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PERFORMANCE | 6 out of 10
Optima's engines have been upgraded, and Kia says gas mileage stays about the same
Still underpowered in our book compared to other mid-sizers
5-speed manual transmission is standard on the 4-cylinder LX
Through the wonders of modern automotive technology, Kia has endowed both of the 2009 Kia Optima's engines with more power yet managed to keep fuel economy at about the same levels as last year's model. Sadly, the extra power isn't enough to make the Kia Optima even remotely exciting to drive.
According to Cars.com, the 2009 Kia Optima is available with a standard "2.4-liter four-cylinder [that] makes 175 horsepower, up from 162 hp last year," while the available "2.7-liter V-6 is up to 190 hp from 185 hp last year." Though the power boost is welcome, Autoblog says the Kia Optima is "still underpowered in our book compared to other mid-sizers that have been offering 3.5L+ V6 engines producing 250 horsepower for some time." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are hardly enthusiastic about the performance of either engine. Car and Driver reports that the 2009 Kia Optima has "Joe Average performance," and ConsumerGuide warns that the Kia Optima "strains to provide highway passing power." Overall, Edmunds advises that consumers "stick with the base four-cylinder engine, as it provides fully adequate performance while keeping the price tag and fuel consumption low."
The 2009 Kia Optima is available with a choice of two transmissions, and Cars.com notes that the automatic “has a manual-shift mode." Both transmissions are available with the four-cylinder engine, although the V-6 is mated exclusively to the five-speed automatic. Like the rest of the 2009 Kia Optima, nothing about the transmissions stands out as being much better than average. ConsumerGuide finds that "with either engine, the automatic transmission's upshifts are occasionally lazy and downshifts can be tardy." On the positive side, Edmunds remarks that while the Optima's "five-speed automatic is reluctant to downshift...there is a manual mode when you want some extra punch."
For an adequately powered mid-size sedan, the 2009 Kia Optima doesn't exactly excel in the fuel economy department. According to the official EPA estimates, the 2009 Kia Optima four-cylinder will get 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with either transmission, while the V-6 returns ratings of 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Unlike the styling and engine output, little has changed for the 2009 Kia Optima regarding ride quality and handling. Overall, the ride is pleasant, although larger bumps can unsettle the Kia Optima. 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." ConsumerGuide also claims that though the Kia Optima is "no sports sedan...it is a bit more athletic than the similar Hyundai Sonata." Kelley Blue Book adds that the Kia Optima's "body roll is minimal and the Optima enjoys a balanced feel." Edmunds reviewers sum up the Optima rather nicely, commenting it 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."
The 2009 Kia Optima is a capable commuter, as long as you don't mind that fuel economy lags behind most competitors.