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Kia Optima EU-Version

Safer, quieter, plusher, more comfortable and even more sharply styled than ever - Kia's hugely successful saloon, the Optima (known as 'K5' in the Korean domestic market) has undergone a facelift for the 2014 model year which makes it an even more compelling proposition.

As before, the Optima is configured to appeal to the UK business community. It is being sold with just one engine - a 134bhp version of Kia's smooth and efficient 1.7-litre U2 diesel - while all three specification options contain every essential for the business user.

Ever since launch the Optima has offered features previously unattainable on a Kia, including a high-end Infinity audio system as standard on the upper two trim grades. It delivers 550W of stunning sound through 12 speakers in eight different locations throughout the car, including a boot-mounted sub-woofer. Smart Park Assist, heated and cooled ventilated seats, cornering lights and an automatic cabin defogging system are also available.

In the 2014 Optima, there are more high end features added - dependant on model - by Drive Mode Select for the automatic transmission, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist and Tyre Pressure Monitoring. There are new, more supportive seats; restyled 17-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels for all grades; and new key fobs which are more premium in appearance. Smart Entry with ignition stop/start is standard on upper-grade versions.

Sharper appearance front and rear

Kia's shift from a purely rational brand to one which is design-driven is typified by the Optima. This 'must have' quality is enhanced in the 2014 model by subtle but significant changes front and rear which sharpen the external appearance and give the Optima even more of the crispness of a fine Italian suit - the phrase which Group President and Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer used to sum up the car at its introduction.

There are new-style headlamp units incorporating LED daytime running lamps. They blend into a revised version of the Kia 'tiger-nose' grille featuring a bolder central section. The lower air intake has been reshaped and on the top spec are housed in a chrome trim, while the front foglights - LED with the upper two trim grades - adopt the 'ice-cube' design first seen on the pro_cee'd GT.

At the rear there is a crisper edge on the boot lid and restyled lamp units, also LED on all but the entry-level model, which lend the Optima a more premium appearance.

There are no changes to the elegant profile of the Optima, but new alloy wheels - 17 inches in diameter on the entry-grade model and 18 inches on all others - are now fitted which give the car an added air of sportiness. Along with dynamic dampers added to the rear cross member, additional sealants on the dashboard and upgraded carpeting, they help to reduce noise in the cabin by 3.3 decibels.

Upgrades for the aircraft-inspired cabin

The appearance and comfort of the Optima's spacious and sporty interior have been raised by a number of changes which demonstrate the attention to detail at Kia.

One of the major improvements is to the front seats, which now have deeper knee cushions - ensuring a more even distribution of the occupant's weight for greater comfort - and more voluminous side bolsters to give greater side support during cornering. Even the stitch lines on the area of the cushion below the knees have been eliminated and there is now an open-type seat, which reduces irritation when travelling long distances.

On all but the entry-grade model, high-gloss black finishings have been applied to the fascia, and all versions benefit from an all-new steering wheel and gearshifter (manual or automatic). Together, these give the Optima a more modern, high-tech and luxurious feel.

The entry-level Optima has Kia's familiar three-cylinder instrumentation, while all other versions have a premium supervision cluster with a 3.5-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) full-colour information screen flanked by a tachometer on one side and a speedometer on the other. The information screen can be programmed with the driver's preferred menus and images.

Slender armrests in the doors have integral audio speakers, freeing up more storage space in the panel beneath. In the top-of-the-range Optima 3, mood lighting in the lower part of the doors and the centre fascia adds to the cabin's sophisticated ambience.

Safety firsts for Kia in the UK

All versions of the Optima provide exemplary levels of safety thanks to an incredibly stiff structure - featuring almost 60 per cent high-tensile steel plates - and a comprehensive range of active and passive protection features. All of this ensures outstanding front, side and rear impact protection without adding to the car's overall weight.

The new model is available with a suite of electronic driver aids never previously available on a Kia in the UK. Together, these help prevent inattentive or tired drivers from straying out of lane into the path of an overtaking vehicle, or from reversing into a car, motorcycle or shopping trolley. These new features are called Blind Spot Detection, Lane Keeping Assist System and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. A Tyre Pressure Monitoring System is also now provided. All are standard on top-grade versions of the Optima.

Blind Spot Detection is able to monitor over a range of 70 metres and alerts the driver who is about to change lanes when a vehicle or motorcycle is approaching from behind in an adjacent lane. Initially this is in the form of a warning signal in the relevant side mirror, but if no action is taken the symbol starts to flash and is accompanied by an audible alert. It works at speeds above 10mph.

The Lane Keep Assist System performs the same functions when the car starts to drift off its intended course, even if there are no other vehicles around. This is particularly helpful if the driver starts to become drowsy at night, or after too long a period behind the wheel. By reading lane markers in the road, the system spots when the Optima is veering off course and warns the driver via visual and audible signals while applying steering torque which keeps the car straight.

Meanwhile, the Rear Cross Traffic Alert combines with Blind Spot Detection to warn a driver who is at risk of reversing into traffic passing behind the Optima. When reverse gear has been selected the system looks around for lorries, vans, cars, motorcycles and even shopping trolleys passing transversely across the rear of the Optima and issues visual alerts in the rear-view mirrors plus an audible warning. It can detect a car approximately 20 metres away, a motorcycle 15 metres away and a pedestrian with a shopping trolley 10 metres away.

All Optimas have large disc brakes on all four wheels, ventilated at the front, with anti-lock (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, giving the car emergency stopping power in all conditions, regardless of the force applied to the pedal by the driver.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is also standard to help counter any tendency of the car to skid out of control in bad weather or because of over-exuberant driving. This is linked to Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), which senses when the wheels on one side of the car are on a lower-grip surface than those on the other side and then stabilises the car.

To alert other motorists to emergency braking, an Emergency Stop Signalling system (ESS) is also fitted. This flashes the brake lights rapidly to warn following drivers. Every Optima is fitted with front, side and curtain airbags, plus active front-seat head restraints to minimise the risk of whiplash injuries.

Business with pleasure

The Optima, is offered with only a 134bhp 1.7-litre turbodiesel engine, with the option on the mid- and top- spec models of a six-speed automatic gearbox in place of the six-speed manual.

All manual versions feature Kia's EcoDynamics fuel-saving, CO2-reducing measures, including Intelligent Stop & Go, while automatics have a Drive Select Mode featuring three modes: Normal, Eco and Sport which alter the transmission shift timing, throttle mapping and steering wheel weighting accordingly.

The U2 diesel, engineered at Kia's European research and development centre in Germany, features high-pressure common-rail fuel injection for maximum efficiency, and a variable geometry turbocharger to enhance low-speed driveability while ensuring strong top-end power for the high motorway speeds common in Europe. It develops its maximum power at 4,000rpm, but of greater significance is the peak torque of 325Nm (239lb/ft) from 2,000-2,500rpm.

It develops similar power and torque to the 2.0-litre units in European and Japanese rivals, but from a smaller capacity. Acceleration from 0-60mph takes 10.2 seconds in manual versions and 11.5 seconds with automatic transmission, while the respective top speeds are 125mph and 122mph. The manual can achieve 57.6 miles per gallon, with CO2 emissions of 128g/km, while the figures for the automatic are 47.1mpg and 158g/km.

New to the 2014 Optima fitted with automatic transmission is Drive Mode Select. This offers three programmes - Normal, Eco and Sport - which alter the shift timing, accelerator mapping and steering weighting according to which drive has been selected. It also features innovative Neutral Control, which shifts the transmission from 'D' to 'N' when the car has been stopped for a few seconds, reducing the load on the engine and, therefore, fuel consumption.

The Optima's ride and handling have been optimised to provide the perfect combination of stability and agility with refinement and comfort on the long motorway drives that are a fact of life for many business drivers. Kia's motor-driven power steering (MDPS), which delivers assistance only when needed to reduce the load on the engine and save fuel, offers just the right degree of help and weighting in all circumstances.

The Optima is available in Kia's familiar '1', '2' and '3' trim grades, all of which are fitted with an extensive list of standard features. These include alloy wheels, air conditioning, LED daytime running lamps, dual projection headlamps, cornering lights, electric folding heated mirrors and cruise control with a speed limiter, driver's seat power lumbar adjustment, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, an RDS radio/CD with MP3 compatibility, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, powered windows, and an LED high-mounted third brake light.

The mid-grade version adds black leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, an eight-way adjustable heated driver's memory seat, faux leather trim on the door and centre console armrests, chrome-effect inner door handles, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automatic headlight control, rain-sensing front wipers, LED front foglights, paddle shifters - on auto only - and an electric parking brake on the automatic transmission model, a 12-speaker Infinity sound system, a reversing camera integrated into the seven-inch sat-nav screen and the Parallel Park Assist System.

The luxurious Optima '3' supplements all this with a tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof with automatic electric roller blinds, Xenon headlamps with automatic levelling and washers, high-gloss black and chrome exterior garnishes, rear diffuser trim, UV-reducing solar glass, ventilated front seats, heated outer rear seats, stainless steel door scuff plates, a smart key with illuminated engine start/stop button, ambient interior lighting, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Keep Assist System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System.

The 2014 Optima comes with Kia's unique seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, subject to conditions covering wear and tear items. The warranty is fully transferable to subsequent owners as long as the age or mileage limits have not been exceeded.

The 2014 Optima is available in the UK with Kia's Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing package, offering retail customers fixed-cost, inflation-proof servicing for the first three or five years. All work is carried out by trained technicians using genuine Kia replacement parts and specified oils. All packages cover the car, not the owner, so are transferable should the vehicle be sold. If a vehicle with a Care-3 package is sold on then the next owner may upgrade to the five year service package.

DESIGN

From the outset it was clear that the Optima was a seismic shift in design for mid-size Kia saloons. Previous models were created during a transitional period for the company and sold under different names in different parts of the world. They were rational, functional and offered outstanding value, but they lacked any real identity. The Optima changed all that.

It was created by Kia's design teams in Frankfurt and California and unveiled at the 2010 New York Auto Show. Immediately it began to draw praise. 'Gorgeous' and 'the best car to come out of Korea yet' were among the comments made, and these were to be repeated when the Optima made its European debut at the Paris Salon de l'Auto later that year.

In 2011 the Optima was named 'Best of the Best' in Germany's Red Dot design competition, which attracted nearly 4,500 product entries, and not only from the automotive sector. It also won an iF Product Design Award in Germany. Both are ringing endorsements of Kia's decision to place design at the heart of everything it does.

The Optima was a clean-sheet design - longer, lower and wider than any previous Kia mid-size saloon, with a longer wheelbase and a coupé-like profile, emphasised by its cab-back proportions, shallow glasshouse and the sweeping chrome arch that flows from the A- to the C-pillars. It combines muscular proportions with elegant simplicity.

For the 2014 Optima those qualities are enhanced by subtle but significant changes front and rear which sharpen the external appearance and give the car even more of the crispness of a fine Italian suit - the phrase which Group President and Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer used to sum up the Optima at its introduction.

There are new-style headlamp units incorporating LED daytime running lamps. They blend into a revised version of the Kia 'tiger-nose' grille featuring a bolder central section with black mesh grille on the Optima '1' and '2' and high-gloss black mesh grille on Optima '3'. All versions have dual projection headlights, and in the Optima 3 these are Xenon with automatic levelling. The lower air intake has been reshaped and now houses a chrome trim, while the front foglights - LED with the upper two trim grades - adopt the 'ice-cube' design first seen on the pro_cee'd GT.

At the rear there is a crisper edge on the boot lid and restyled lamp units, also LED on all but the entry-level model, which lend the Optima a more premium appearance. Optima '3' has a rear diffuser trim and all versions have a chromed exhaust tip.

There are no changes to the elegant profile of the Optima, but new alloy wheels - 17 inches in diameter on the entry-grade model and 18 inches on all others - are now fitted which give the car an added air of sportiness. Along with dynamic dampers added to the rear cross member, additional sealants on the dashboard and upgraded carpeting, they help to reduce noise in the cabin by 3.3 decibels.

High, pronounced shoulders flow seamlessly between the sculpted front and rear light clusters, giving the Optima a strong appearance that is reflected in the broad C-pillar which rises from the shoulder line, and the bold flared wheel arches. There are grey-painted brake calipers on Optima '3' versions.

The coupé-like profile not only enhances the sensation of dynamism within the car, it also brings improvements in aerodynamic efficiency. The drag co-efficient is Cd 0.29.

Aggressive, elevated bonnet lines give the car a bold, athletic shape, while the decision to mount the Kia badge on the bonnet is a symbol that the Optima is a premium-quality saloon.

 

Upgrades for the aircraft-inspired cabin

Spacious, comfortable and sporty... these are the three key words which sum up the interior of the Optima. The aircraft-themed fascia and centre console are tilted towards the driver at an angle of 9.6 degrees so that all the major controls are within reach and vision for best ease of use.

For 2014, the appearance and comfort of the Optima's interior have been raised by a number of changes which demonstrate the attention to detail at Kia.

One of the major improvements is to the front seats, which now have deeper knee cushions - ensuring a more even distribution of the occupant's weight for greater comfort - and more voluminous side bolsters to give greater side support during cornering. Even the stitch lines on the area of the cushion below the knees have been eliminated and there is now an open-type seat, which reduces irritation when travelling long distances. Optima '1' has black cloth upholstery with powered lumbar adjustment for the driver, while Optima '2' and '3' have black leather with an eight-way power-adjustable driver's memory seat. The '3' is also fitted with a power adjustable passenger seat.

On all but the entry-grade model, high-gloss black finishing has been applied to the fascia, and all versions benefit from an all-new steering wheel and gearshifter (manual or automatic), which give the Optima a more modern, high-tech and luxurious feel. The steering wheel and, on manual versions, gearshifter are trimmed in leather. There are also more stylish inner door handles, with a chromed finish on Optima '2' and '3'. The mid- and high-grade versions have leather door and centre console armrests.

The entry-level Optima has Kia's familiar three-cylinder instrumentation, while all other versions have a premium supervision cluster with a 4.3-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) full-colour information screen flanked by a tachometer on one side and a speedometer on the other. The information screen can be programmed with the driver's preferred menus and images.

The slender armrests in the doors have integral audio speakers, freeing up more storage space in the panel beneath. In the top-of-the-range Optima '3', mood lighting in the lower part of the doors and the centre fascia, complemented by spot lighting from the overhead console, adds to the cabin's already sophisticated ambience. Optima '3' also has stainless steel door scuff plates, illuminated at the front.

Steering wheel-mounted controls are standard across the range, while models with automatic transmission have paddle shift controls. Bluetooth, which allows hands-free use of mobile phones, linked to voice recognition and music streaming is another standard feature, along with cruise control - all controlled by buttons on the steering wheel.

THE OPTIMA MEANS BUSINESS

There is just one engine, a 134bhp version of Kia's 1.7-litre CRDi 'U2' unit, because diesel is the predominant choice due to the benefits it brings in terms of running costs and company car taxation. Three different trim and equipment packages are available, each containing all the essentials for the business user.

The Optima's stylish design and high-quality finish are reflected in far higher residual values than for any previous mid-size Kia saloon, which in turn means lower monthly leasing bills for operators. The comprehensive safety features, enhanced significantly in the 2014 Optima '3', and low repair costs keep insurance rates down. And, as with any Kia, servicing requirements were factored in from the start of the design and engineering process to ensure the minimum of down time and cost when the car has to go in for routine maintenance.

Last but not least, the car comes with Kia's unique seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, subject to conditions covering wear and tear items. The warranty is transferable to subsequent owners.

Competitive performance from reduced capacity

The CRDi engine in the Optima develops 134bhp at 4,000rpm and 325Nm (239lb/ft) of torque from 2,000-2,500rpm. These outputs are similar to those developed by the 2.0-litre units in European and Japanese rivals, but from a smaller capacity. In all but one version there is a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

The diesel engine was engineered at Kia's European research and development centre in Germany. It features high-pressure common-rail fuel injection for maximum efficiency, and a variable geometry turbocharger to enhance low-speed driveability while ensuring strong top-end power for motorway speeds.

All manual versions feature Kia's EcoDynamics fuel-saving, CO2-reducing measures, including Intelligent Stop & Go, while automatics have a Drive Select Mode featuring three modes: Normal, Eco and Sport which alter the transmission shift timing, throttle mapping and steering wheel weighting accordingly. The manual can achieve 57.6 miles per gallon, with CO2 emissions of 128g/km, while the figures for the automatic are 47.1mpg and 158g/km. The respective company car tax bands are 20 per cent and 26 per cent.

Low operating costs

Like any Kia, the Optima has been designed to keep operating costs and down time to a minimum. Repairability and maintenance were factored in from the beginning of the design and engineering processes to help keep insurance rates low and minimise the amount of time it takes to perform routine servicing or minor repairs.

With their outstanding crashworthiness and safety features and ease of repair, Optima '1' and '2' attract an insurance rating of only 17 - a major bonus in these days of spiralling premiums. Optima '3' is in band 20. Routine maintenance is required only once a year or at 20,000-mile intervals, whichever comes soonest.

PACKAGE AND SAFETY

The major contributor to the Optima's impressively roomy cabin is its long, 2,795mm wheelbase. Short front and rear overhangs mean the Optima looks dynamic and sporty while using a greater percentage of its overall length for the comfort of occupants.

The Optima has impressive front driver and passenger leg and head room. A high centre console creates a cocooned environment and adds to the sporty ambience within the cabin.

Rear-seat occupants benefit from a floor with impressively small protrusions, ensuring a more comfortable riding position. At 1,830mm wide, the Optima delivers clear benefits for shoulder room.

The boot capacity is 505 litres, and the low loading lip makes the business of lifting in luggage less strenuous. Standard 60:40 split folding rear seats allow longer loads to be transported.

Useful storage spaces, shaped to accommodate items which owners like to carry, abound. There is a cooled glovebox, a centre console box, cupholders front and rear, a sunglasses holder, space for bottles in the front and rear doors, pockets in the backs of the front seats and a centre fascia tray large enough for a mobile telephone - conveniently located adjacent to the standard USB and 12-volt recharging socket.

The Optima is built around an incredibly stiff safety structure featuring almost 60 per cent high-tensile steel plates. Straightened front side members with a large cross-section dissipate frontal impact crash forces away from the cabin, while a two-layer structure in the floor and a newly designed dash centre cross-member contribute towards a stronger passenger cell.

High-tensile steel plates around the door frames and ring-shaped B-posts with strong connections to the roof rails provide outstanding protection in side impacts. The outer roof side panel and the centre pillar reinforcement are made by the hot-stamping method, which ensures the metal is three times stronger than normal.

The rear floor members, like those at the front, have been straightened to provide a better absorption path for impact forces, and there are reinforced side members to prevent the chassis from deforming in a rear-end collision. As a result, the Optima provides excellent front, side and rear impact protection without unnecessary weight.

Pedestrian protection has not been overlooked. The bonnet has a multi-coned steel structure and inner frame to absorb energy should a head strike it.

There are large disc brakes on all four wheels, ventilated at the front, with anti-lock (ABS), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, giving the car emergency stopping power in all conditions, regardless of the force applied to the pedal by the driver.

To alert other motorists to emergency braking, an Emergency Stop System (ESS) is also fitted. This flashes the brake lights rapidly to warn following drivers. Front, side and curtain airbags are fitted to every model, and there are active headrests on the front seats to prevent whiplash injuries. Seat-belt pre-tensioners reduce the forces on the wearer's chest in a collision, and ISOFIX top tethers and anchors are fitted to allow child seats to be mounted. A passenger airbag cut-off switch is standard to permit a rear-facing child seat to be carried in the front of the car.

Speed-sensing automatic door locks ensure the security of all passengers. They are automatically disabled in the event of an accident. All versions have Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to counter skidding in bad weather or because of over-exuberant driving. Should the sensors detect a possible loss of control, they direct the ABS to brake one or more wheels and instruct the engine management system to momentarily reduce engine torque until the car is stabilised.

In the Optima, ESC is linked to vehicle stability management (VSM), which senses when the wheels on one side of the car are on a lower-grip surface than those on the other side. VSM then stabilises the car by reducing the amount of steering assistance if the driver is applying too much steering effort or increasing it if the driver is applying too little. The Optima also comes with Hill-start Assist Control, which maintains brake pressure for two seconds after the driver releases the pedal to ensure a smooth transition on inclines.

Optima 3 is equipped as standard with electronic driver aids to help prevent inattentive or tired drivers from straying out of their lane into the path of an overtaking vehicle or from reversing into a car, motorcycle or shopping trolley. These new features are called Blind Spot Detection, Lane Keeping Assist System and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. A Tyre Pressure Monitoring System is also standard on Optima '3'.

Blind Spot Detection is able to monitor over a range of 70 metres, and alerts the driver who is about to change lanes when a vehicle or motorcycle is approaching from behind in an adjacent lane. Initially this is in the form of a warning signal in the relevant side mirror, but if no action is taken the symbol starts to flash and is accompanied by an audible alert. It works at speeds above 10mph.

The Lane Keep Assist System performs the same functions when the car starts to drift off its intended course, even if there are no other vehicles around. This is particularly helpful if the driver starts to become drowsy at night, or after too long a period behind the wheel. By reading lane markers in the road, the system spots when the Optima is veering off course and warns the driver via visual and audible signals while applying steering torque which keeps the car straight.

Meanwhile, the Rear Cross Traffic Alert combines with Blind Spot Detection to warn a driver who is at risk of reversing into traffic passing behind. When reverse gear has been selected the system looks around for lorries, vans, cars, motorcycles and even shopping trolleys passing transversely across the back of the Optima and issues visual alerts in the rear-view mirrors, plus an audible warning. It can detect a car approximately 20 metres away, a motorcycle 15 metres away and a pedestrian with a shopping trolley 10 metres away.

AUDIO BY INFINITY

Optima '2' and Optima '3' models come as standard with a premium 12-speaker Infinity sound system. The deal continues an 11-year relationship between the prestigious American company, which is part of the Harman group, and Kia Motors. Infinity is world-renowned for delivering superior sound reproduction and unsurpassed clarity.

A powerful 11-channel, 550W amplifier and advanced Digital Signal Processing (DSP) fill the cabin with authentic sound reproduction from the radio, CD player or external sources such as an iPod or MP3 player using the built-in AUX and USB ports. Far from being an off-the-shelf application, the DSP was programmed using proprietary Infinity software to contour the listening experience to the acoustic characteristics of the Optima's cabin.

The 12 Infinity speakers are positioned in eight locations around the car. In the front there are three-way component speakers - each individually run off their own amplifier channel - which consist of 16mm cloth-domed tweeters, 80mm mid-range speakers and 160mm woofers. In the rear of the cabin there is a pair of door-mounted 160mm coaxial speakers with 19mm tweeters, while a 100mm mid-range front centre speaker helps to provide a rich and realistic three-dimensional sound stage. A 200mm dual voice coil sub-woofer, mounted in the rear shelf, handles the low-frequency effects for a tight, punchy bass.

ALL THINGS MECHANICAL

The Optima was conceived with the needs of the motorist very much in mind.

With a highly-efficient and ultra-refined diesel engine and six-speed transmissions; a chassis tuned to deliver comfort and stability on high-speed motorways with precision and agility on narrow, twisty roads; powerful all-disc brakes and quick steering, it is at home anywhere. Kia engineers have also worked fastidiously on the car's NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) to ensure that the Optima is a relaxing and quiet car on the long, journeys regularly undertaken by drivers.

The 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine

Kia's 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel engine develops 134bhp at 4,000rpm and 325Nm of torque (239lb/ft) from 2,000-2,500rpm. It delivers class-leading performance for an engine of this capacity, matching the outputs of larger units from rival manufacturers, with outstanding driveability.

The engine was engineered at Kia's European research and development centre in Germany and features high-pressure common-rail fuel injection for maximum efficiency, and a variable geometry turbocharger to enhance low-speed driveability while ensuring strong top-end power. Measures to enhance efficiency include an overrun alternator decoupler and an innovative battery management system.

All manual versions feature Kia's EcoDynamics fuel-saving, CO2-reducing measures, including Intelligent Stop & Go. Automatics have a Drive Select Mode featuring three modes: Normal, Eco and Sport which alter the transmission shift timing, throttle mapping and steering wheel weighting accordingly

The manual can achieve 57.6 miles per gallon, with CO2 emissions of 128g/km, while the figures for the automatic are 47.1mpg and 158g/km. Acceleration from 0-60mph takes 10.2 seconds in manual versions and 11.5 seconds with automatic transmission, while the respective top speeds are 125mph and 122mph.

Six-speed transmissions all round

The manual and automatic transmissions in the Optima are six-speed units engineered to complement the efficiency and torque characteristics of the CRDi diesel engine.

The manual is a slick-shifting unit with the forward gears arranged in a double-H pattern and reverse to the left and up, selected by first raising a collar around the shift lever. Long gearing for the higher ratios and optimised software for the gearshift advisory system help the driver to get maximum fuel efficiency with no loss of driveability.

The automatic has Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive positions in a straight plane, with the manual override to the left. Pushing the lever forward in this position changes up a gear, while pulling it back causes the gearbox to downshift. There are also paddle-shifters mounted on the steering column.

New with the 2014 Optima fitted with automatic transmission is Drive Mode Select. This offers three programmes - Normal, Eco and Sport - which alter the shift timing, accelerator mapping and steering weighting according to which has been selected. It also features innovative Neutral Control, which shifts the transmission from 'D' to 'N' when the car has been stopped for a few seconds, reducing the load on the engine and, therefore, fuel consumption.

ISG and Active ECO

Kia's Intelligent Stop and Go (ISG) system fitted to manual versions of the Optima turns off the engine when the car is stationary in traffic and the driver puts the gearlever into neutral and releases the clutch pedal. The engine restarts immediately as soon as the clutch pedal is partially pushed.

ISG consists of crankshaft position, battery and vacuum sensors plus neutral, on-off and clutch switches that feed into an electronic control unit. This operates the ISG starter, intelligent alternator and cluster. The air conditioning units and bonnet switch also feed into the ISG ECU.

The crankshaft position sensor measures the crank angle during engine run-out and monitors it while the vehicle is stopped, ensuring the starter is activated for as short a time as possible by optimising cranking and combustion. The battery sensor monitors the battery condition and temperature, while the clutch and neutral switches recognise when drivers wish to continue driving and ensure the engine is started. There is a brake booster pressure sensor to make sure the engine continues to operate if brake boost falls too low.

A new heavy-duty maintenance-free AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) battery delivers the power necessary to run the system, and intelligent alternator management reduces drain on the battery while accelerating and recharges the battery when coasting and braking. The system has been engineered not to stop the engine during warm-up from a cold start or if the air conditioning system is working hard. Drivers can also manually turn off the ISG system through a switch on the dashboard.

Running gear

The Optima has been tuned and set up to be comfortable, stable, precise and agile whatever circumstances it is faced with.

This ideal balance of ride comfort and adroit handling starts with the incredibly stiff body shell featuring almost 60 per cent high-tensile steel plates. The suspension is based on subframe-mounted MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, with coil springs and twin-tube gas-filled dampers all round. It is an arrangement which provides ideal wheel alignment and body control even under high cornering loads, with good suspension travel and supple damping over a typically broken B-road surface. The Optima is extremely stable in crosswinds or when suddenly changing lanes on the motorway, ensuring the car always remains under the driver's complete control.

Front suspension weight has been kept to a minimum, while side-loading springs reduce friction and improve the ride quality. At the rear, the coil springs have been separated from the dampers to disperse the input load more effectively.

There are large disc brakes on all four wheels, ventilated at the front, with anti-lock (ABS), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, giving the car emergency stopping power in all conditions, regardless of the force applied to the pedal by the driver. The Optima also comes with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), which maintains brake pressure for two seconds after the driver releases the pedal to ensure smooth transitions on inclines.

The Optima is fitted with Kia's Motor-Driven Power Steering (MDPS), which brings approximately three per cent fuel savings because it only draws on engine power when the car is turning. MDPS is able to provide greater assistance at low speed for parking, with a firmer, weightier on-centre feel when travelling more quickly in a straight line. It requires just under three turns from lock to lock for a tight turning circle of only 10.9 metres.

NVH

Comprehensive measures to counter NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) ensure that the Optima meets the exacting standards demanded by drivers. The stiff bodyshell again provides an ideal platform for this, while the low drag co-efficient of 0.29 brings about significant improvements in wind noise.

New alloy wheels - 17 inches in diameter on the entry-grade model and 18 inches on all others -give the car an added air of sportiness. They are stiffer than those on the previous model, which contributes towards improved levels of NVH. Along with dynamic dampers added to the rear crossmember, additional sealants on the dashboard and upgraded carpeting, they help to reduce noise in the cabin by 3.3 decibels.

MANUFACTURING AND THE ENVIRONMENT

European versions of the Optima are built at the Hwasung plant in Asan Bay alongside the Sorento, Kia's large SUV, and a number of models which are not exported to the UK.

Hwasung is Kia's largest plant, with a production capacity of 600,000 cars a year. It opened in 1989 and production began in 1991. Hwasung is also home to a 200-acre proving ground with 16 driving courses, opened in 1993, and it houses an employee sports centre, giving the 12,000 workers and their families access to gymnasiums, swimming pools, squash courts, weight-training and community facilities.

In recent years Hwasung has undergone major changes to improve the quality of production processes and the cars leaving the factory gates. The improved quality has been recognised by the American publication Consumer Reports.

Constant efforts are also being made to minimise the plant's effect on the environment. There have been major initiatives to increase recycling, reduce the amount of pollutants and waste in the production process, lower greenhouse gas emissions and cut air pollution through more eco-friendly production systems. Energy-saving measures have also been introduced and Hwasung has sent no waste to landfill since 2008.

Improved paint facilities have been installed and every aspect of vehicle production has been scrutinised to ensure the plant uses less energy and produces less waste. Water and power consumption, dust, CO2, contaminants and waste volumes per vehicle have all been reduced.

Kia has made reducing the amount of raw materials being fed into the production process a major priority in each of its production facilities around the globe. The last few years have seen significant progress in reducing waste, increasing recycling and developing cleaner production processes.

The overall waste generated by Hwasung is under constant review and a number of programmes have seen dramatic improvements. Recycling has increased and now stands at well over 90 per cent. Exhaust pollutants from Hwasung - dust, NOx and SO2 - have also decreased dramatically.

New technology is playing a significant part in environmental improvement. Typical cast melting furnaces produce large amounts of dust, and contained within this is a high proportion of zinc. The captured dust is treated and the zinc extracted before being re-used within the production process.

Pump invertors have been fitted to coolant and collectant pumps to control the rpm according to load. This has led to energy savings of around 4,000 tons of CO2 per year in Hwasung alone.

Another simple energy-saving process has been implemented within Hwasung's huge and complex air conditioning systems. A fixed amount of heat was supplied, regardless of the outside temperatures, to some areas of the plant. Using smart control units, the fans now run to supply heat only where and when needed.

More technology is being employed in the machining shops where gearboxes are produced. Compressed air is used as a coolant when machining intricate gearbox internals, rather than cutting oil, helping to reduce oil use to less than half of one per cent.

The green landscape around each facility is an important part of each plant make-up. One ongoing programme is based on a number of ecology gardens which are filled with trees and plants resistant and also sensitive to environmental changes in air pollution. This has the added benefits of providing a more comfortable environment for the staff and local population and offsetting some of the CO2 output from the facility.

These gardens are continually monitored since they act as real-world indicators of air quality. Each site is broadening the green patches in and around its compound and constantly monitors air pollution in neighbouring communities. A monthly task for each facility is the 'One Stream Clean-up' programme, where Kia cleans and maintains local, natural streams. This is not only to monitor cleanliness but also to keep them maintained for the local communities to enjoy.

The overall effect of the many green initiatives has resulted in Hwasung being officially recognised as an eco-friendly worksite by the Korean Ministry of the Environment.

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