What do you think of Kia cars? Now, that might seem an odd question given that you’re probably expecting for me to enlighten on you the subject. Well, the reason I ask is because if you’ve always thought this South Korean car maker was a no-hoper, whose cars are predisposed by being designed by a committee, built to a price and interminably dull to drive, then think again.
Those days are well and truly over. What you get now is a car capable of matching the bar set by the Germans, engineered for European roads and styled by people who are automotive visionaries (okay, automotive visionaries might be a bit strong, but there’s not a bad looking car in the entire Kia line-up).
Rather than trying to redefine the market, over the past decade or so, Kia has looked at the competition and then built it better and cheaper. Plus, by slapping a free seven-year warranty on each car they sell, sort of backs up the argument over durability.
The new Optima PHEV follows that same game plan. It’s not the first five-door, mid-sized, plug-in hybrid to have been launched to appease our growing eco-conscious, but it is Kia’s, and at £31,494, it’s competitively priced too.
A handsome saloon in conventional guise, the Optima PHEV also gains some hybrid-specific styling to better its fuel efficiencies. An active air flap up front lowers the coefficient of drag when full engine cooling is not needed, while re-profiled front and rear bumpers also help it cleave through the air more efficiently.
If you miss those, then the blue detailing in the headlights and around the front grille give the game away, as does the badging and a plug-in inlet on the left front wing.
Looking inside, and Kia’s pledge to give their cabins a premium feel cannot be questioned. Its only downfall is the abundance of shinny plastics which, presumably, help Kia achieve the price point.
However, the interior is spacious as ever, and while the boot loses some space (the fuel tank is 15 litres smaller, too) thanks to the addition of the lithium ion battery, it’s marginal enough to be all but unnoticeable.
The instruments receive some EV and hybrid detailing outlining what mode you’re in to, while there’s additional drivetrain info offered via the information screens either directly in front of you or in the centre of the dashboard.
As with most PHEVs, press the start button and there’s little indication that the car’s ready to go, as it defaults to electric drive. If your commute’s less than 33 miles you could conceivably glide there on electricity alone.
You’ll need to be fairly committed to do so; drive it at the 121mph that’s possible with battery power and you’ll significantly shorten that range. Switch to hybrid mode and it’ll mix that battery and electric motor propulsion with the 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine. The combined output of 202bhp makes it the most powerful Optima currently available.
While it doesn’t offer the most compelling of drives, sharp looks, that long warranty and an extensive specification list are appealing enough to make you believe this is a posh car built to a number, rather than just another Kia chasing the pack.
So what do you think of Kia cars now?
Model tested: Kia Optima PHEV
Max Speed: 121mph
Average fuel consumption: 176.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 37g/km
Price: £31,495 (after Government £2,500 plug-in car grant)