Kia's optimal sedan

Kia's new well-built and well-equipped Optima raises the bar in the executive sedan segment

After spoiling your palate with butter pecan, salted caramel, cookie dough, chocolate mint, rum and raisin, strawberry shortcake, tutti fruitti and other exotic ice-cream flavours, it is good to go back to plain vanilla sometimes.

And so it is with cars. After being bombarded with a myriad of model variants straddling new segments and sub-segments, it is nice to revisit the sedan.

In Singapore, the sedan is still the most favoured body shape. The most popular models here have long been sedans, including the reigning Toyota Corolla.

The Corolla's bigger brother, the Camry, has always been the top choice in the executive sedan segment. But competition in this segment has been hotting up, with the Koreans muscling in in the last five to 10 years.

The Kia Optima made a favourable impression when it made its debut here in 2011. Its sleek coupe- like styling was a break from the prevailing sedate form.

The new Optima does not stray far, even if it is slightly bigger than before, with its wheelbase getting the most pronounced increase in dimension.

  • SPECS/KIA OPTIMA K5 2.0

    Price: $121,999 with COE

    Engine: 1,999cc 16-valve inline-4

    Transmission: Six-speed automatic with paddle shifters

    Power: 163bhp at 6,500rpm

    Torque: 196Nm at 4,800rpm

    0-100kmh: 10.5 seconds

    Top speed: 208kmh

    Fuel consumption: 7.8 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Cycle & Carriage Kia

The result is more room for the rear occupants, who also enjoy bigger footwells because of the raised front seats. The rear seats are raised too, so more mature passengers will now find it easier to get in and out of the car.

Despite that, and the Optima's prominently sloped roof, there is ample rear headroom.

For the driver, the car's main differences lie in its drivetrain and chassis. It is now powered by a 2-litre four-cylinder instead of the previous 2.4.

The transmission remains a six-speeder with paddle shifters, which will probably be the least used feature in the car. The transmission is so efficient and so rev-happy - like CVT most of the time - that manual intervention is unnecessary.

The car now comes with three driving modes - a rarity among non-European executive sedans. With a touch of a button, you can switch from the default Comfort mode to Eco or Sport.

Sport is the preferred mode, but it comes with higher fuel consumption. Steering, transmission and throttle characteristics become noticeably sportier and, more importantly, better suited to how the engine and chassis are tuned.

The steering, for instance, sheds its twitchiness to offer a surer and more substantive feel. Acceleration becomes effortless.

With 150 per cent more high-strength tensile steel in its construction, the Optima's rigidity has been improved. That is a rather important improvement, seeing how big the car is.

The sedan is bigger than both the Camry and is almost as big as the Mercedes-Benz E-class.

Ride and handling qualities are well matched and the car dishes out a balanced measure of comfort, support and confidence. For such a big vehicle with such a long wheelbase, its turn-in is remarkably neat.

Lastly, the car is better equipped than most rivals in its price segment.

It has keyless access and ignition, hands-free boot opening, electric parking brakes with auto-release and auto-hold, cruise control with speed limiter, memory seats for drivers, dual-zone climate control with ioniser, six airbags, 17-inch rims and a 510-litre boot.

So, while the Optima may be just another sedan, it is clearly not quite plain vanilla.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Optimal sedan'. Print Edition | Subscribe