Downgrading upgrades delight.
CHANGES of environment proved revelatory this month. I jumped into an Optima Si for the first time, and spent a couple of weeks in it while my GT was thrown into a Wheels mid-size megatest.
Stepping from GT to Si spec is officially a downgrade, but I was much happier in the ‘base’ Optima than I expected to be. The two-tiered line-up means the Si isn’t a base model in the sense of basic equipment level. At $34,490, it’s mid-spec Camry money, and this is a Korean after all so I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover how much gear it has.
I appreciated still having a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers and sat-nav. And it’s nice to know that autonomous emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights and a tyre-pressure monitor are still part of the deal.
The Si is a decidedly conservative-looking package, and the first suggestions that this is no flagship are the lack of a smart key and start button. That said, I think the steering column barrel still makes a logical place to slot your key.
You also lose the GT’s Harman Kardon audio, powered driver’s seat and sunroof, as well as the blind-spot detection, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert systems, but that’s fair enough.
Finally, there are no heated and ventilated seats, but I think they’re less necessary with cloth trim than leather. And I like cloth seats because you don’t slip around on them in corners, though they’re not as kid-friendly as leather.
The Si’s steering wheel doesn’t feel cheap or anorexic, and there are still paddle shifters, which is great. The column-mounted electric motor-assisted power steering detracts from feel, which isn’t a GT strong suit anyway, while the transition to mainstream 215/55R17 tyres from the GT’s adhesive 235/45R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 3s adds to ride comfort and removes very little in the ’burbs.
The Si, which at 1585kg weighs about 65kg less than the GT, gets different gear ratios from first through to fourth (they’re slightly taller) and the 241Nm atmo 2.4-litre four has enough low-rev torque that it goes just as well as the 2.0 turbo GT in the city. Both have enough for the job, yet neither tickles the senses.
While the megatest’s results will be revealed in a forthcoming issue, suffice to say that when the Kia Optima GT is put on some of NSW’s best country roads, where it’s possible to give it a hustle, well… let’s just say it becomes a very different machine to the one I know.
Optima by name, not by economy
Based on official ADR figures, the fuel consumption of my Optima GT is similar to that of the Si courtesy car I’ve had this month. The lighter and less-powerful entry-level sedan uses 12.0L/100km on the combined cycle, which is about four percent better than the GT. I didn’t cover enough kilometres to get my own definitive Si figure. However, the GT’s megatest duty served to confirm my suspicion that it is thirsty among the mid-size alternatives, even when being driven out of the city.
Kia Optima GT
Price as tested: $43,990
Part 4: 1263km @ 13.6L/100km
Overall: 2850km @ 13.4L/100km
Date acquired: February 2016