Forgettable, in [almost] every way
Not exactly a duet you’d want to hear the late Natalie Cole do with her dad, but that’s the first impression the Optima left on me. When I first sat down in the driver’s seat on a dreary Friday afternoon, I thought, “Wow, no way this thing costs over $25,000”. After a little research I learned this was the bare bones “FE” model (iron Optima for the Chemists on here?). It had no power seats, no sunroof, nor new tech stuff other than lane change assist (LCA) notifying the driver of approaching cars on either side.
The first impression wasn’t good to say the least, but after a “spirited” quick downhill entrance to the interstate, it grew on me a little. It’s road manners were very similar to the 2018 Camry from a few months ago, but with a little less maneuverability on the corners.
The 185hp 4-cyl was surprisingly adequate for it’s 3200lb curb weight and I wouldn’t change a thing about the 6-speed automatic. There’s an optional 7-speed DSG transmission, but that is only for the LX 1.6 liter turbo versions. Oddly enough, the ‘upgraded’ 1.6 liter engine has 7 fewer horsepower and base price is $1800 more, but fuel economy improves by 4mpg city and 3mpg highway.
The light color interior of this example has seen better days in it’s 25,000 miles, but thankfully light colored interiors are soon to be a thing of the past in our fleets worldwide. Make way for the black leather seats in most vehicles in the next model year. The seats were only ok for comfort since there’s only 6-way manual adjustment options and a 2-way power lumbar.
It’s hard to believe unless you see it for yourself! The big lever on top moves the seat up and down, the smaller one behind it reclines the seat up and down, and the little button below and in between is the power lumbar. That’s right, to move the seats back and forth it’s necessary to lift up the metal bar below your knees and do a sit-down version of the Boot Scootin’ Boogie to move the seat forward, but the lumbar is power operated. That’ll just be one of those “why on earth” questions for a Kia engineer.
The trunk was a good size at 15.9 cubic feet, but easily more if the collapsible rear seats were utilized. There was a very dim trunk light and the 40% left and 60% right side seat releases. The recent Impala and Maxima really spoiled me on sound deadening in the trunk as rear tire and road noise was noticeably louder in this Kia.
The back seats were very basic with no extra lighting or even rear facing A/C vents, but I thought the contrasting light and dark colors looked pretty good.
Below the a/c vent was only 1 of 2 blank buttons in the car, which is a small miracle since this is the base model. As I was driving to return the Kia, the LCA system was beeping incessantly because I had my left turn signal on, but I was slowly approaching a stoplight. There was another car approaching in the turn lane to the left of me setting off the warning. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but could get annoying if you do a lot of downtown big city commuting. If it gets to be too much, there’s a clearly label defeat button above the fuel release.
The center stack was well labeled and pretty basic. I was surprised how sensitive the sensor were in the passenger seat. I had maybe 4 lbs. of yoga clothes and towels and the chimes wanted me to buckle up, so I did. I know my readers will rest easy tonight knowing my sweaty wet clothes and towels were safely buckled in. At engine start up, the default screen changed from the SiriusXM favorites to the above screen. That didn’t seem practical as I don’t think many people want to set up options or add a phone every time they got in the car. I really liked the options of the A/c controls with the clear labeled face only / face and feet / feet only / defrost buttons vs. the ‘mode’ button that seems to becoming more commonplace.
I have the worst luck EVER when it comes to getting good windshield wiper blades. That’s why I instantly noticed the Optima had the best windshield wipers EVER! The blades were flawless (must have been nearly new) and the motor was even super quiet. I could write a separate blog about wiper blades with all the brands I’ve tried.
The center console area was generic as it was just hard plastics, but the opening to the right of the gear shifter was perfect for a phone. The cubby above the gear shifter was perfectly labeled for the USB, aux, and 12V outlets. Why do so many manufacturers think it’s needed to keep these hidden and unlabeled? The drive mode defaulted to standard at engine start up and could be changed to ‘sport’ or ‘eco’. I used eco just once since it seemed like I was pulling a 5th wheel when activated.
As if we needed more proof that steering wheel buttons are the wave of the future, the Optima FE has 8 buttons and 4 up & down switches on the wheel. The 4 analog gauges and center digital screen were very easy to read in all light, but the trip computer and fuel economy took some trial and error to display. The windshield wiper stalk was brilliant. The delay wiper setting was displayed on the front as far as short or long delay, but was adjustable in the front or the back of the switch. That made it much easier to grasp with my thumb and forefinger to set it right the first time.
This is a tough class to compete in and every carmaker has to put their best foot forward to even get noticed, much less excel. The Optima was competent, but except for the unique ignition off/exit music, I won’t remember much about it next month. BUT . . .
. . . after typing 1200+ words about the Optima, I’m reminded how far it has come in barely over a decade!
Things of note:
MSRP can go as high as $37K for the plug-in hybrid. This sits at a tad over $22,500.
Achieved a typical 29 mpg within the EPA stated 25CITY/35HWY.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
The Optima could be the perfect incognito vehicle. This base model doesn’t do anything particularly well, it doesn’t have polarizing style at any angle (but at least it has SOME styling compared to the sterile 2005 model), but that doesn’t matter to most Kia buyers. I hope I can meet an Optima owner and ask them, “why did you choose it?” That conversation would likely end instantly with “price”, but I’m curious to know if it’s more than that. I’m fully aware I’m in the 1% of the population that is car obsessed and the vast majority of car buyers and renters only care about the name plate, 4 wheels, and a good heater & air conditioner. The Optima is a fine choice for those that can’t tell the difference between a Camry, Malibu, Accord, Fusion, Sonata, [Mazda]6, and Legacy. If the pricing is right, get a smokin’ hot deal on a demonstrator model and you’d probably be satisfied for 100K miles. I wouldn’t rent the Optima again unless a 245hp SX model was available.
Kia if you’re listening . . .
The Sportswagon sold overseas looks great and wouldn’t be a huge seller here, but that could be a cult-like vehicle with a K900 engine and 19″ wheels. What Kia from the past has been a ‘must have’?
On a scale from 1-100: (1- never again / 100- every time)
Buy it now – 25
Buy it later at half the current price – 85
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 30
Oooh and ahhh factor – 25
Recommended to rent – 55