2008 Kia Optima Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

The 2008 Kia Optima doesn't perform as well as other mid-size sedans, but its roomy package and generous features make it a strong practical choice.

In the process of assembling this extensive review on the 2008 Kia Optima, the car experts at TheCarConnection.com consulted a number of different review sources. TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the Optima and bring their experience to this review as well.

The 2008 Kia Optima is a mid-size sedan slotting into the automaker's lineup between the Spectra small sedan and larger, more luxurious Amanti. Redesigned in 2006, the front-wheel-drive Optima sedan carries through into 2008 with both four- and six-cylinder models.

The standard 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 161 horsepower, while the optional 2.7-liter V-6 is good for 185 hp. A five-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic manual shift capability is standard on most 2008 Kia Optima models.

An improved, smoother-shifting five-speed manual transmission is standard on the base 2008 Kia Optima LX four-cylinder model. With the automatic transmission, there's not much of a difference in performance between the two models, except the four-cylinder engine can get coarse under hard acceleration. At 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, its fuel economy is also slightly better than with the V-6.

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The 2008 Kia Optima has a pleasant ride, though larger bumps can be jarring; it also handles well in routine city driving, with a crisp, responsive steering feel, but it doesn't maintain its poise on fast, curvy back roads.

Even though it's a bit shorter overall than many other mid-size sedans, the 2008 Kia Optima has one of the roomiest cabins in its segment, with good backseat legroom and headroom. The big 14.8-cubic-foot trunk has a wide opening.

The base LX comes standard with cruise control, keyless entry and alarm, manual tilt and telescopic steering column, audio system controls on the steering wheel, and floor mats. The 2008 Kia Optima LX V-6 model adds dual exhaust outlets and alloy wheels.

Top-of-the-line 2008 Kia Optima EX models (four-cylinder and V-6 versions) feature alloy wheels, fog lights, solar glass, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, automatic temperature control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, metal door scuff plates, chrome-accent outside door handles, and an Infinity AM/FM/six-disc CD/MP3 premium audio system; the EX V-6 adds dual exhaust outlets. An iPod jack is new for the Optima's sound systems.

The 2008 Kia Optima has top five-star results from the federal government in both frontal and side impact tests, along with a "good" rating in frontal impact and an "acceptable" rating in side impact from the insurance-affiliated IIHS. Standard safety equipment includes front and front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and active front headrests. Anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are available together as a packaged option on all but the base model.

5

2008 Kia Optima

Styling

The 2008 Kia Optima draws a line down the middle of the road and follows it.

The 2008 Kia Optima is a mid-size sedan slotting into the automaker's lineup between the Spectra small sedan and larger, more luxurious Amanti. Redesigned in 2006, the front-wheel-drive Optima sedan carries through into 2008 with few changes.

The ho-hum appearance of the Kia Optima is what Car and Driver describes as "John Doe looks," although Kelley Blue Book attempts to put a positive spin on it, judging it "unobtrusively styled." Edmunds concludes that the 2008 Kia Optima's "styling allows it to blend seamlessly into any automotive crowd." Cars.com, at least, calls it “well-proportioned.”

The interior is not much more exciting; Edmunds reports that "the 2008 [Kia] Optima's cabin is hardly a vibrant environment." ConsumerGuide acknowledges that the available "leather upholstery lacks richness," but says that "it looks nicer than the standard cloth," then adds that "other [Kia Optima] interior materials are serviceable and attractive, but no more than that." Cars.com, on the other hand, makes the following observation: "A relentlessly detailed and fastidiously executed interior that shames pricier cars here? Watch out, Kia has caught Toyota (and others) napping."

In all, the Optima has “nothing in its persona to tempt enthusiasts,” Car and Driver concludes.

6

2008 Kia Optima

Performance

The 2008 Kia Optima may serve you well for the daily commute, but not more than that--and gas mileage is disappointing for a car this size.

If its looks are boring, TheCarConnection.com finds the 2008 Kia Optima's performance to be even more so.

Cars.com reports this year's Kia Optima is "available with either four-cylinder or V-6 power, and states the "[Kia] Optima's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine generates 162 horsepower. Also offered is a 185-hp, 2.7-liter V-6."

Kelley Blue Book notes "the Optima's all-aluminum 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers a pleasant character that is involving for the driver. It offers crisp response and decent power." This source also advises that the 2008 Kia Optima's four-cylinder engine "is so good that, on balance, there seems little justification for either the additional expense or the greater fuel consumption of the V6." ConsumerGuide, on the other hand, has serious criticism about the Kia Optima's four-cylinder powerplant, saying it "matches the feel of the V6 in around-town driving, but it strains to provide highway passing power." Edmunds is almost as critical of the V-6: "Between stoplights the 2008 Kia Optima V6 feels plenty powerful, but that engine runs out of steam as the rpm climb...passing power is adequate but unimpressive for a V6 in this class." Edmunds’ advice: "stick with the base four-cylinder engine, as it provides fully adequate performance while keeping the price tag and fuel consumption low."

Cars.com reports, "Available transmissions include a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic that has a manual-shift mode." Again, there is criticism; ConsumerGuide finds that "with either engine, the automatic transmission's upshifts are occasionally lazy and downshifts can be tardy." Edmunds also observes that the Kia Optima's "five-speed automatic is reluctant to downshift," but adds "there is a manual mode when you want some extra punch."

Despite Edmunds’ advice on the four-cylinder model, fuel consumption for the small engine seems excessive. ConsumerGuide reports that in their tests, "4-cylinder LXs averaged 19.5 mpg with either transmission," while the "EX V6 averaged 19.7 mpg overall, 24.8 mpg in mostly highway driving."

The 2008 Kia Optima has a quite pleasant ride, though larger bumps can be jarring; it also handles well in routine city driving, with a crisp, responsive steering feel, but it doesn't maintain its poise on fast, curvy back roads. Car and Driver acknowledges that the Kia Optima has "good road manners," but adds that its "sporting pretensions still only pretensions...there is nothing in its persona to tempt enthusiasts." ConsumerGuide reports that the Kia "Optima's suspension ably absorbs most road imperfections, though sharp bumps trigger some float and wallow," adding that it's "no sports sedan, but it is a bit more athletic than the similar Hyundai Sonata." Edmunds comes to a similar conclusion: "This front-wheel-drive sedan is...no hot rod, though its responsive suspension and steering make it reasonably fun to drive around town," but "driven aggressively on back roads, the Optima loses that sporting disposition." Kelley Blue Book nonetheless reports that "movements of the steering wheel are rewarded with crisp reactions into corners, body roll is minimal," therefore concluding that "the Optima enjoys a balanced feel, particularly when you consider it's a modestly-priced front-wheel-drive sedan."

7

2008 Kia Optima

Comfort & Quality

For such an inexpensive car, the 2008 Kia Optima is comfortable and fashioned from good-quality materials.

Even though it's a bit shorter overall than many of the other mid-size sedans, the 2008 Kia Optima has one of the roomiest cabins in its segment, with good backseat legroom and headroom. The big 14.8-cubic-foot trunk has a wide opening, too.

Car and Driver reports that the Kia Optima has a "roomy interior...stuffed with people, the Kia proved spacious and well planned." Seats are inviting: "posteriors in front sink into buckets with a cushy top layer akin to a pillow-top mattress"; however, this source notes "side support is wanting." This is also the impression at ConsumerGuide, which says that the 2008 Kia Optima's "seats are comfortable, but they offer little lateral support in turns." Nonetheless, their reviewers report "sufficient legroom and adequate headroom for tall drivers" in the front. Those in the back don't fare as well; while there is "adequate room and comfort for two adults in the back seat," beware that "knee space grows tight if the front seats are far back" and "mediocre headroom is diminished further by the sunroof housing." Edmunds also observes that while "the Kia Optima's cabin is spacious," in the back, "seat bottoms are a little short, offering less support for long-limbed occupants than many rivals' accommodations."

The 2008 Kia Optima does better in terms of storage space. Edmunds reports that "trunk capacity is 14.8 cubic feet, and all Kia Optimas have a 60/40-split-folding rear seat." ConsumerGuide opines that the Kia "Optima's decent-size trunk has hinges that don't intrude into cargo space," adding that there's "sufficient cabin storage with an ample glovebox, door map pockets, and an armrest console."

Edmunds reports that the 2008 Kia Optima's "interior materials as a whole give an impression of quality...[countering] any lack of character with a no-brainer control layout and very good interior materials." Kelley Blue Book is in agreement: "Even in base LX form, the Optima's interior materials rate well above merely acceptable. ...on those cars with leather we were impressed by the leather's tone and its perforated texture."

In terms of noise, Car and Driver observes "the 2.4-liter GEMA engine...mostly hums quietly to itself and winds to high revs without major vibes." ConsumerGuide is less impressed, however: "the [Kia Optima's] 4-cylinder emits a thrashy groan at full throttle...the V6 is noticeably quieter but is less refined than most rivals V6s."

7

2008 Kia Optima

Safety

The 2008 Kia Optima provides good protection for its occupants, but anti-lock brakes are optional.

TheCarConnection.com notes better-than-average safety scores for the 2008 Kia Optima.

The 2008 Kia Optima achieves top five-star results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in both frontal and side-impact tests, along with a "good" rating in frontal impact and an "acceptable" rating in side impact from the insurance-affiliated Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Edmunds acknowledges these as "excellent crash scores."

Standard safety equipment includes front and front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and active front headrests. Anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are available together as a packaged option on all but the base model. ConsumerGuide reports "available safety equipment [for the Kia Optima] includes ABS, traction control, antiskid system, front side airbags, and curtain side airbags." Cars.com adds that "active front head restraints and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard" on the Kia Optima, while "antilock brakes, traction control, an electronic stability system and brake assist are optional."

Kelley Blue Book remarks that the 2008 Kia Optima's passenger cabin "provides a nice balance between outward visibility and efficient aerodynamics"; Consumer Guide adds that "visibility is fine in all directions."

7

2008 Kia Optima

Features

Buyers of the 2008 Kia Optima have many options available in terms of extras, but nothing to surprise shoppers or woo converts.

What the 2008 Kia Optima lacks in personality it makes up for in options.

Cars.com reports that the Kia Optima is "offered in LX and step-up EX trim levels." Car and Driver says the 2008 Kia Optima offers "high standard-feature content [and] lots of standard features." According to Cars.com, "air conditioning, power windows and locks, heated mirrors and a six-speaker CD stereo are standard." The base LX comes standard with cruise control, keyless entry and alarm, manual tilt and telescopic steering column, audio system controls on the steering wheel, and floor mats. The 2008 Kia Optima LX V-6 model adds dual exhaust outlets and alloy wheels.

Those who step up to the EX model will find that "leather upholstery is standard," says ConsumerGuide. Top-of-the-line 2008 Kia Optima EX models (four-cylinder and V-6 versions) feature alloy wheels, fog lights, solar glass, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, automatic temperature control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, metal door scuff plates, chrome-accent outside door handles, and an Infinity AM/FM/six-disc CD/MP3 premium audio system; the EX V-6 adds dual exhaust outlets. An iPod jack is new for the Optima's sound systems.

TheCarConnection.com notes that optional equipment for the 2008 Kia Optima is not in short supply. Options for this year's Kia Optima, according to ConsumerGuide, "include heated seats, sunroof, and power-adjustable pedals." Cars.com comments that the 2008 Kia Optima "can be equipped with some uncommon features for its class -- like a manual sunshade for the rear window...EX models add an eight-way power driver's seat, automatic climate control, a premium audio system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel."

The Optima lacks more modern options such as Bluetooth and a navigation system.

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April 28, 2015
2008 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan I4 Automatic LX

Dependable, low cost.

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I have had no problems with this car. It has been very dependable and low cost to own.
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Styling 5.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 7.0
Features 7.0
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