Vehicle Comparisons

Kia Optima

Kia Optima

This much improved version of mid-sized Kia's Optima model may look familiar, but the developments are in the details. Developments that help the Kia Optima knock on the door of the best medium executive car club.

The Kia Optima, their Mondeo-sized medium model keeps its handsome looks and grows in stature, with the main improvements made to this second generation version targeting refinement, interior style and space. There's also now a Sportswagon estate derivative and even a plug-in hybrid option. Overall, with this much improved model, Kia aims to challenge the best medium executive car market leaders and even worry a few of the more premium players.

The first thing to acknowledge is that the Kia Optima has lost weight, shedding up to 65kg. The 1.7-litre diesel engine on offer in mainstream models now produces 139bhp, while low-end grunt has been improved by an electronically controller turbocharger to deliver 340Nm of torque at lower engine speeds. That's an increase of 15Nm over the old model, resulting in fractionally quicker acceleration times of just under 10 seconds from 0 to 62mph for the manual and just under 11 seconds in the automatic. There has been a marginal increase in top speeds as well, with the auto transmission variant topping out at 126mph. That auto is a more efficient twin-clutch DCT gearbox. Kia has also developed a petrol/electric hybrid model with a 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine mated to a 50 kW electric motor. Total power output for the package is 202bhp.

You can also talk to your dealer about a minority-interest flagship sporting GT model which gets a 242bhp 2.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol unit. All excellent for one of the best medium executive car

With all Optimas, by stretching out the wheelbase, stiffening the body with 'Advanced High-Strength Steel' and upgrading the suspension, Kia have sought to improve handling dynamics, while an updated and repositioned electronic 'Motor-Driven Power Steering' system should offer more feel at the helm. One of the biggest criticisms of the outgoing Optima was an unsatisfactory level of refinement. Kia engineers have been focussing on Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) innovations to reduce road, wind and engine noise, stiffening the body to avoid vibration and rattles, and improving the seals and insulation around the car.

Despite losing weight, the revised Kia Optima has grown in every direction, affording even greater rear legroom than before - though that wasn't really an issue in the earlier model. Luggage capacity of the saloon version has increased by 5 litres to 510-litres. This is still far short of the VW Passat's 586-litre total and even the Ford Mondeo's 541-litre figure, but it's a step closer. Alternatively, there's a Sportswagon estate body style offering a 553-litre boot.

The exterior styling of the Kia Optima is a very subtle evolution from the last model, designed very much to be taken seriously by European car buyers. The dashboard is spread along a more horizontal plane and a wider central console, creating a greater sense of spaciousness. The material quality is significantly improved, with a far higher proportion of soft-touch materials. The central fascia is angled 8.5 degrees towards the driver, with the upper 'display' zone housing a smarter 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and lower 'control' zone offering fewer buttons to manage the various cabin functions not already built into the touchscreen.

This much improved Kia Optima may not look much different from the outside - but then the outside was the one thing that didn't really need changing. What required improvement was the plasticky interior, the gutless engine and the inefficient automatic transmission option and all these issues have been duly dealt with in this enhanced model, putting it further up the ladder of the best medium executive car market. It'll also help that there's now a Sportswagon estate body style and clever plug-in petrol/electric hybrid technology.

In summary, there's much to like here. Affordable pricing, a spacious appealing cabin, high levels of equipment, a smooth DCT auto gearbox and the longest warranty in the class are all big draws. In short, Kia has rejuvenated its offering in the best medium executive car segment.

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Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen Passat

The eighth generation Volkswagen Passat dials up the finesse still further and looks to build on its predecessor's phenomenal success as it aims to be in the market as the best medium executive car.

The Volkswagen Passat is a strong proposition in its eighth generation form. Spacious and stylish with a range of economical diesel engines and an all-wheel drive 240PS flagship, the Passat builds in a host of high-tech features but still majors on ride quality and cabin refinement.

This is the section where we normally muse about power outputs, steering feel and how a car handles, but none of that is really that germane to a discussion on the VW Passat. Here, it's all about refinement and ride quality. Not a lot else matters. With that in mind, we were quite surprised to find Dynamic Chassis Control (a function that alters the steering weighting, the sharpness of the throttle response and the firmness of the suspension) on the options list. It seems a bit 'evo magazine' for the Passat. The manual gearbox has evolved into something Volkswagen is rightly proud of, although a DSG twin-clutch still seems a more natural fit for the Passat. As ever, the 17-inch wheel and tyre set will offer better ride comfort than the stiffer-side walled 18-inch rubber.

Big sales of the Volkswagen Passat depend on the 2.0-litre 150PS diesel engine and it's a unit that's respectably refined, doing its best work between 2,250 and 3,500rpm with precious little in the way of vibration or diesel rumble entering the cabin. The 1.6-litre 120PS diesel isn't quite so impressive, but graduate further up the range and you'll find a 190PS 2.0 TDI and the range-topping all-wheel drive biturbo 2.0-litre, good for a hefty 240PS. There's even a GTE plug-in petrol/electric hybrid model offered. If you need some modicom of off road capability, then you might want to consider the 'Alltrack' estate version, which mates the 150PS and 190PS 2.0 TDI engines with a higher ride height and 4MOTION all-wheel drive.

The difficulty in attracting drivers away from the likes of BMW and Audi is that you need your product to offer all the attractions of a BMW and Audi but at a more competitive price, a key to being in the best medium executive car game. That includes looking as expensive as these brands, which is something the Passat has often struggled to achieve. Not anymore. At least not from the outside, where the latest VW Passat looks sleek, chiselled and polished, with head and tail lights that emphasise the car's width.

In fact, the latest Volkswagen Passat is a touch shorter but both lower and wider than before and with 79mm more built into the wheelbase, there's more space in the cabin. The dashboard is a good deal more setsquare than before, although Volkswagen would probably call it 'architectural'. It now features a big central screen and a set of optional digital 'virtual' dials. The seats, as in most Volkswagens, initially feel unyielding but are supremely comfortable over longer distances. Three adults can fit in the back too. The boot measures an enormous 586-litres (up from 565) while the estate gets even more, with 650-litres available under the tonneau (up from 603).

The formula for the success of the VW Passat is one that the manufacturer has very carefully tweaked and perfected over the last 42 years, but it's really been since the launch of the 1996 fifth-generation car that the Passat has found its niche. This current car offers more finesse, higher tech options, some eminently sensible financial propositions as well as a real cracker of a flagship to act as the halo product, all good stuff in the best medium executive car.

Would you buy a VW Passat over a 3 Series or an Audi A4 though? A few years ago, the answer would only have been positive if you needed to haul a serious load of photocopier spares or, if you were a private buyer, you were on the leisurely side of the retirement threshold. These days, the Volkswagen Passat is a more aspirational item putting it in the best medium executive car marketplace. We like that. Volkswagen does too if orders are anything to go by.

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Skoda Superb

Skoda Superb

The Skoda Superb seems a very complete best medium executive car in its third generation guise, looking sharp and tilting at some big names.

The Skoda Superb features a smarter suit, a slicker chassis and better engines in MK3 model guise. This time round, the weird twin-opening hatch is replaced by a more conventional rear aperture but there's still more space inside than in some London starter homes and the pricing remains sensible.

Skoda's been dipping into the almost unlimited largesse of the Volkswagen Group to bring us some mouth-watering engine and gearbox combinations with their latest Skoda Superb, aiming at the best medium executive car. There was a time when Skoda was just given the cast-offs, the engines that were in the final years of production, while Audi and VW got the shiny new technology. That's not the case any longer, with the Superb getting petrol engines like the excellent downsized 124bhp 1.4 and even a monster 2.0-litre turbo with 276bhp, four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch DSG gearbox. In between those extremes, petrol folk get to choose between a 148bhp version of the 1.4-litre TSI unit and 218 and 280PS 2.0 TSI variants.

Go diesel and you're looking at 148bhp and 187bhp 2.0-litre TDI engines with six-speed manual or DSG 'boxes. Both of these engines are also available with all-wheel drive options. Dealers will also take orders for a super-frugal 118bhp 1.6-litre GreenLine version emitting just 96g/km of CO2. A plug-in hybrid like the VW Passat GTE is also on the cards. Adaptive dampers are an option and the adaptive drive mode can also adjust the weighting of the electrically-assisted steering. The torsional rigidity of the chassis increases by 12%, yet weight is down by 75kg for a body-in-white, due to the strategic use of high-tensile steels where required. The clever MQB chassis, which underpins the Volkswagen Golf and Passat, is used here in its longest guise to date.

The big news? That 'Twindoor' dual tailgate, where you could lift the metal part like a boot or raise the whole thing like a tailgate, has been ditched. Though this very clever piece of design had become a bit of a Superb hallmark, it was heavy and customer feedback suggested that it was of marginal benefit. That's why this latest Superb has a far more conventional hatchback mechanism. The styling of the MK3 model looks a whole lot sharper than before, with clean surfacing and crisp angles. It mirrors the style of the latest Fabia, which ditched the curves for something a lot more architectural.

After the bold exterior, the interior feels a bit safe in its aesthetics, but there can be few complaints about either quality or space. At 4,861mm long and 1,864mm wide, the third generation Superb is 28mm longer and 47mm wider than its predecessor, while the 2,841mm wheelbase is 80mm longer, allowing for greater space within the passenger compartment. Rear legroom is frankly ridiculous. For a vehicle looking at being one of the best medium executive car, it's vast in the back. The boot is 30-litres larger than before, at 625-litres, expanding to a cavernous 1,760-litres with the rear seat backs folded. If this still isn't big enough, you'll need to talk to your dealer about the estate version. Here, there's a 660-litre boot, expandable to an impressive 1,950-litres when the seats are folded.

The Skoda Superb looks the part as one of the best medium executive car, making it ever easier to convince those whose car views are at least a decade out of date that a Skoda deserves a place on your shortlist if you're in the market for a medium-ranger. Compared to a Mondeo or a Mazda6, a Superb represents a very different take on the theme. The Mazda is a pin-sharp drive, the Mondeo tries to blend size and sprightliness, but the Superb makes no real pretence at sportiness, instead offering a reassuring heft and vault-like build quality.

Above all, the Superb delivers space, and that's a quality you can never really have too much of in the best medium executive car market. Why? Because it's the one attribute where more mainstream marques can really land a telling blow on the premium badges. A BMW 3 Series or a Jaguar XE is never going to be able to offer as much space inside as a Skoda Superb. It's just not remotely viable, so for those who need something cut from more generous cloth, give the Skoda the once over. It's slick, presentable and, yes, simply clever.

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