2012 Kia Optima Review

Consumer Reviews
3 Reviews
2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 20, 2012

The basics don't have to be boring: the 2012 Kia Optima evades design and driving boredom with suave looks, good performance and great gas mileage and features.

When it was redesigned in 2011, the Kia Optima pitched its bland, unremarkable past and went for broke. The gamble paid off handsomely, and today's Optima isn't just one of the best family sedans for economy, it's also one of the best-looking cars of its kind--and some other kinds, too.

It's squarely in the same class with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and a host of other family four-doors, but there's very little square in the Optima's arresting profile. Kia's distinct styling direction is a polar opposite of the exuberant, sculptural look that's all over the Hyundai lineup and the Optima's fraternal twin, the Sonata sedan. The Optima contrasts with a sporty, European-tinged look with a lower roofline, stretched headlamps, and a nifty upkick in its rear quarters. It's exciting--focused, clean, laid-back, with an athletic stance and flashy chrome wheels. The interior's a fine match, with a big set of gauges and a wide rectangular bank of controls canted toward the driver, ersatz Audi with almost all of the sophistication and less clutter.

In performance, the Optima caters to three types of drivers. 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. A turbocharged SX variant whistles along with 274 horsepower and paddle controls for the automatic, upconverting the Optima's personality into something authentically sporty, along the lines of the latest Buick Regal or the VW CC.

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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.

Ride and handling fit into the upper echelon of the segment. The engines work well in concert with the independent suspension, giving the Optima a quick, nimble feel. The Optima's steering is a little hefty and responds quickly, doing a better job than the similar Sonata at controlling a little bit of wandering that comes with some kinds of road surfaces and its fuel-economy-aiding tires. All the while, ride quality is firm but comfortable, and the Optima's cabin is a quiet, refined place to be.

Space is a virtue in the Optima, save for a little less head room than we've found in the Sonata and by a wide margin in the cathedral-like 2012 VW Passat. The Optima's front seats have flat, short bottom cushions, which cuts into the kind of long-distance comfort that the Accord delivers mile after mile. Leg room is a long suit, especially up front, and the Optima's back seat accommodates all but the tallest passengers with ease. Heated and cooled front seats are an option, and the back seats can be heated, too.

The Georgia-built Optima has an excellent safety record. The NHTSA awards it five stars in all categories in which it tests, and the IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. Aside from the usual airbags and stability control, the Optima also has standard Bluetooth and an available rearview camera, which mitigates the visibility issues its rear-end styling creates.

Features remain a strength throughout the Kia lineup, and the Optima is no exception. It's a lot of value for the money, 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. A navigation system is available, as is UVO, Kia's flavor of the Microsoft-written software also sold as Ford's SYNC. The Kia version has fewer voice commands in its vocabulary--and it's also deleted when the navigation system is ordered.
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2012 Kia Optima

Styling

The 2012 Kia Optima has a focused, clean design--with Euro influences inside and out.

The 2012 Kia Optima is squarely in the same class with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and a host of other family four-doors, but there's very little square in the Optima's arresting profile.

Kia's distinct styling direction is a polar opposite of the exuberant, sculptural look that's all over the Hyundai lineup and the Optima's fraternal twin, the Sonata sedan. The Optima contrasts with a sporty, European-tinged look with a lower roofline, stretched headlamps, and a nifty upkick in its rear quarters. It's exciting--focused, clean, laid-back, with an athletic stance and flashy chrome wheels.

About the only exterior detail we haven't warmed up to is the side 'vents' at the back of the fender. They're cosmetic only, and even at ten or fifteen feet away you can tell they're just plastic inserts, finished with bright accents.

The interior's a fine match, with a big set of gauges and a wide rectangular bank of controls canted toward the driver, ersatz Audi with almost all of the sophistication and less clutter. Our only cautionary note is that materials and interior themes tend toward the drab side.

Review continues below
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2012 Kia Optima

Performance

The 2012 Kia Optima has strong yet economical powertrains and confident handling—although the Hybrid could use some smoothing-over.

The Optima caters to three types of drivers, with respect to performance. Base cars have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, 200 horsepower and just a touch of 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. A turbocharged SX variant whistles along with 274 horsepower and paddle controls for the automatic, transforming the Optima's personality into something authentically sporty, along the lines of the latest Buick Regal or the VW CC.

Above those models in complexity (and fuel-efficiency) is the Hybrid, which teams up the basic four-cylinder with an electric-motor system and lithium-polymer battery pack. Compared to other full hybrid systems, the one in the Optima Hybrid 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.

In ride and handling, the 2012 Optima fits in with the top entries among mid-size sedans—although it's certainly not perfect. The engines work well in concert with the independent suspension, giving the Optima a quick, nimble feel. The Optima's steering is responsive, but a little hefty and not as nicely weighted and communicative as that in the Fusion, Mazda6, or Altima; on the other hand it's much better than the similar Sonata at controlling a little bit of wandering that comes with some kinds of road surfaces and its fuel-economy-aiding tires.

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2012 Kia Optima

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Kia Optima is quiet, composed, and big on comfort—except its front seats could be better.

The 2012 Kia Optima isn't much different than most other mid-sizers in its seating layout, but its somewhat larger dimensions really help backseat space.

In back, there's enough width in back for three across, provided your passengers aren't too tall or wide, and there's plenty of legroom as well as just enough headroom for taller adults (although getting in might require ducking you head around the doorline's curvature). Front seats are a bit disappointing; the lower cushions are especially flat and hard, lacking proper padding and more importantly contouring. The upscale EX, comes with a power driver's seat for greater adjustability, but even then the passenger-side seat doesn't adjust for height or tilt.

On the bright side, heated and cooled front seats—as well as heated back seats—are available on EX and SX models, and we've appreciated this feature in the hot sun.

Altogether, while the Optima's underpinnings are quite ordinary (other than the powertrain lineup), it's all been tuned in a way that makes the Optima feel refined and comfortable-riding, with a ride that's firm but just comfortable enough for most surfaces. All the more impressive is that the Optima's cabin stays quiet inside.

We like the look and feel of most of the cabin materials as well. Audio and climate controls are clearly distinguished with their own knobs and buttons, and even though the instrument panel is canted slightly toward the driver, it's all in easy reach of the passenger, too. Materials tend to be a little drab, but the matte-black surfaces feel sporty, and the soft-touch leather-like material covering the dash adds an element of sophistication.

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2012 Kia Optima

Safety

The 2012 Kia Optima stands out as one of the safest vehicles on the market, thanks to top crash-test scores across the board.

If you're shopping by crash-test ratings, you simply can't do better than the 2012 Kia Optima; it receives top ratings in every test from the federal government as well as the insurance-funded IIHS.

The 2012 Kia Optima earns top 'good' ratings in every test category from the IIHS, and it's a Top Safety Pick for 2012. And in the tougher federal tests, it's earned a top five-star score in all tests--including the side pole test. While the Optima is structurally similar to the Hyundai Sonata, the Kia has a number of different details--which, apparently, make a difference here, as the Sonata only manages a four-star frontal score while the Optima achieves five stars.

Both safety features and accident-avoidance features receive as much, if not more emphasis in the 2012 Kia Optima than in other mid-size sedan models. Front active headrests are standard in the 2011 Optima, along with front seat-mounted side airbags and side-curtain bags. Stability control and anti-lock brakes are of course standard, too; so is Brake Assist, and Hill Assist Control, which helps avoid rolling back when starting uphill.

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2012 Kia Optima

Features

The 2012 Optima has a feature list that doesn't disappoint--along with some extras (cooled front seats) you won't find in other budget models.

Features remain a strength throughout the Kia lineup, and the Optima is no exception. It's a lot of value for the money, 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.

Bluetooth is included in even the base models, and heated-and-cooled front seats are available in mid-level EX or SX trims. The heated backseat is yet another class-exclusive.

A navigation system is available, as is UVO, Kia's flavor of the Microsoft-written software also sold as Ford's SYNC. But the Kia version has fewer voice commands in its vocabulary, and it's also deleted when the navigation system is ordered. If you do opt for the nav system (packaged with the upgraded audio system), you get a the same Bluetooth system that base Optimas have—by Parrot instead.

Review continues below
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2012 Kia Optima

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Kia Optima gets great gas mileage and is one of the greenest picks among base mid-size sedans; but the Optima Hybrid is even more efficient.

Thanks to a technologically advanced gasoline direct-injection (GDI) engine, along with tall gear ratios with either transmission, fuel economy is great, especially if you place the priority on highway mileage. In all, the Optima's fuel economy ratings are among the best in its class.

EPA ratings are right up at the top of the class—at 24 mpg city, 35 highway with the automatic, or 22/34 for the Turbo. The Optima Hybrid earns 35 mpg city, 40 highway. 

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The 2011-2013 Optima Hybrid is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 35/40 mpg and 37 mpg combined to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Optima Hybrid's actual tested fuel economy to be 34/39 mpg or 36 mpg combined. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
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June 1, 2016
2012 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan 2.0T Automatic SX

Great sporty mid size.

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Best combination of luxury and sporty. Fast, good mileage, nice interior with heated and cooled seats, excellent body design. You get a lot for the money and great warranty.
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September 28, 2015
For 2012 Kia Optima

Great car. am very happy with my purchase.

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I researched this car thoroughly and have been very happy with my purchase. I would buy it again if I had to.
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April 28, 2015
2012 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan 2.4L Automatic Hybrid

need to be shown all the features and use

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love the car and color looks like 200chrs.mercad. seat belts are too far back for a women and the counsel is also. it handles great and it has a lot of speed. thanks nancy
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