While many automakers insist on relegating Bluetooth to top trims, the Optima looks like quite the deal for those who want to stay connected. All Optima models include USB audio inputs, Sirius Satellite Radio compatibility, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, voice and steering wheel controls. And with the EX, you get Kia's new Microsoft-powered UVO system, which will bring expanded voice control of audio players and smartphones.
Advanced voice controls, Bluetooth connectivity standard
We had the chance to get a brief tour of UVO features and appreciate—as we do with Ford's Sync—the flattened command structure, which would allow you to, say, quickly request a different song from the iPod while you're in the middle of following navigation directions. However, that leads to one of the significant equipment issues: you can't yet get UVO and the navigation system together. Due to the separate way in which the systems were developed—UVO through Kia and Microsoft, and the nav system by the parent company in South Korea—they simply don't play with each other at this point, though Kia expects to soon have a solution. If you do opt for the nav system (packaged with the upgraded audio system), you get a the same Bluetooth system that base Optimas have—by Parrot instead.
Inside, the Optima LX includes cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering, a cooled glovebox, and 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks. A roomy trunk and low, flat floor completes this very travel-friendly package. Stepping up to the EX gets you push-button start, a smartkey system, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, a power driver's seat, auto up/down windows, a Homelink garage-door opener, and upgrades to illumination and trim. On SX models, there's an upgraded gauge cluster, black leather woven seat trim, French seams, steering-wheel paddle-shifters, and lighted scuff plates.
Just as with other models from Kia, expect to see the Optima price about the same or slightly less than rival base models, yet with more standard features. Our best guess would be that the loaded EX Optima we drove prices in the $26k-$27k range.
All in all, this new, more exciting Optima no longer feels like a stripped down sedan delivered explicitly for those who need low monthly payments. It's a genuine rival to more engaging mid-sizers like the Mazda6, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion, and less so to the Hyundai Sonata and the understated Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu.
Kia in recent years has carried the tagline 'power to surprise' and has been building increasingly good products. This time, we were ready for a full-on personality change, but the brand delivered an even better car than we expected. Count us, again, as very pleasantly surprised.