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PERFORMANCE | 6 out of 10
Joe Average performance? Check
Car and Driver
strains to provide highway passing power
the five-speed automatic is reluctant to downshift
body roll is minimal and the [Kia] Optima enjoys a balanced feel
Kelley Blue Book
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."
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.