When the Kia Optima gets noisy just turn up the remarkable music system…


I’ve clocked up several hundred miles in the Optima already and have concluded that 1.7-litre diesel engine is quite capable enough of moving such a big car sufficiently well.

There is, of course, only one engine choice – no 2.0 diesel, or even a petrol. And while the Optima feels okay around town, it runs out of steam overtaking at speed. You will have to work the six-speed gearbox to achieve anything useful.

Noise levels are acceptable but once the turbo has kicked in, the Optima starts to scream when you push it along.

The answer? Do what drivers have been doing for decades in this situation, turn up the stereo. The Kia strangely boasts a heavyweight, bass-booming hi-fi that wouldn’t disgrace a supercar. Bizarre.

Car leather just ain’t what it used to be but we HAVE to have it…


I wonder if one day, drivers will start to shy away from leather upholstery and opt for some plush, fabric materials instead?

Car-buyers naturally assume that a luxury car interior HAS to be covered hide. Of course, nowadays you can spec up just about any budget runabout vehicle with leather if you so desire.

The Optima has a leather interior but it’s not soft, lovely and good to the touch. It’s the sort of leather you would get in a jacket bought from the Portobello Road Market, rather than in a swish Belstaff.

Personally, I’d rather Kia improved the lifeless steering response and given the diesel engine a bit more power, and stick to fabric interiors instead…

Why does my Kia Optima want to welcome me into the cabin with a snatch of annoying Europop music?


Remember that annoying little jingle that used to come with the Intel Pentium? Every time we had a computer advert on TV, it blurted out and became stuck in our minds.

The Kia Optima has a pointless jingle – except it’s not part of a television ad but every bloody time you put the key in the ignition. That’s right, this is a car that plays a ditty when you climb inside.

Now, perhaps if the owner could add his or her own piece of music that would be cool. I would go for Fanfare for the Common Man, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Except my Kia in Korea has opted for a four second slice of Europop instead that is annoying the hell out of me after just two days of our test.

I have a friend who is selling Hyundai because he simple can’t cope with the electronic handbrake. I would be slapping my Optima on Autotrader tomorrow just to avoid listening to the music in my Kia saloon….

The Kia what? Can the latest Optima make a name for itself in a tough marketplace?


It’s Saturday and I’ve already covered 400 miles int he Optima. Yesterday, I drove to Goodwood to fly in a Spitfire for a feature that will appear in the Financial Times.

I rather hoped to turn up in an Aston Martin, a Morgan or something terrible British. But time and Spitfire flights wait for no man and so I arrived under the wire in the Optima.

I say that because Kia’s biggest problem is actually getting the Optima out there – people just don’t have a a clue what it is!

So in a market sector dominated by BMW these days (with the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra lagging behind), the Koreans are going to have a tough job raising sufficient awareness of the saloon to get it noticed.

I’m not sure anybody spotted me arriving in the Optima. There’s nothing wrong with the styling but it doesn’t reach out and grab you. I’m not sure I want to blend in the the crowd just yet either…

Subaru BRZ – good for two people but not four


One last fling in the BRZ today. I remember driving the Subaru’s sister car, the Toyota GT 86, and thoroughly enjoying it. The BRZ is a lower spec model and it does feel rather cheap by comparison.

The seats are especially disappointing. Combined with a hard suspension set up they have give my poor back a proper pounding over the last 700 miles.

Access to the back seats is a bit tricky too! It requires pulling the lever underneath the front of the seat to roll it forward. Then another lever on the top left to fold the seat back section forward too.

So, it will actually be a joy for my backside and passengers when the Kia Optima arrives tomorrow. And I never thought I’d say that either…

The Subaru BRZ behaves like a naughty teenager…


It’s the horse fair in Stow-on-the-Wold tomorrow. In days of old, this was a place for people to buy and sell their animals. Now it’s become a giant car boot sale for everything but equine and the locals hate it.

The town is invaded by people you wouldn’t want to sit next to in your favourite boozer. My barber tells me ‘things’ go missing and many shopkeepers just shut up shop for a few days.

Driving a BRZ into the middle of the preparations today raised plenty of eyebrows. The Subaru is no shrinking violet and turned plenty of heads. The styling reminds me of a small Jaguar XK-R – and by that I really do mean small.

Sadly, the sporty looks aren’t really matched by the 197bhp engine. The BRZ makes a lot of noise, wheelspins with even the slightest over-acceleration and behaves like a naughty teenager…

How much play is there in the bonnet fit of a Subaru BRZ?


Windy day in the Lake District – especially if you are 1000ft up Shap Fell on the highest section of the M6 motorway. I could see lorries and vans swaying all over the place.

Quite scary but not as terrifying as noticing the bonnet on the BRZ was moving up and down 5mm or so. Had I inadvertently left it open – was a disaster about to unfold?

I have a fear of this happening after watching the bonnet of a Ford Grenada fold back over the windscreen when I’d just passed my driving test 30 years ago.

So I pulled off the motorway today, only to find the BRZ bonnet was closed but the fit wasn’t that reassuring. Very distracting but a very good method of keeping my speed down!

The Subaru BRZ’s cabin is a noisy place at motorway speeds…


A long day in the Subaru cockpit yesterday. Don’t expect trim quality the same as a Volkswagen – it’s best described as hard-wearing with a dash of flair.

And the cabin can be a noisy place if you are travelling anywhere at motorway speeds. Perhaps that’s why there is noise Bluetooth as standard because you wouldn’t be able to hear anybody anyway!

The driving position itself is perfect. You sit low in the seat and the steering column adjusts for reach and height too. But what’s disappointing are the hi-fi controls. There are no buttons on the steering wheel and even operating the volume is awkward because the dial is too sensitive.

Those back seats are useless for people of any size but they do allow a good deal more luggage space. For a sub £25,000 car, the BRZ is still great value – but if I had to live with one day in, day out, the cabin would no doubt prove trying…

Gentlemen, do not wear high heels in the Subaru BRZ…


It’s a long time since I wore high heels (honest). About 38 years to be exact  – on a crazy skiing holiday to Italy with my school when there was too much snow. Instead of skiing, we held fancy dress parties with the girls and drank cheap vodka. Obviously, too much drink was taken…

I mention this because I can’t believe that women can walk or even stand up in the damn things. So when I saw a lady climbing out of a Mazda MX-5 the other day, I just wondered how the heck she operated the pedals.

She certainly wouldn’t want to be in the BRZ because foot space is tight. If I wear my lightweight desert boots it’s really tough operating the pedals with and dexterity. The Subaru should come with a pair of Vans flats as standard.

That’s my only issue with BRZ driving position. Everything else is perfect. It even has a PROPER handbrake you can pull upright! Imagine that…

The Subaru BRZ is the perfect answer to over-complicated, over-priced sports cars


Let’s get the name out of the way first. BRZ stands for Boxer, Rear-wheel drive, Zenith. Imagine trying to squeeze that lot onto the boot of a cute little coupe?

I think Toyota came out in front by calling their version of the BRZ the GT 86, although neither car is blessed with a memorable moniker.

So we are, starting the first day of another Tory government in something much more exciting than a Mini Cooper S or a VW Scirocco. Not least because you won’t see many BRZs on the road in the UK.

This is a major plus for BRZ owners – their car has novelty value. And because it doesn’t have a turbo, it’s also one of the few, cheap sports cars that gives rather old-fashioned, high-revving thrills.

The BRZ looks full of promise. I’m thinking Mazda MX-5 with a roof. Perfect.