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Best in Class – KIA Optima GT v’s Mercedes C200 – The Results Will Shock You!

A comparison between a Kia and a Mercedes would have been a joke a decade ago.  But now, no one is laughing.  As reviewed by Kris Ashton, Deputy Editor for NRMA’s Open Road  member magazine – July/ August 2016.

“The Kia has the German’s measure in performance, handling, ride comfort, space and ergonomics,” said Kris Ashton

The gap between luxury cars and top-spec ‘regular’ cars is closing.  Take the Kia Optima GT and the Mercedes Benz C200.  They have the same sized engine (2.0 litre turbo four-cylinder), similar outward appearances, and both won their respective categories in the 2015 Australia’s Best Cars Awards. The only obvious difference is the price: the Optima GT comes in a tad under $50,000 drive away, the Mercedes is approaching $70,000.  Given the improvements in Korean build quality, is the $20,000 difference between the two justified?

Comfort & Convenience

The Kia’s seats, front & rear, are better shaped, making them more comfortable than those in the Mercedes, even though the German car has adjustable thigh support.  Both vehicles have heated seats, but only the Kia has front seat cooling, which is a BIG plus in the Australian market.  There is also extra foot room in the Kia.  The Mercedes has keyless ignition, but not keyless entry – a huge omission at this price point.

Space & Practicality

The Optima is a substantially bigger car than the C200, so it has more space where it counts.  its boot is larger in every direction and the back seats offer much better foot, leg & shoulder room.  The C200’s glove box is smaller than the Optima’s and doesn’t open very wide.  However, the Optima’s cup holders come off second best as those in the door pockets do not hold taller bottles very well v’s the C200’s which are unobstructed.

Ergonomics

The Kia has a more upright & comfortable driving position than the Merc although both cars are good for a long stint behind the wheel.  The C200’s door handles are positioned a little too far rearward meaning they are not comfortably to hand when exiting.  The Kia’s simple combination of buttons, dials and a large touchscreen makes operating everything – from the sat nav to the cruise control – a stress-free exercise.  The Mercedes retains its traditional console dial system and has added a mouse-like touchpad on top of it.  Much like the infotainment menu it controls, this system is unnecessarily complicated and a bad case of form over function.

Optima Interior

Safety

While the 2011-2015 Kia Optima achieved a five-star ANCAP rating, the current model has not been tested yet.  The C200 was last tested in 2014 and its five-star rating from that test is still current.  it did exceptionally well, achieving 15.46 out of 16 for the frontal offset test and 16 out of 16 for the side impact, helping it to reach an overall score of 36.46 out of 37.  The previous Kia Optima score was an impressive 35.58 out of 37.

Build Quality & Finish

Both cars impress with rock-solid build quality, and there’s a similar ‘thunk’ when you close their doors.  The Kia’s finishes are excellent however the German car has softer leather, plastics that are a fraction nicer to the touch, and styling accents that lend it more class and elegance.

Performance

On figures alone, one would expect the Kia to have the goods here, and it does.  The Korean has noticeably longer legs for any highway overtaking manoeuvre, although in day-to-day driving, there’s not much difference between the two.  Each has a very useful sport mode that offers better rolling acceleration, and each has an eco mode, which leads us to our next category.

Economy

Mercedes-Benz has been developing turbocharged engines for a long time and this is reflected in the C200’s superior fuel economy of just 6.0L/100km.  The Optima GT, by contrast, claims a figure of 8.5L/100km.  That sizeable difference adds to fuel costs.  The Mercedes partly achieves its victory through stop-start technology, though, which continues to be a love/hate feature among Australian drivers.

Ride & Handling

Kia tunes the suspension of its cars to suit Australian conditions and it makes a difference.  While the Merc’s firmer suspension can feel ‘crashy’ over hot-patched roads and potholes, the Kia takes everything in its stride – in fact, I’d rate it one of the most comfortable sedans on the market. The Optima GT has superb handling and it’s easily on par with the Mercedes when the roads begin to twist.

Refinement

It’s in the details that Mercedes takes the prize for this category.  The engine is a little smoother and quieter (especially when you put your foot down), the window switches are nice to operate, the seat belts feel silky and the click of the lid on the armrest storage box feels and sounds more premium.  Such attributes make a difference at any price point, but with a spend of $50,000, there are certain expectations.  The Optima does not feel cheap, but in refinement it is in 2nd place here.

Final Thoughts

This comparison shows that badge snobbery is becoming less and less justified.  While there’s no doubt the Mercedes has a small edge in quality of materials, mechanical refinement and technology, the Kia has the German’s measure in performance, handling, ride comfort, space and ergonomics.  It also has a 7 Year warranty compared to Merc’s measly 3, and the indicator stalk is on the ‘correct’ side – which, to this Australian at least, is hugely desirable.  During our photo shoot I was asked what my overall choice would be.  I answered, “For the money, the Kia.”  My interrogator shook his head dismissively and said, “Forget about the money.  Which car would you buy?”  I paused to consult both my head and my heart.  They offered the same answer: “I’d still have the Kia.”  Hard to believe, but true.

Key Details

KIA Optima GT

Engine: 2.0 litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Power: 180KW

Torque: 350Nm

Price: From $44,585 plus on roads

Mercedes C200

Engine: 2.0 litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder

Transmission: seven-speed automatic

Power: 135KW

Torque: 300Nm

Price: From $64,354 plus on roads

To learn more about the Optima, you can visit: http://mynrma.com.au/motoring-services/reviews.htm

To Enquire on Kia’s Optima GT and Book a Test Drive from our Brookvale Showroom, call 9941 1208.

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