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Kia has pulled off a brand transformation, faster than virtually any other brand has done it; and the Optima was crucial in that. Completely redesigned in 2011, the Optima went from bland and shapeless to one of the best-looking sedans in the mid-size class. It came with sophisticated new drivetrains and excellent handling, and Kia went suddenly from the outfield into the heat of the competition. Today, the 2013 Kia Optima is still one of the most handsome vehicles on the road, and in many cases, the rest of the segment is still playing catch-up with this sleek, well-equipped sedan.Though rivals like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima are new this year, at best they meet the Optima's racy look head-on. Its crisp, distinct styling direction is nearly the opposite of the more exuberant, sculptural look that's all over the Hyundai lineup and the Sonata sedan, which is closely related. With sporty, European detailing, a low roofline, stretched headlamps, and a nifty upkick in back, it's focused and exciting, with an athletic stance and some flashy wheel designs. Inside, the Optima doesn't make waves in the same way, but it's a classy, minimalist cockpit look, reminding us of Audi's interiors of a few years ago, with a wide rectangular bank of controls canted toward the driver.
There are three different performance flavors for the Optima--all including a four-cylinder engine under the hood--and each of them caters to a different type of driver. Base cars have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, 200 horsepower and just a touch of unremarkable noise and vibration when it's wound out. A manual six-speed is offered; we've tested the six-speed automatic, which teams expertly with the four. On top of the complexity curve is the Hybrid, which teams up the basic four-cylinder with electric motors and batteries that, in our opinion, could use more work on smoothing and integrating the juddering that sometimes comes at midrange speeds, when the hybrid drivetrain drops gas power to operate on electric charge alone. With all powertrains, highway gas mileage hits a minimum of 33 mpg in turbos, with four-cylinders hitting a stellar 35 mpg and hybrids reaching to a rated 39 mpg. We've had difficulty hitting the hybrid's high-water marks, but the basic Optima offers repeatable, real-world gas mileage that's tops in its class, and equal to some economy cars.
No matter which engine you pick, the Optima rides and handles well with its independent suspension, giving the Optima a quick, nimble feel. Key to that is electric power steering that's somehow tuned in a more agreeable way than that of the Sonata; it feels precise yet requires fewer small adjustments on the highway. Ride quality is on the firm side, but comfortable enough, and quiet over coarse surfaces.
The Optima's interior offers good back seat space--enough for three across--although the roofline can make getting in and out a little harder. Front seats in the Optima also have flat, short cushions, which can cut into the kind of long-distance comfort that the Accord delivers mile after mile. But with heated and cooled front seats available--heated back seats, too--the Optima and the back seats can be heated, too.
With top safety ratings from the IIHS (including the new Top Safety Pick+ rating) and the federal government likely to carry over, the 2013 Kia Optima is one of the most secure family-car picks. A Bluetooth interface is standard, a rearview camera system is available.
Across the lineup, in fact, features remain a strength. The 2013 Optima is a strong value, with standard power features, cruise control, a USB port and satellite radio. Even mid-level EX trims get things like dual-zone climate control and a smart-key system, with options for leather trim, a panoramic sunroof and Infinity audio. Infotainment is the only weakness of the Optima's feature list. UVO, Kia's flavor of the Microsoft-written software also sold as Ford's SYNC, has fewer voice commands than the Ford system, but the issue is that if you want this system, you can't get the navigation system. And if you get nav, you instead get the same simpler Bluetooth system that base Optimas have. UVO gets replaced in the 2014 model year by a smartphone-driven system; it's the one reason you may want to look ahead to a newer Optima than this one.
- Handsome exterior
- Sporty, simply instrument layout
- Great gas mileage
- Decent handling
- Good value for the money
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- Short, flat front seats
- Entry/exit to the back seats
- No UVO if you want navigation