2010 Kia Optima Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 2, 2010

The 2010 Kia Optima doesn’t have the excitement of its newest small cars, the Soul and Forte, but it does have strong appeal based in practical attributes like interior space, comfort, and value for the money.

In order to assemble the most useful review for shoppers looking for a mid-size sedan, TheCarConnection.com has consulted a wide range of review sources presenting some of the most useful highlights in an adjacent Full Review. And here in TheCarConnection.com’s Bottom Line, editors have driven the Optima and bring firsthand observations, along with pros, cons, and other pertinent information.

The Kia Optima remains one of the most affordable and value-packed—yet anonymous-looking—mid-size sedans, aiming at families who really want a new car despite a tight budget. The Optima continues to favor comfort and frugality over styling or sophisticated technology options, but it keeps its target audience in mind with top-notch safety features. Last year Kia gave the Optima a slight design refresh and a revised engine lineup.

Inside and out, Kia keeps it simple with the Optima’s design. The 2010 Optima has nice proportions as a whole, but up close its details appear a bit derivative, with details picked up from past Camrys, Accords, and the like. Cabin appointments weigh function over form, with chunky rotary knobs and a straightforward instrument panel, let down only by full materials.

There’s only one sensible way to order the 2010 Kia Optima: with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It makes a healthy 175 horsepower, while the optional 2.7-liter V-6 makes just 194 horsepower. With the V-6 a bit heavier, the difference between the two engines is virtually indistinguishable—and the four-cylinder gets better fuel economy (22 mpg city, 32 highway). A five-speed manual comes standard on the four-cylinder models, but others get a good five-speed automatic transmission. The Optima clearly prefers comfort over performance, though it handles well enough for most commuting and shuttling needs. In addition to their price and fuel economy benefits, four-cylinder models ride and handle slightly better than those with the V-6.

Review continues below

The mild redesign received by the Optima last year yielded improved comfort for the already-spacious interior. Front headroom can be tight with the available sunroof, and the Optima still doesn’t have very supportive seats, but it does have one of the roomiest cabins in its segment, with good backseat legroom and headroom. There’s also a big 14.8-cubic-foot trunk that will swallow more gear than most of the Optima's competitors. Up close, cabin materials are a bit dull, but the stark simplicity might be appreciated by some.

Kia hasn’t forgotten about safety in any respect; it has all of the features now expected in a mid-size sedan, and it fares well in official crash tests. Tests from the federal government yield top five-star results in both frontal and side-impact tests, while the insurance-funded IIHS gives the Optima its top "good" rating in frontal offset protection and an "acceptable" rating in side impact protection. Front side airbags are standard, along with side-curtain airbags that cover both rows, and front-seat occupants get active headrests.

Kia typically sells its vehicles with a lot more standard equipment than is typical for the class—making up for the lack of sheer sophistication with an impressive roster of standard features (and few factory options)—and the 2010 Kia Optima is no exception. Items that are normally relegated to top luxury trims—including cruise control, keyless entry and alarm, a manual tilt and telescopic steering column, and steering-wheel audio controls—are all included on the base Optima. The Optima LX, meanwhile, adds dual exhaust outlets and alloy wheels when equipped with the V-6. And at the top, with the Optima EX, you get fog lamps, solar glass, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a leather steering wheel, and automatic climate control. Also included on the EX is an Infinity premium sound system. The top-of-the-line edition basically brings a sportier look to the EX, with metal pedals, aluminum trim, and black leather.

5

2010 Kia Optima

Styling

There’s no way around it—the 2010 Kia Optima is about as bland as can be, in an already plain segment of vehicles.

Inside and out, Kia keeps it simple with the Optima’s design. The 2010 Optima has nice proportions as a whole, but up close it appear a bit derivative, with details picked up from past Camrys, Accords, and the like. A mid-cycle update last year offered a number of mild upgrades throughout, but it failed to change the Optima’s rather drab style. Several reviewers pointed out the Optima’s relative anonymity within the class of four-door sedans. According to Cars.com, the "new face seems derivative of a lot of other cars—the headlights look like a Toyota Camry's, while the interplay between the grille and lights recalls a similar pattern on the new Honda Accord." Edmunds also says that the "styling allows it to blend seamlessly into any automotive crowd," and Autoblog pointedly explains that, with last year’s Optima, while all the sheetmetal is officially new, the Optima "still looks as interesting as white bread." Jalopnik assessed the improvements last year as positive, noting that the Kia Optima is "a definite improvement over the 'only as a rental car' original design."

In the case of the 2010 Kia Optima, you can say that the interior closely mirrors the exterior from a styling perspective, which is to say it’s quite bland. A number of reviewers have lackluster comments about the styling, even though many appreciate its straightforward functionality. Edmunds is quite critical, describing the interior as "hardly a vibrant environment."

Cars.com is one of the few sources to thoroughly compliment the Optima’s interior design, saying, "a relentlessly detailed and fastidiously executed interior that shames pricier cars here? Watch out, Kia has caught Toyota (and others) napping." This source notes details such as the gauges, “framed inside three binnacles instead of a one-piece display,” but admits that "Kia didn't alter the [Kia] Optima's interior as much as it did the exterior.”

6

2010 Kia Optima

Performance

The 2010 Kia Optima meets most minimum standards of performance in a mid-size sedan, but it won’t bring much, if any, excitement.

There’s only one sensible way to order the 2010 Kia Optima: with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It makes a healthy 175 horsepower, while the optional 2.7-liter V-6 makes just 194 horsepower. With the V-6 a bit heavier, the difference between the two engines is virtually indistinguishable.

But seriously, neither engine is going to provide much excitement, and most reviewers make that abundantly clear.

Autoblog mentions that a number of mid-size sedans offer larger, more powerful V-6 engines and calls it "still underpowered in our book.” Car and Driver says the Optima has "Joe Average performance," and ConsumerGuide warns that the Kia Optima with the four-cylinder engine "strains to provide highway passing power." Edmunds, like TheCarConnection.com, advises shoppers to go for the base four-cylinder engine “as it provides fully adequate performance while keeping the price tag and fuel consumption low."

A five-speed manual comes standard on the four-cylinder models, but a good five-speed automatic transmission is standard on the V-6 model and available with the four. Overall, most reviews don’t rank the popular automatic transmission very well. ConsumerGuide finds that "with either engine, the automatic transmission's upshifts are occasionally lazy and downshifts can be tardy,” while Edmunds says that the automatic “is reluctant to downshift.” However, the automatic does include a manual mode.

Kia clearly favors comfort over performance in tuning the Optima, though it handles well enough for most commuting and shuttling needs. In addition to their price and fuel economy benefits, four-cylinder models ride and handle slightly better than those with the V-6, in the experience of TheCarConnection.com’s editors. ConsumerGuide says that the Kia Optima is "no sports sedan” but calls it “a bit more athletic than the similar Hyundai Sonata."

Kelley Blue Book details that "body roll is minimal and the Optima enjoys a balanced feel," while Edmunds comments that the Optima is "no hot rod, though its responsive suspension and steering make it reasonably fun to drive around town." However, Edmunds notes, "driven aggressively on back roads, the Optima loses that sporting disposition." Car and Driver appreciates the Kia Optima's "good road manners," but warns that the Optima's "sporting pretensions [are] still only pretensions...there is nothing in its persona to tempt enthusiasts."

The 2010 Kia Optima is good but not great in terms of fuel economy. The Optima four-cylinder will get 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with either transmission, according to official EPA estimates, while the V-6 returns 20/28 mpg.

7

2010 Kia Optima

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Kia Optima impresses with its space and comfort but loses some points to refinement that’s gauged as subpar by some.

The mild redesign received by the Optima last year yielded improved comfort for the already-spacious interior. Front headroom can be tight with the available sunroof, and the Optima still doesn’t have very supportive seats, but it does claim one of the roomiest cabins in its segment, with good backseat legroom and headroom.

Car and Driver generally likes the front seats, saying that "posteriors in front sink into buckets with a cushy top layer akin to a pillow-top mattress," although they add that "side support is wanting." ConsumerGuide agrees that the seats "offer little lateral support in turns," but asserts that the front seats provide "sufficient legroom and adequate headroom for tall drivers," although taller passengers will be disappointed to learn that the "mediocre headroom is diminished further by the sunroof housing."

Edmunds contends that while the cabin is spacious, "seat bottoms are a little short” in back, “offering less support for long-limbed occupants than many rivals' accommodations." ConsumerGuide also points out that "knee space grows tight if the front seats are far back," but generally reviewers note there’s adequate space for adults in back.

There’s also a big 14.8-cubic-foot trunk that will swallow more gear than most of the Optima's competitors. ConsumerGuide finds that the Kia Optima offers a "decent-size trunk [that] has hinges that don't intrude into cargo space," while Edmunds says that "trunk capacity is 14.8 cubic feet, and all Kia Optimas have a 60/40-split-folding rear seat."

Storage is good inside, with ConsumerGuide mentioning an “ample glovebox, door map pockets, and an armrest console."

Up close, cabin materials are a bit dull, but the stark simplicity and quality materials will clearly be appreciated by some. Kelley Blue Book also reports that "even in base LX form, the Optima's interior materials rate well above merely acceptable," and on "those cars with leather we were impressed by the leather's tone and its perforated texture." Edmunds says that the Optima's "interior materials as a whole give an impression of quality," while Cars.com mentions that the Kia Optima SX gets "electroluminescent gauges, custom leather seats and metallic trim."

TheCarConnection.com finds a range of reviewer comments about engine noise. Although Car and Driver claims that the four-cylinder “mostly hums quietly to itself and winds to high revs without major vibes," while ConsumerGuide says that it “emits a thrashy groan at full throttle." That source remarks that the V-6 is “less refined than most rivals V-6s," but the quieter of the two.

8

2010 Kia Optima

Safety

Safety is important to mid-size sedan shoppers, and the 2010 Kia Optima is one of the better bets.

Kia hasn’t forgotten about safety in any respect; the 2010 Optima has all of the features now expected in a mid-size sedan, plus it fares well in official crash tests.

Tests from the federal government yield top five-star results in both frontal and side-impact tests, while the insurance-funded IIHS gives the Optima its top "good" rating in frontal offset protection. An "acceptable" rating in side impact protection from the IIHS is its only significant blemish. The Optima also scores four stars for rollover resistance.

The refreshed Kia Optima offers a good set of safety features as well. Front side airbags are standard, along with side-curtain airbags that cover both rows, and front-seat occupants get active headrests. Kia now makes electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes standard across the model line—ahead of a few models costing more.

The rather conservative proportions of the 2010 Kia Optima aid outward visibility, it seems. ConsumerGuide says that “visibility is fine in all directions,” while Kelley Blue Book feels that the Kia Optima provides a "nice balance between outward visibility and efficient aerodynamics,"

7

2010 Kia Optima

Features

The options list on the 2010 Kia Optima is short, but a new navigation-system option helps keep it in the running for some shoppers. The lack of a true factory Bluetooth interface might be a deal-breaker.

Three trims of the 2010 Kia Optima are offered: LX, EX, and SX. Visually, the differences between the three are quite minor, but the EX gets some more standard equipment and the SX has a sportier flavor.

Kia typically sells its vehicles with a lot more standard equipment than is typical for the class—making up for the lack of sheer sophistication with an impressive roster of standard features (and few factory options)—and the 2010 Kia Optima is no exception. Items that are normally relegated to top luxury trims—including cruise control, keyless entry and alarm, a manual tilt and telescopic steering column, and steering-wheel audio controls—are all included on the base Optima. The Optima LX, meanwhile, adds dual exhaust outlets and alloy wheels when equipped with the V-6. And at the top, with the Optima EX, you get fog lamps, solar glass, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a leather steering wheel, and automatic climate control. Also included on the EX is an Infinity premium sound system. The top-of-the-line edition basically brings a sportier look to the EX, with metal pedals, aluminum trim, and black leather.

According to Cars.com, "sixteen-inch steel wheels come on the four-cylinder Optima LX, while other trims have 16-inch alloys" and the Kia Optima "SX has 17-inchers." Otherwise, the trims are nearly identical.

While the LX comes with standard cloth seats, ConsumerGuide notes that "leather upholstery is standard" on the EX, and Cars.com states that "SX trims have electroluminescent gauges, custom leather seats and metallic trim." Kia Optima V-6 versions come with dual exhaust outlets.

Autoblog reviewers note that you have "way more ways to plug into your consumer electronics (USB, MP3 player plug, etc.)" with the Kia Optima. The one major feature lacking from the Optima is a hands-free Bluetooth cell phone connection. J.D. Power does, however, note that the audio system in the Optima “is MP3 compatible and Sirius satellite radio capable, and features a USB port and an auxiliary jack."

Kia typically doesn’t offer many factory options, but the Optima has a few more than most. ConsumerGuide lists "heated seats, sunroof, and power-adjustable pedals" among the other options. Kelley Blue Book calls the Optima "well-equipped...above the basic transportation category."

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