Unseen Portents Hammer Air, Water Trembles

The usual place to start with the Kia Opirus is the front. 

The US market had a better grille

Followed by a look around the sides and the back. Most of what is said or thought about the Opirus hinges on its looks (the E-class lights and unfortunate grille) and that it’s no match for anything except a rusted-out E-class on concrete blocks.

Quite neat up close

Such vehicles are Rorschach tests for automotive journalists, aren’t they? The lady protests too much, I say. The car is not assessed very charitably. At least that’s the view on this side of the mid-ocean ridge. The US press gave the Opirus quite warm reviews.

While I won’t say the Opirus is especially excellent it is not especially bad. And I also like the fact these cars exist (like XG350 I didn’t snap last month). Not everyone wants the same executive car as everyone else. Not everyone wants to pay more for a base model 2-litre diesel when you can get a 3.5 or 3.8 V6 instead. Not many do either. Nearly none. We can’t pay too much and claim that firm residuals make up for it all.

Lincoln at the back, Benz up front

Two fat engines. That’s all Kia offered with this body, the idea being the time-worn formula of more car for less money. Such is the weird binary nature of car sales you either rake the table or sell nearly nothing. The ‘more for less’ pitch doesn’t work, as I said, making a mockery of the model of the economic-minded man or woman. You’d think that, all things considered, a low-base price, more kit and the prospect of a decade of comfy motoring would be sufficient to woo 4% of Mercedes buyers out of their habitual groove. Or even to convince 6.3% of Ford/Opel/Renault buyers to trade up from the 1.8 C-D class car to the realms of crypto-near-luxury.

Imagine it in a nice colour.

It doesn’t work like that in Europe where a limited engine range is a bad strategy. This car needed a 2.0 litre diesel and a new grille (just the shiny bits) and then it might have stood a chance.

Leaving aside my second-guessing of the market, personally I really like this car probably because it’s a munter. I like the grey velour trim and the odd mix of influences. I also like austere good taste too (Peugeot 406 in black). For which do I go for were I to force myself to choose between a grey over grey Mondeo/Vectra/Accord or this grey over grey beauty? Well, I think I find myself thinking the Opirus would be a bit of fun and as much of a statement as a red Lamborghini. Some might say the statement was ‘I am an idiot’. You have to be thick-skinned or indifferent if you go for one of these. It says confident but hangs a question mark over the subject of the confidence.

AutoExpress took a rather charitable view in 2003: “Big things are happening at Kia, and the Opirus successfully delivers luxury and comfort on a budget. It may not be the most dynamically capable, but the ride is great for long distances, and the cabin’s a pleasant place to be. Unfortunately, no right-hand-drive cars are in the pipeline, but the Opirus shows what Kia can do.” And they liked the interior: “It’s inside that the Opirus really scores, though, where it offers new levels of luxury and quality for the firm. Buyers want for nothing, with the usual sound system in the front complemented by a centre console in the rear that features a separate television and CD player.”

Road and Track’s review headlines the features and quality. And note “the quality” because if the styling took another generation or two to get right, Kia’s management were spot-cut on the quality topic early on. And today they are right up there, challenging the main marques and (through Hyundai) throwing bags of gloves down in front of Lincoln.

Caranddriver (reviewing the vehicle under its Amanti name) liked the comfort. This vehicle then is very much one of the latter-day barges, driven to exinction like a mammoth hounded into a stake pit by reviewers’ insistance on handling above all. Yes, the reviews were kind about the ride but I think so many other articles create a consensus that liking a soft riding car is almost a reportable offence. Only Rolls-Royce owners are let away with that proclivity.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “Unseen Portents Hammer Air, Water Trembles”

  1. Another reminder of how far Hyundai / Kia have come. Here was a company that knew enough to make a good car, but wasn’t confident enough to give it an identity. There are horrid bits to it (I’d also mention the rear door quarterlight blank) but, as you say Richard, there are a lot of people this would have suited perfectly well, but who bought something more mainstream and expensive and missed out on the Nordic cruise and/or hip operation that the money saved could have funded.

    For myself I admit that I sometimes hanker after cars like this (at one time I had my sights firmly set on a Toyota Cressida, or was it a Carina, or both – I forget) but only at times of extreme self-loathing. Though that reflects worse on me than the car.

    1. Some Cressidas are really solid, plush cars: those circa 1988 (I think). The Carina is another story – never bad but never much more than deeply adequate.
      Hyundai’s XG is definitely better than this. Both are nicer than low-end C-D class cars of the same period.

  2. The similarities with the boggle eyed E-Class are undeniable but the grille makes me think of Lancia’s Thesis (although there are no other shared traits). Not for me though, anything that was influenced by the W210 has got to be disappointing.

    1. Mick: I share your dislike of the W-210. It is notable for me in making me realise I didn’t have to worship Mercedes.
      That said, there’s nothing wrong with dual oval lamps. It is the crumby way Benz slapped them on a big flat surface that was conceived or packaged for square lamps.

  3. They certainly didn’t hide their targets. Apart from the obvious E Class Mercedes, there are hints of Lincoln Town Car, as well as S Type Jaguar. If you ignore the detailing, it’s quite satisfying in profile, except for where the boot and rear lights carry on descending at an angle.

    1. Are we persuaded about the provenance of the ‘wood’? Still, it seems there is nothing quite so egregious as Nissan’s effort on, I think, the second-gen Primera, in which the air vent control markings were moulded into the, er, wood.

      I can’t say I’d ever really noticed it before, but it occurs to me that the basic proportions and shape of these could easily be those of a formal-roof generic GM-mobile from the mid-1980s, updated to take on board the ’90s aero look (especially so in the second photo). But in general, I suspect this, like the XG30, is aimed rather more at domestic market consumption. One wonders if the decision to send it offshore was Seoul’s or the respective importers’.

      As an aside, I recently had the chance to look at most of Kia’s offerings at some leisure. It was instructive because I was obviously aware that they had been making very strong progress on the external side, but I hadn’t really bothered to consider what they had been doing with interiors. I was impressed. There is much more attention to detail than you usually find for a given price point – major shapes and design themes are handled with care, and the effort given to minimising multi-piece, multi-material sections was first-class. The materials themselves were also sympathetically chosen – they might be cost-effective but they don’t feel notably cheap. This is the Soul’s interior – the vents adjoining the doors are a particular highlight for me:

    2. Stradale: presumably Kia are going the extra mile. They have done so on those vents. And the overall execution is very impressive. What they did was the same, in principle, as the R5: one colour for the main moulding and another for the inserts. In this case tan with black inserts. The vents are like a design detail from a Star Wars talkie.
      The Opirus´ wood inlays might not be wood but they look like they could have been.
      Vis a vis wood and function and truth to materials: plastic can look like anything and one “function” of the interior is to look pleasing. And the idea here is that a warm atmosphere is pleasing so “fake” wood is used to form the plastic. The next time I see one of these cars I will try to check if the “wood” is real wood or just convincing.

  4. I ran up past one of these the other week on the highway and just when I started to snicker I saw the man at the wheel and his serene look of comfort and my snicker died on the vine. The car is lacking in many areas that I place importance on. The car looks like the result of a photoshop of several cars getting sent to a 3D printer. Yet it has respectable reliability, highly appointed for its time and has the sort of interior that’s hard to find anymore, all at a bargain price. It serves the its niche well, and in that moment I came to have a bit of respect for it.

    1. Indeed, Dinger, that is my perspective. I don´t want to get all relativist and say *anything* goes (otherwise we´d have no way to discuss taste) but on the other hand, I am really confident this car serves its customers well, as well as a 911 serves its clientele. The Opirus is a likeable old thing and in reference to a conversation I recently, might be nicer to use than to look at: a person I met had two Danish chairs. One was a design classic in the Modern mould and one was much more traditional and “staid”. The owner said the boring-looking chair was the nicer one to use. Something might go for the Opirus which is probably a nice way to get around most of the time.

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