Back in the game

City traffic lowers the bar for our humble sedan

JAMES WHITBOURN

DRIVING a long-termer might seem at odds with the motoring journoís job of testing lots of models, but itís the other cars I drive that give me a better perspective on the Kia.

A recent run of hot-rodded German, Japanese and local medium/large sedans contributed to this monthís low kay-count.

And the halving of torque from 700Nm (Merc C63 S) to the Optimaís 350Nm, with the simultaneous loss of premo-Euro interior finish, would surely be quite a come-down.

Turns out it wasnít too bad, though.

Given a slight adjustment in expectations to account for the fact the Kia costs less than a third of the Benz, the cabin only offended one out of five senses (though I didnít lick anything Ė see breakout). And the Kiaís ride was certainly more forgiving.

Meanwhile, neither the Benz nor the M3 I had for a while made my drive home much more exciting. By the time I wound up the BMWís twin-turbo six, it started to feel antisocial and dangerous, so I ended up in nana mode while getting mildly annoyed by the low-speed ride and shunty dualclutch gearbox. The C63ís burble made the compromises worth it, of course, and theyíre both must-drive thrillers on the open road.

By comparison, the Kia benefits from a torque-converter automatic transmission and not having to overcome the inertia of a beefy engine and drivetrain; it fairly whizzed up to speed in the urban rush-hour zone. It hadnít occurred to me that the 1600kg Korean sedan is actually quite lively until back-tobacking with the Germans.

I canít help but take my old WRX to the office at least once a week. Itís desperately lacking in active and passive safety Ė Iíve almost backed into cars when reverse parking because I half-expect to hear warning beeps Ė but it frequently demonstrates how much less fun cars have become. The lowspeed engine NVH is woeful, but the glaring lack of refinement comes in a reasonable trade-off for the unfailing involvement. Hey, I want to drive, not go along for the ride.

I guess some buyers do just want to be Korean warning an occupant and on that front, if youíve not experienced one for a while, you might be surprised how vault-like a modern Kia is.

The Optimaís doors are heavy, the body feels drum-tight over bumps, which are ridden pretty well, and itís quiet.

By comparison with everything Iíve driven lately, the kids seem miles away from me in the back seat, and a big, solid car is exactly what I want for family duty.

The flipside is that I feel Iím shoehorning the Optima through the urban rat-run I blitz regularly in the Rex Ė the Optima is about the same size as a VZ Commodore, while the tinny, tiny Subie is smaller than a VB.

KIA OPTIMA GT

Date acquired: February 2016 Price as tested: $43,990 This month: 356km @ 14.4L/100km Overall: 1587km @ 13.2L/100km

Making sense of plastic

Taste and smell being interlinked, I wouldnít expect to like the flavour of the Kiaís trim because Iím not a fan of its new-car smell; itís a bit plasticky. Audis have the best-smelling interiors, I reckon, and it wouldnít surprise me to discover thereís a small team at Ingolstadt dedicated to developing fragrant plastics, leather and adhesives. Since Kia has a history of nicking staff from the fourringed maker Ė Peter Schreyer is now doing great work as design chief there Ė they should get those guys on board immediately.