February 24, 2012

2012 Kia Optima SX

Your Turbo Powered Camry & Accord Alternative

Base Price: $26,500
As Driven: $31,600
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder Turbo, 274hp
Transmission: 6 speed Shiftable Automatic
Curb Weight: 3,385 lbs.
Wheelbase: 110 in.
MPG Rating: 24 city/ 35 highway

The Optima was redesigned for 2011 and is no longer a bland family sedan.  The Optima’s updated styling and powertrains have put it at a level that outperforms the Camry and the Accord.  The pillars of the family sedan class both have V6 options that don’t produce as much horsepower or mpgs as the Optima’s turbo-charged four cylinder engine. 

                If you’re looking for a family sedan and have become tired with the usual contenders, then it might be time to do a hamster dance.  Don’t buy the Soul, just do the dance.

Interior
                The seats of the SX are leather and the bright highlights are “sport cloth.”  If this was a European import, someone would have been trying to sell “micro-fiber” to us.  90% of the seats are leather and the sport cloth is an accent. 
                The steering column tilts and telescopes.  There are a number of steering wheels that tilt, but the ones that telescope are the ones we love.  If you possess unnaturally long legs like us, then you understand exactly what we’re talking about.  You have to move the seat all the way back to placate your legs, but then your arms are too short to reach the wheel.  Telescoping steering wheels solve this dilemma, making everyone more comfortable. 
                The instruments and gauges were easy to read and navigate.  We were able to reset the mpg meter and trip computers quickly and efficiently.  We wished there was an option for a digital speedometer and that when we set the cruise, there was a digital readout showing the exact speed selected.   We’ve never used two trip computers and have always wondered who does.  Shoot us an extensively long email if you do.
                 The rear seat has a decent amount of legroom, 34.7 inches. That’s 4 less than Camry and 2.5 less than Accord. With the driver’s seat in the position that was comfortable for all of us, there was still space between our knees and the driver’s seat. 
                The headroom in the back is noticeable, like when you notice that the hotel bed doesn’t have as much room as your king bed.  We especially noticed it when we had to sit in the middle with our feet on the hump; there was a neck cramp.  The outside rear seats are recessed and heated, while the middle portion should be reserved for individuals under 5 ft. 

Exterior
                We love the look of the new Optima.  From the side its length starts to look like an A6.  From the front it has an accented black grille with chrome outline.  The Optima also has side vents just in front of the driver and front passenger doors. 
It has Xenon headlamps that are very bright white.  The fog lamps are regular yellow bulbs.  We vote for one way or the other, bright white or regular yellow, not both.  The headlamps say that Kia is trying to fit in with the cool kids, but the fog lamps suggest they can’t quite afford to yet.  This is one of the very few drawbacks that we found on the Optima.
To offset the Xenon blubs at the front, there are LED taillights at the back.  LED’s will last forever and look very modern and stylish right now.  We can’t wait to see how people react to LED’s in 15 years, but they’re futuristic enough that they still might be up to date.
                There are a number of different wheel options with the Optima, but we loved the 18” tires with alloy luxury wheels.  The 8 spokes were the equivalent of the strong silent type.  
                There are six different exterior colors which is the same as the sport model of the Camry and one less than the Accord.  We really liked the color that we test drove, which Kia calls Titanium.

Tech
                The infotainment center was a touch screen and easy to use.  The navigation comes with SiriusXM Traffic, keeping you out of congestion.  The Optima has voice-activated commands similar to the Sync system from Ford.  Kia’s system is called UVO and is powered by Microsoft.  A drawback with the infotainment center is its “one function at a time” approach.  You have to push the button of whatever feature you want to see.  There isn’t an overview screen.
                The front seats have heated and air conditioned seats.  There are two settings each way.  Two for heat and two for cool.  Our test drive used the heated seat the entire time.  30®F and windy demands heated seats.
                With the premium package that gets you the heated seats, you also get power adjustments for the front passenger seat.  Showing that Kia understands that even though you just dropped 30 grand you want the front passenger (probably your wife) to know that you care about their convenience.
                There are two memory settings for driving position, so no more crunching your knees into the steering column after your wife drives your car.  In fact when you turn the Optima off, the driver’s seat moves to the full back position to aid in easier exiting.  That is a feature that should make the passenger behind you a little nervous, since it will now be a race for them to get out before the seat traps them in. 
                The Optima comes with a Smart Key.  As long as it’s in your pocket, the car will unlock or lock on your command.  Kia’s Smart Keys have to be in the vehicle for the car to operate.  You can start the Optima and get out, but unless the key is in the vehicle; it’s not going anywhere.  Already we feel safe in the Optima.
                There are six airbags in the Optima, driver and front passenger, side curtain for everybody, but only side impact for driver and front passenger.  At this point, there should be side impact for the rear passengers too.  It seems like someone’s just trying to save a little money, when clearly the technology already exists. 

Performance
                The Optima comes standard with a 2.4L four cylinder engine, but you can move up the models to a 2.0L four cylinder turbo-charged engine that turns out 274 horsepower.  There are a number of engines with the same displacement, but few of them are getting as many horses as the Optima’s.  Both Honda and Toyota have V6 options for their family sedans and neither makes as much horsepower as Kia’s turbo charged little four banger. Even the Audi A6 base model makes 211 horsepower out of a 2.0L turbo-charged four cylinder, and the Audi uses the more expensive premium fuel.  We’re not sure who Kia paid off to get this kind of magic out of their engine, but it’s definitely worth it.  The 0 to 60 time for the SX is 6.5 seconds, which is quick for a family sedan.  
                The Optima gets around 22 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway.  During our trip with the SX we averaged 30.1mpg.  There is an “Eco” button on the steering wheel.  This button is there to control when the automatic transmission shifts.  With the button engaged the car will be trying to maximize the valves, timing, throttle, and the mpgs.  It is noticeable when you turn off the “Eco” button; the SX gets quick and the mpg numbers take a dive.

                Overall we liked the Optima.  As you come down from the SX model, the suspension becomes less sporty and the powertrain becomes way less powerful.  The price drops accordingly, but the SX was the most entertaining model.  There isn’t an all-wheel drive option, but the front wheel drive should be enough, unless you live in Northern Minnesota.  The cargo volume is acceptable and rear seat room was great.  The Optima is definitely a car to put on your list if you’re in the market for a family sedan.  We still lean towards waiting for the 2013 Ford Fusion, but that’s just us.

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