Kia’s faithful association with the Southern Group took a further welcome step in August at Longcross Test track. The facility goes by a number of other names such as Chobham Test Track, and its history dates back to World War 2, from when it was used as a tank testing and training course. Motor manufacturers have used it consistently when they require a track close to London with its copious room for dozens of cars and journalists. These days however it’s most frequently used as one of the nation’s many ‘Driving Experience’ venues, and none the worse for that, though in my experience the surface can – as it always did – throw up some alarming changes, especially on the infamous Snake section, where leaves and the occasional patch of oil require a driver to be well awake.
2015 is a very busy year for Kia in the UK. They’ve already launched the all-new Sorento, the new Picanto, Rio and Venga; and main event yet to come is the launch of the all-new Sportage. They had brought most of this now considerable range for us to try, so the Optima and Picanto, which I certainly hadn’t occupied recently, were for me top of the list. The Optima isn’t their biggest seller, nor would Kia – traditionally renowned for their value-for-money products and legendary 7-yr warranty – expect it to be. We were impressed with the amount of kit that’s provided as standard in the Optima, and taking it away from the Longcross confines into the rarefied atmosphere of nearby Ascot and Windsor, it looked quite at home. Unexpectedly for a range-topper the Optima is a diesel only choice, but it’s no slouch and if you haven’t tried it recently you’ll soon realise it’s a massive step up from its ancient ancestor, the Magentis, provided of course you are of an age to be able to remember that one.
Dave Randle and I actually spent most of our time in the Picanto offerings – the economic area that attracts many Kia buyers. Here’s a car that in these days of downsizing fits town car requirements admirably, and it coped well with the rougher sections of Longcross tarmac, though once again we gave it time along and around the A30.
Over a quality buffet lunch Southern group members talked of their memories of the Longcross track, and expressed welcome surprise at its continuation and in most respects the lack of apparent change. A really interesting day, thanks to Kia, and for us southerners an easily reachable venue. And thanks a bundle too for the ice cream van!