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Expert Review

Kia Optima Saloon (2012 - 2014) MK 1 review

Read the Kia Optima car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.

The Auto Trader expert verdict:


The Kia Optima looks good, but has some serious flaws in other areas, most notably ride comfort, refinement, interior quality and running costs. If you’re not absolutely sold on the Optima’s looks, we’d point you towards one of the many alternatives in the family car class that provide more ability for similar money.

Reasons to buy:

  • tickLooks fantastic
  • tickGood interior space
  • tickGenerous with standard equipment

At a glance:

How good does it look?

The Kia Optima sticks out a mile with its sleek styling
Compared with the rather humdrum styling of most cars in the family saloon class, the Kia Optima sticks out a mile with its sleek styling. The sharply-angled headlamps sit either side of a deep grille that’s pinched in the middle, while the roofline tapers towards the back to create a slinky shape. Even better, you get sharp looks no matter which version of the Optima you go for, because all trims come with alloys wheels and body-coloured door handles as standard.
Expert rating: 4/5

What's the interior like?

The Optima’s interior is a bit more sober than the bodywork, with a much simpler, no-nonsense design. The dashboard is angled towards the driver to put all the buttons within easy reach, and those buttons are also big and easy to hit. However, the unclear markings detract from ease-of-use, and so does the less-than-intuitive way in which the touch-screen infotainment system works. Rear visibility is also limited due to a small, steeply angled rear window, and cabin quality is disappointing because there are too many drab, cheap-looking materials.
Expert rating: 3/5

How practical is it?

The Optima is a big old unit of a car, so it’s no surprise that there’s lots of room inside. The front seats have loads of space, and although rear headroom is merely so-so, rear legroom is very impressive indeed. What’s more, the wide middle seat and flat, low-lying transmission tunnel mean three people can sit on the rear bench in reasonable comfort. The boot, too, is a good size, but the space isn’t all that versatile. The opening is narrow and awkwardly shaped, and the back seats don’t lie flat when you fold them down.
Expert rating: 3/5

What's it like to drive?

The car feels jittery and unsettled over most types of road surface
A family-focused car like this needs to deliver a comfortable ride above all else, and sadly, that’s where the Optima really fails to impress. The car feels jittery and unsettled over most types of road surface and it doesn’t deal with potholes well enough, particularly at low urban speeds. Things don’t get much better when you’re going faster, either. You don’t feel too much body lean when negotiating corners, but the tyres give pretty limited grip and the slow, remote-feeling steering means there isn’t much fun to be had behind the wheel.
Expert rating: 1/5

How powerful is it?

While rivals cars offer a dizzying choice of engines, the Optima is offered with only one, a 1.7-litre turbodiesel with 134bhp. And, you might well wish there was an alternative choice. The engine delivers all its poke between 2,000 and 3,500rpm, and feels annoyingly flat when you venture above or below that window. And, even when you’re in the sweet spot, the performance doesn’t feel all that muscular. Refinement isn’t really good enough either. The engine sounds grumbly at all times and transmits too many vibrations into the cabin, while road and wind noise could also be better isolated.
Expert rating: 2/5

How much will it cost me?

Critically, it’s not all that cost-effective for the company car drivers
If you’re expecting the Optima to be a budget alternative to mainstream saloons like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia, then you might be a wee bit disappointed. It’s a shade cheaper to buy than its rivals, but no more than that, and you’re less likely to be able to negotiate a discount with your dealer. Resale values are nothing special for the class, either. Perhaps more critically, it’s not all that cost-effective for the company car drivers with which cars like this are immensely popular. The CO2 emissions of 128g/km place it in a relatively high band for company car tax payments when compared with its best rivals, and a claimed average fuel return of 57.6mpg is no great shakes, either.
Expert rating: 2/5

How reliable is it?

The Warranty Direct Reliability Index currently ranks Kia mid-table in the manufacturer standings, which would suggest a so-so performance on reliability. However, there’s no arguing with the company’s generous warranty. You’re covered for seven years or 100,000 miles, and that includes all labour and parts (except wear and tear). What’s more, the cover is fully transferrable when you sell the car on, making it a more attractive proposition for used buyers.
Expert rating: 3/5

How safe is it?

The Optima comes with a pretty good collection of safety measures, including stability control, six airbags and active anti-whiplash front headrests. However, many rivals come with clever collision mitigation systems, technology which isn’t available on the Optima. The car hasn’t been crash tested by the experts at Euro NCAP, either.
Expert rating: 3/5

How much equipment do I get?

Three trim levels are available, imaginatively titled 1, 2 and 3. Even entry-level 1 models come with a fair amount of kit, including air-conditioning, cornering headlamps, four powered windows, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, cruise control and Bluetooth. The 2 model adds lots more luxury kit including leather upholstery, climate control, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, automatic lights and wipers, and an upgraded infotainment system with more speakers, sat-nav, a reversing camera and a parallel parking assistant. The 3 adds a whole heap of other stuff, but the panoramic sunroof and extra safety kit will be the only bits you’ll really be interested in.
Expert rating: 4/5

Why buy?

Because you like the styling, and that fact that the Optima gives you lots of equipment, loads of interior space and the big boot. However, the handling, ride and refinement simply aren’t good enough, and running the Optima as a company car will simply cost too much. There are many other family saloons out there that’ll deliver much more talent for similar money.
Expert rating: 1/5

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