Korean brand Kia wasn’t always known for building stylish and aspirational sedans. But that changed with the introduction of the all-new Kia Optima for the 2011 model year. Though the design is now in its third year of production, it still manages to look fresh, and we suspect the current Kia Optima will be one of those rare cars that looks as good in the driveway 10 years on as it does now.
Kia wants to build an Optima for every buyer, too, from the affordable LX trim (priced from about $22,000) to the fuel-efficient Optima Hybrid (rated at 34 mpg city, 39 mpg highway) to the turbocharged, 274-horsepower Optima SX. Truth be told, all deliver reasonable fuel economy, with base LX models returning 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and the turbo models rated at 22 mpg city, 34 mpg highway.
The most frugal model is the Optima Hybrid. The drivetrain uses the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine found in the LX and EX models, with an electric motor between it and the car’s six-speed automatic transmission. Don’t expect Toyota levels of refinement on the Optima Hybrid, though, since the car isn’t always smooth when engaging the electric motor. Achieving anywhere near the published fuel economy requires careful driving--not always wise in the real-world environment of tailgating SUVs.
We like the fact that most Optima models can be ordered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, since manuals boost the fun factor of any car. Ride quality can be on the firm side; together with the car’s independent suspension and nicely-tuned electric steering, the Optima comes across as more sporting than its sibling the Hyundai Sonata. In fact, the Optima is more engaging than most sedans in its price range, giving buyers one more reason to add the brand to their candidate list.
The Optima comes with a surprising amount of feature content, in all trim levels. Even the high-volume EX models get features like dual-zone climate control and keyless entry, with available options like a panoramic sunroof and an Infinity audio system.
Interior design is best described as “modern minimalist,” but we mean that in a positive way. There’s no clutter in the cabin, and the controls sweep toward the driver to give a cockpit-like feel. Base models come with seats wrapped in sturdy fabric, while more upscale Optimas get leather seating surfaces.
Front seats provide generous head and leg room, though the seat bottoms are a bit short for long-distance comfort. Rear seats deliver a reasonable amount of leg room, but head room is somewhat compromised by the sloping roofline that's part of the Optima’s design appeal. We like the fact that the Optima offers heated seats to both front and rear passengers, an option sometimes missing in cars costing two or three time the Kia’s price.
The 2013 Kia Optima is a safe car, too, with 2012 models earning top safety scores from the NHTSA and the IIHS. Though 2013 models haven’t been tested, there are no significant design differences between the two years, so the latest models should perform identically.
For more details, see the full review of the 2013 Kia Optima on our sister site, TheCarConnection.