Life, etc

Kia Optima GDI: Spaceship superstar

By Deon Schoeman 25 July 2013

Big sedans used to be the norm. But in the 21st Century, factors such as price, economy and eco concerns have made them increasingly unfashionable. Besides, those that need the space tend to opt for MPVs or SUVs instead. The Kia Optima may be a spacious sedan, but it also has strong visual appeal, efficiency and value on its side. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

My, my – what a long way the Korean car brands have come. Two decades ago, Korean cars were typically small and cheap. They also didn’t have much of a track record, and their use of old and borrowed technology meant they were always a couple of steps behind the cutting edge.

As for styling – well, indifferent would be the kindest way to describe some of those early Korean examples.

But those who believed that the Korean car invasion wouldn’t last have had to eat their words, garnished with a healthy helping of kimchi. From the start, the Korean marques focussed on affordability, value – and customer care.

Buyers of even the most basic of models were made to feel special, and Hyundai, for one, offered weekend servicing when all the so-called big brands kept their workshop doors firmly shut. People started to take notice.

Built on those foundations of value, and a focus on customer service, the Koreans have since become an automotive force to be reckoned with. There’s nothing shoddy or second-rate about modern-day Korean cars – they’ve become desirable, with technology and execution to match.

Which brings me to the Kia Optima. We all know that big sedans have lost some of their shine, mainly because consumers generally look for cars that are more affordable to buy, and are cheaper to run.

But there’s also a status issue here: local motorists would rather be seen in a smaller car from a premium brand, than a larger model bearing a mainstream nameplate. That trend has been responsible for the rise of the Audi A4/BMW 3-Series/Mercedes-Benz C-class segment, while once-popular medium sedans like the Toyota Camry and Ford Mondeo have disappeared.

Even existing players in this segment – think VW Passat, Honda Accord, Mazda6 – aren’t exactly setting the sales charts alight. Why then would a car like the Kia Optima, which fits neatly into the medium sedan category, have any chance of success?

Let’s start with the styling: after all, for many buyers, it’s the first impression that matters most.

The distinctive, markedly Eurocentric design language created by German design guru Peter Schreyer is very much in evidence in a shape that’s cleanly sculpted and eye-catching.

Most importantly, the design is completely original – something that some Korean marques still struggle with. The Optima doesn’t attempt to echo any other styling influences: it’s confidently Kia.

The silhouette places the emphasis on smooth, wind-cheating aerodynamics, and managed to understate the sizeable proportions of the car. The low roofline, narrow glass areas and wedged waistline add an unexpectedly sporty demeanour, while those big, eye-caching wheels suggest a certain dynamic appeal.