First Drive: 2012 Kia Optima 2.4 in the UAE

First Drive: 2012 Kia Optima 2.4 in the UAE

Kia, besides its sister-concern Hyundai, has been in a phase of rapid evolution over the past few years, rolling out several new models which are far superior than their predecessors and strong contenders to the current competition. One such new vehicle from the stables of Kia, is the all-new 2012 Kia Optima. First introduced in the UAE through an official media drive-event during late 2010, the new Optima has managed to gain respectable popularity in the mid-size segment solely due to factors such as affordability, build quality, value for money and visually-appealing designs. Nevertheless, it is still underrated when it comes to comparisons against its overpriced Japanese competitors.

Sourced from a local car rental agency, we joyously managed to secure a brand new 2.4-litre Kia Optima which only had 27 km on the odometer. Our “basic” 2.4-litre Optima never really felt basic in many aspects. It came with the usual power options, electrically-foldable power mirrors with LED indicators, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls for cruise, audio, trip computer and eco-drive mode, paddle-shifters, manual a/c with rear vents, 6-speaker audio system with AUX, iPOD and USB connectivity, 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, dual exhausts, and a rear boot-lip spoiler. Where the basic Optima really felt “basic” though, was in case of safety features – which only comprised of a single driver-side airbag, seat-belts with pre-tensioners, and nothing more – not even ABS. However, the higher trims do receive upto six airbags and ABS with EBD.

The new Optima however, do score when it comes to styling, which is more European in nature. With sharp edges, angry looks complemented by Kia’s signature grille, and perfectly blended side and rear profiles, the Optima boasts very good road presence. The interior design is notably inspired by some well-known European marques. The centre-dash faces the driver, and all controls are well within reach. The basic 2.4-litre Optima comes with soft-touch materials on the upper-dash, front armrests and door sills. Apart from that, hard plastics have been used elsewhere. The quality of materials used and fit-and-finish seem very good.

The seats in the Optima are mildly bolstered and very comfortable. There are rear a/c vents for the convenience of the passengers in the back, who would also enjoy very good legroom and above-average headroom, which may become an issue only to those who stand taller than Burj Khalifa. Rearward visibility is hindered by a small and weirdly-shaped rear windscreen – parking sensors are a definite requirement, as parking turns out to be a tough task otherwise; that said, the top trims get rear sensors and a rear view camera too. The a/c performed well in outside noon temperatures hovering at 34 degrees, with rear vents closed and despite occasional pounding of the accelerator. The audio system has a relatively lower volume levels and bass even at maximum volume and maximum bass settings, but the sound output was crisp nevertheless. It also supports AUX, iPod and USB connectivity. There is storage box under the centre armrest and two cup-holders in the centre console with a sliding cover. The storage space in the front doors also has provision for holding small cups or cans. There are storage spaces in the rear doors, one in the centre console behind the gearbox and one in the centre dash with anti-slipping surface – an ideal place for your mobiles and bunch of keys.

The levels of refinement in the new Optima are nothing class-leading, but on par with the overpriced segment leaders, who now lead only because of brand monopoly. The interior is generally on the silent side, with wind and road noise creeping in at 110 kph – we were in the middle of a severe dust storm at that point though. The engine noise is hushed up well, with the engine being heard only when the accelerator pedal is pushed to the floor. With commendable low-end power though, flooring the gas is a rare requirement.  Despite the rough weather, the car was surprisingly stable even at its top possible speed of 220 kph – an aspect where the Japanese triad have always failed to impress.

The 2.4-litre engine in the Optima is similar to the one found in the Sonata, with 178 hp and 231 Nm of torque, and mated to a 6-speed tiptronic transmission. However, the engine seems to be better tuned for action in the Optima. Even as the Optima takes about 9.6 seconds to 100 kph without the air-conditioner running, it does “feel” a lot quicker than the Sonata throughout the rev range, due to the superior low-end and mid-range power. Gearshifts are seamless and when left in drive mode, mostly does the job right, unlike the confused unit in the Sonata. There are paddle-shifters for manual shifts which very responsive, but red-lining is beyond question as the car upshifts automatically just before the tacho hits the red zone. There is also an “Eco” drive mode activated by a small button on the steering wheel, which aids in better fuel-efficiency as it forces the vehicle to remain in higher gears for as long as possible. Fuel efficiency, as registered by the trip computer is 10.7 litres/100 km, without “Eco” mode.

The best balance between ride comfort and optimum handling has never been the forte of Asian car manufacturers, but Kia now seems to contradict that myth. While the body roll is moderate at most, the Optima has very good grip levels, surpassing all the usual Japanese competition while only falling behind a handful of cars like the Mazda 6 and Ford Mondeo. Surprisingly enough, the ride quality has not been compromised even by a wee bit. There is no floaty feeling while riding over humps, and no harshness while negotiating rough roads and potholes, which makes the new Optima a very comfortable place to be in for long travels, as long as you don’t opt for the larger alloys with low-profile tyres.

The new Kia Optima comes in as strong contender in the hotly contested mid-size segment, giving a never-before stiff competition to its rivals. While their most affordable basic models still skimp out on safety tech, the overall proposition is hard not to recommend. If you are not brand-biased, and on the lookout for an affordable mid-size family sedan that is more value for money, the Optima should be among the top in your wish list.

Photos by Vivek Menon.

What do you think?



  1. Excellent writeup. I too noted these points, the Koreans skip the airbag to reduce price, atleast front 2-airbags should be mandatory. I think anyone would shell out additional 500-1000 dhs for those. And those low profile tyres, they do bring in road noise into cabin. I have now noticed that in two – three different model of cars compared to standard tyres. My friend got a civic, he says he regrets changing the stock rims and tyres to bigger smoked stylish ones with low profile tyres, he feels although there is better feedback from car, the ride is slightly bumpier and road noise has increased. Now I am not sure if a good branded low profile tyres have better noise reduction, because lot of expensive cars do have very thin tyres, may be somebody who owns a BMW or Tahoe with big alloys and thin tyres, can throw light on this.

    • I have got a 750Li, 21 inch rims, low profile tyres
      Its pirelli P1 tyres, each one cost like 3500 dhs.

      The road noise is zero I would say, even at 160 kmph it feels like 60 kmph, BUT the comfort is compromized

      Every pothole is strongly felt! especially at higher speed, it feels like my bumper broke off or something

    • Low profile tyres due to the low sidewall (which in turn equates to less air to cushion you) will definitely turn your ride harsh.

      In some cases, a suspension upgrade (Bilstein or something premium) will get rid of those. But it is totally dependent on the total wheel size (rim+tyre size) on your car. If your car comes with stock 18″ rims and you upgrade to 20″ rims and tyres with shorter side wall, a suspension upgrade may help.

      But, if you opt for 22″ rims with rubber band type tyres, nothing will help you.

      And be warned.. once you get the rattles started, even changing back to normal tyres wont help you much. It takes a lot of work to get the car quiet again.

      How do I know? Personal experience… (unfortunately).

      I would suggest you opt for fancier looking rims of the same size and wider and taller tyres. This will close the gap beautifully. Throw in black rims, and they wont look retro.

      That’s what I did in the end.

    • Thanks all for the valuable & true feedback & info on low profile tyres.

  2. As stated, the low end power is good enough for a quick acceleration and smart paddle lever which works even in auto mode incase u need a shift up/dwn. cruising is very smooth with Rpm below 2000 at 100kmph n the gear shifts are smooth too.

  3. to Royer: The quality of tires used makes a BIG difference. swap-in for some michelins and see the difference.
    true that Low profile tires reduce comfort, but less on good tires.

  4. The problem is that Korean do compromise too much on safety level, ABS is a must now, the basic toyota yaris comes with ABS, instead of fancy electronically folding mirrors on a base model, they should have put abs, optima and sonata were on my shopping list recently but that disappointed me frankly

  5. Thin Tires i have used 3 brands of thin tires on a BMW road noise highest was with pirelle second best was Bridgeston the best was Michelin.

  6. What i dont get is, how come all car makers, not only the koreans, give all the safety features associated with a car to other markets except the GCC. Simple cos i dont think most ppl stop to look, they are more content with “is there sunroof”?. Ask any salesman, he will tell you, with sunroof, without sunroof.

    • Very true. Car manufacturers cant afford to compromise on safety, irresppective of the fact that customers are ignorant to these much needed features.

      Good writeup vivek.

  7. I agree that here in GCC sunroof is more important than airbags. However, Kia took this a little further by putting only one airbag. Its emabarrasing. Not everyone has little safety education.
    ABS and 2 airbags are basic safety features these days, even for a entry level trim.
    I tried the Optima out of curiosity and didnt impress me. I remember that the top version came quite expensive too.

  8. Best midsize car in the middle east

    • No Guys, their is no such thing as best, all cars are best, you just need driver skills to drive a vehicle, so its upto driver how he can drive a car in comfort mode or sports mode.

    • v6turbo

      when i’m buying a car, i buy on what is best for me…(stylewise, performancewise, budget, etc.)

    • Thanks Marydoll, exactly this is what i have been trying to tell at may articles in forums, hopefully some people will understand.

  9. Best looking car in its segment

  10. Get the 2.0 litre Kia Optima Sx TURBO GDI & the hybrid, you will be amazed its the best car currently. After dat post here

  11. there are no GDI engines offered by KIA here in Dubai

  12. well ABS n airbags n ESC all comes optional and varies with the options set by dealers i believe. i have a very strong reason to believe so.
    hyundai sonata has GDI engine standard in kuwait.
    Kia in kuwait has MPI engine but wen inquired they told me i can get a GDI engine on request but i was late. my Optima came with 2 airbags and abs but full option has 6 or 8 airbags abs n esc too.
    also note some optimas in gcc comes with cruise control n audio control on steering wheel but here base models dont have tat some even don hav cc n bluetooth.

    • Yes, the dealer chooses the specs. The factory just makes them as per dealer orders.

    • The base model “does” come with cruise control and audio controls on steering wheel. what I tested was the basic 2.4. as per kia’s website, even the 2.0l variant, which is only available in one trim that matches the 2.4 basic trim in all features and specs, has all of it.

  13. Knowing that the dealer chooses the specs, I wonder if they do some market research asking the consumers or they do it just by comparison with the competition?
    No offence to enybody, if Kia sells cars without ABS and 2 airbags in 2012 that tells alot about what they think about the safety education of the buyer.
    I had a look and in the USA, Optima come as standars with 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD etc.

  14. Here in kuwait i have noticed that the base Model is really BASE-LESS with respect to saftey in almost all Asian cars. some stoped giving trims n sells only full options.
    AS of the kia optima there r surprises in the full option model- heated n cooled seats, heated steering, navigation systems, infinity audio, panaromic sunroof.
    also notice the Accelator pedel, organ type is more comfortable.

  15. i checked the kia optia recently and indeed it looked very good, but a top line for AED 98k v AED 101k for a toyota camry …. hmmmmmm

  16. In Oman.. these new 2011/2012 kia optimas are found having common problems of very poor air conditioner cooling on higher rpm/acceleration only & dead on still state.. also due to heat lots of fuel smell as if theres a leak, the panoramic roof fabric opening problems, eco mode doesnt help only feels worsening.ecomode infact even in new picanto worsens

    • Tim…
      well few things i noticed…
      the Ac compressor goes off on hard accelerations like many cars but this car is a bit more sensitive to ur foot. and get ac checked cuz my car has better cooling than camry n altima.
      Dont start the ac with full fan speed, start with the lowest fan speed n aft a min switch auto…
      the eco mode is good with light footed driving style, especialy at cruising. if u try to accelerate quickly with eco mode, its a lose-lose situation.
      eco mode reduces the sensitivity of the pedal and keeps the gears at highest possible so u can cruise at low engine RPMs.
      at the end of the day its more fuel economic than camry even without eco-mode

  17. what the diffrenet between kia optima full option 2012 and 2013 ???

  18. Vivek,How much did this Optima cost you per day? The rent a car opp. My house is quoting me 200 AED per day and 3500 for a month. Thats kinda expensive isn’t it?
    Dunno though if its 2.0 or 2.4,asked him twice on the phone but he instead started shouting “0km 0km” so i gave up.
    Can you also write down the number of this rental agency cause im gonna take the Car tomorrow.

    • I had taken it for just 130 km / day..its a 2.4L…and it was a “0” km car too :-D…I dont hv the number of the agency; i vaguely remm the name as Tiger Rent a Car…its one of the shops on the rent-a-car street after mobile roundabout (heading towards boat r/a), in sharjah..

  19. guys is there any changes between the optima 2012 and 2013 full option? i want to buy a car but im not making up my mind its between kia optima or nissan altima .. any suggestions ?

  20. Whats the price of the model just above the base model? Does it have a passenger airbag, ABS, EBD etc. Can these safety options be opted on the base model? Please help

  21. I was planning to go for optima full option. I have checked with dealers in dubai and currently there is no stock.

    does any one have any negetive feedback about this vehicle. I love the car for its looks and the features it provides.

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