ergonomically and provide a satisfyingly ‘clicky’ feedback, there is a bit of a disconnect in not being able to simply tap on a home screen on the touch-enabled display to switch between screens. The screen is also placed a bit far away from the driver’s mean position of sitting, which makes you use the buttons more often than not. The interface itself is a bit dull in terms of its colour scheme, and while it is likely that Kia’s Indian cars will feature the same infotainment unit, the company will do well to tweak the overall interface a bit to make it more engaging on overall terms.
The Kia Optima in India does not come with the radar-based driver assistance units that is available in North America, and that is also a possible indicator of the fact that these advanced systems will probably not feature in Kia’s Indian cars, even when they begin rolling out the more expensive models. In terms of other electronics, though, the Kia Optima aces the charts. The instrument cluster is semi-digital, with a highly useful central multi-information display that is similar to what you’d see in Hyundai’s cars. The backlight on the semi-analogue dials and digits are controllable, thereby giving you the freedom to choose the intensity of light in the dials.
The front seats are power adjustable, giving a wide range of control over your seating position. You also get adjustable lumbar setting for the driver, along with seat heating and cooling for the front two seats, a heated leather steering wheel, cruise control, speed limiter, two-zone automatic climate control, a clean air filter, memory seat settings, electronic parking brake with auto-hold, adaptive parking sensors with a dynamic rear parking camera, auto-dimming mirrors, two AC vents for the rear passengers, and a panoramic glass roof with electronically-operable panoramic roof sheath and sunroof. All the AC vents also get their own fan intensity control, and there are integrated reading light-and-coat hanger modules to the rear, hence making it a complete executive sedan package.
It is this list of features that makes the Kia Optima such a wonderful car to be in. The equipment list is filled to the brim, giving its owners a complete suite of options. What’s important to note here is that this is the ideal show of what Kia as a brand is capable of achieving. From premium interior materials, to good quality of fit and finish, apt ergonomics and an excellent set of features, the 2018 Kia Optima is a great example for the brand to show what they are capable of, to the Indian audience.
Drive and ride quality
The Kia Optima is a long car, measuring almost 4.9 metres in length. Add to that its 2.2 tonne body weight, and this makes for a car that has substantial footprint on road. The long wheelbase format of the Optima gives plenty of space inside – even with the seat pushed substantially back for my 5’11” frame, there was always ample knee and feet room for the rear passenger. That said, you do feel the heft and length of the car at times, particularly in the congested, narrow Delhi lanes. More often than not, the parking sensors would alert you sharply owing to being too near an obstacle.
That said, handling and manoeuvering the Kia Optima is a fairly easy task. The steering wheel is light and easy to turn, and still fairly precise. It does not provide the best amount of feedback, which will be a deterrent if you are an enthusiastic driver and like engaging steering wheel feedback. Nevertheless, it is a breeze to drive in the city, with the six-speed automatic transmission doing its duty flawlessly. The Optima does have the tendency to hold on to the revs a bit too much, which makes it slightly sluggish from the start. Even in ‘sport’ drive mode, the Optima is not a particularly eager car to lunge forward, and instead flows along smoothly on smooth pitch with speed building up steadily. While it really works well in the city and even when you are cruising along on highways at triple-digit speeds, it can be a bit of a bother to make overtakes.
Fortunately, the 2018 Kia Optima comes with paddle shifters, which allows you to switch the gearbox to manual control. This makes the car noticeably faster, of course, although its heft still does not make it feel uber-fast. The 2.0-litre direct injection gasoline engine produces 202 bhp and an impressive 375 Nm torque, and while this amount of power and torque means the car does not feel slow, there is a surprising sluggish nature to it. The Optima also consumes a fair amount of fuel – the consumption figures varied between 6.1 kmpl in peak city traffic, 12.2 kmpl in open roads and registering average of 8.9 kmpl.
In terms of ride quality, the 2018 Kia Optima is an excellent performer. The suspension is a bit on the softer side, which makes city ride quality absolutely sublime. It also holds its ground well in well-laid out highways, so there is no trace of the floatiness that soft suspensions may induce. Add to that great thigh and back support in the rear seat, and the Optima ensures that you remain comfortable throughout your journey.
The way forward
Unfortunately, the 2018 Kia Optima only serves as an indicator for the brand’s potential right now. When Kia launches its first cars in 2019, the focus is solely going to be on mainstream options like compact SUVs and premium hatchbacks. Cars like the Optima will probably feature in India too, but at a later date.
And yet, we cannot help but be super excited about the potential that the Kia Optima represents. If Kia manages to bring at least half the goodness of quality, assurance, refinement and opulence with its cars in India, the brand stands a chance of being a winner in the long run. After our privileged pre-launch test drive of the Kia Optima over about 500 kilometres and four days, we’ve come back really impressed, and even more excited about it.