So you want a smart 3-series BMW or a swell Audi A4, but you cant afford the precious price tag. May I suggest the Kia Optima.

Kia has a great designer named Peter Schreyer, who was poached from Audi, just after he shaped the design for the well regarded Audi TT.

As chief design officer at Kia, his visionary magic has transformed a lineup of vehicles that used to be mediocre boarding on morose. Now you can’t find a dog in the lineup.

His most recent ah ha moment comes with the redesigned 2016 Kia Optima.

I test drove the Optima in SXL trim. It’s the top of the line model, and it’s loaded. The spread sheet of standard features includes heated steering wheel, heated and cooled seats, smart cruise control, premium Nappa leather seats, panoramic sunroof, 18” wheels, HID headlights and more. The total price is $39,430. You won’t be parking your body in a loaded Audi, BMW or Benz for that price.

So surely there must be some sort of deficiency at that price? A stifling driving experience, chaotic controls or a has- been design. Nope, it’s all pretty ducky.

I poked around one Sunday afternoon looking for backdrops to shoot photos of the Optima. I explored the area around Valley Inn Road, where a new rail line is being added to accommodate expanded GO service to Hamilton. It’s a lovely spot where the bridges cross the harbour near Carol’s Point, and work by the RBG continues to restore wildlife habitat. I parked the Kia and was surprised to see a little motorcycle

racing action happening on the frozen harbour. Guys on dirt bikes were drifting around their improvised oval ice track on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

You can’t take a bad photo of the Optima, it looked handsome next to the icy bay, and then I moved to the less then glamorous location at the former CN station, now LIUNA on James North. In behind and down a ramp, I posed the Optima in front of the old freight sheds. Even there with the deadly dull buff brick and brown doors as a backdrop, the low, sleek Optima brightened the scene.

The mid-size Optima is a model of slip-stream efficient design. There’s not a line, a grill, a headlight that seems poorly conceived. My last photo locale was with the Ferguson Street RR bridge as a backdrop, where the arch of the bridge paired nicely with the sweep of the Optima roofline.

So it looks good-how does it drive? The Optima is powered by a 4-cylinder turbo that produces a very sprightly 245 horsepower. The lively response makes it fun to drive on the highway and just as well suited for city duty. Handling is composed, with good road feel, and suspension tuning gives the Kia a deft ability to buffer the effect of hammering over our crumbling streets. Steering has the proper weight-that is, it’s not sluggish, but not twitchy. Though you can shift gears yourself with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, the automatic transmission does an efficient job moving through the six gears without interference.

No rattles or vibration intrude into the quiet cabin and Kia has done a good job of mimicking the luxury appointments of your well dressed German sedan. While I appreciate simplicity, everything inside the Kia I tested was black, the leather seats, and the dash it sets a somber tone. A bit of

wood trim, or some contrasting stitching would add a splash of energy.

Like most Kia’s and Hyundai’s I’ve tested, the stuff that could drive you nuts, doesn’t. Pairing the phone is easy, finding music on an iPod is simple, chugging through menus for other vehicle settings is logical. Other technologies for the driver are there including blind-spot detection, smart cruise control and 360 camera-monitoring which aids parking in impossible spots. If you can live without these driving aids you can save thousands in a lower trim model and still have a very fine car. As for fuel consumption, we averaged about 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres driven, on the highway Kia claims the Optima would average 7.4 L/100 km.

The Kia Optima is winning design awards, and is a consistent top pick of auto journalists in the mid-size sedan category. If you can get beyond brand snobbery of its German rivals, the Optima has all the same fixins’ at a cheaper price.

Written by: Kathy Renwald

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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