Happier with less

Downgrading upgrades delight

JAMES WHITBOURN

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 Ďbaseí Optima than I expected to be. The two-tiered line-up means the Si isnít a base model in the sense of basic equipment level. At $34,490, itís mid-spec Camry money, and this is a Korean after all so I shouldnít 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 itís nice to know that autonomous emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights and a tyrepressure 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 GTís Harman Kardon audio, powered driverís seat and sunroof, as well as the blind-spot detection, lanechange assist and rear cross-traffic alert systems, but thatís fair enough.

Finally, there are no heated and ventilated seats, but I think theyíre less necessary with cloth trim than leather. And I like cloth seats because you donít slip around on them in corners, though theyíre not as kid-friendly as leather.

The Siís steering wheel doesnít 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 isnít a GT strong suit anyway, while the transition to mainstream 215/55R17 tyres from the GTís adhesive 235/45R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 3s adds to ride comfort and removes very little in the íburbs.

The Si, which at 1585kg weighs about 65kg less than the GT, gets different gear ratios from first through to fourth (theyíre 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 megatestís results will be revealed in a forthcoming issue, suffice to say that when the Kia Optima GT is put on some of NSWís best country roads, where itís possible to give it a hustle, wellÖ letís 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 Iíve 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 didnít cover enough kilometres to get my own definitive Si figure.

However, the GTís megatest duty served to confirm my suspicion that it is thirsty among the mid-size alternatives, even when being driven out of the city.

OurGarage

KIA OPTIMA GT

Date acquired: February 2016 Price as tested: $43,990 This month: 1263km @ 13.6L/100km Overall: 2850km @ 13.4L/100km

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