Tom Crosby: Optima changes little, keeps attractive look

Tom Crosby

Tom Crosby

The Kia Optima mid-size sedan competes in the most popular car segment against renowned sales heavyweights such as Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Chrysler 200 and Kia’s corporate sibling, Hyundai Sonata.

Last year the Optima received a significant upgrade and 2015 changes are relatively minor. Cruise control buttons on the steering wheel were shifted to the right side and Kia’s UVO eServices, the company’s infotainment and telematics link, was upgraded to add functionally when linked to a driver’s smartphone.

We tested the Optima SX, rated above the EX and LX but without the muscle power of the SX Turbo or the luxury of the turbo-powered SX-Limited. Using Eco drive mode, we averaged 27 miles per gallon. Adding a $4,600 Premium Technology Package boosted safety with blind spot detection, rear camera display, upgraded audio plus creature comforts like heated/cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats and improved navigation features. Optima, with uni-body construction, handled well and traveled comfortably on 18-inch wheels using independent McPherson front struts and multi-link independent rear suspension. The direct-injection engine mated smoothly with the six-speed automatic transmission.

While not sluggish, the SX doesn’t possess the power quickness of the turbo injection engines, which provide more thrill and satisfaction for highway maneuvers. Cargo space is adequate and tire sealant replaces a spare tire to conserve space and reduce weight. Rear visibility is hampered by the rear roof pillars but somewhat offset by blind spot alerts. Government crash testing resulted in a top overall crash safety score of five stars, even though front seat side crash vulnerability received only three stars. The stylish inside design boasts easily read gauges and easily reached controls [although voice-activation reduces the need to take your hands off the wheel]. Comfortable seats with stitching complement better than average cabin materials and the upgraded voice-activated UVO eService is impressive.

New functions include geo fencing, driving score, speed and curfew alerts — all valuable tools when monitoring a teen-ager’s first sole forays behind the wheel. Once hooked up, drivers can stream music, navigate to a Point Of Interest [POI], and perform vehicle diagnostics, all with the use of voice commands.

The Kia Optima’s profile has some panache with character lines and a slightly rising beltline that concludes with a broadened trunk above dual chrome tipped exhausts. The front air dam is bracketed by fog lights beneath a broad iconic Kia grill.

LIKES: Price, features, mileage, interior, looks, handling DISLIKES: Lack of power, hampered visibility

BOTTOM LINE: Optima deserves a comparative look by any serious mid-size sedan buyer

Base price w/destination fee $26,615 ($31,310 as tested)
Vehicle curb weight 3,327 lbs.
Wheelbase 110 inches
Length 190.7 inches
Width 72.1 inches
Engine specs 2.4-liter, Inline 4-cylinder , DOHC
Horsepower 192 hp at 6,300 rpm
Torque 181 lbs.-ft. at 4,250 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic w/Sportmatic
EPA Rating 23 mpg city/34 mpg highway
Range 18.5-gallon tank, regular
Performance 0 to 60 in just under 8 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.

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