Kia Optima – Rental Car ReviewNovember 8, 2012
Well, this is going to be another in what is likely going to be a recurring theme for this blog. I rent cars at least once a month for a road trip from DC to Knoxville, Tennessee, for business purposes. Being a car nut, I try to rent a different car every time – and of course, I do end up being fairly opinionated on each.
On once such recent trip, I rented a maroon Kia Optima EX. Enterprise had originally put me into a Chevy Malibu, but as I needed bluetooth for the long trip (so I can do conference calls & such) and the included OnStar wasn’t going to cut it.
The Optima is actually an incredibly capable sedan, and I came away impressed.
Summary In a Sentence:
I would own this car in a heartbeat if it came with a 6-speed manual.
Brief driving notes:
Powertrain & Handling:
The Optima has a 2.4 liter twincam 4-cylinder making 200hp to the front wheels through a decent 6-speed automatic. While it’s got these big dual-exhausts and such, the engine sort of makes a tinny sound but still is plenty gutsy especially for a base engine. I did wish for a bit more passing power when on two-lane roads, but in the main, it’s a great little engine. My main beef? Lack of a manual transmission. As it doesn’t have much in the way of low-end torque, you have to rev it to make it seem quick, and that’s laborious and imprecise with the automatic, even in manual-shift mode.
Probably the thing which struck me first about the car was its handling. It feels athletic when you drive it – especially when driven back to back with the Chevy Malibu. It has a small-diameter steering wheel, and a nice & direct steering feel, and has grippy seats which I found good for cornering.
And I DID definitely test the cornering, as on my way back from Knoxville I took the car through the infamous Dragon’s Tail on Route 129 through the Smokies. The route has (as advertised) 318 curves in 11 miles and – let me tell you – it does not disappoint.
The Kia, while not the IDEAL vehicle for such an excursion (I’d say ideal would be more of a Subaru BRZ), also was no slouch for a family sedan. The 215/55 tires held on well, and the manual mode on the transmission (though frustrating) worked OK in lieu of a proper gearbox.
I got 25mpg in mixed city/highway driving, and 32.5mpg on the 500-mile trip from Knoxville to DC. Not terrible, but also a bit below the EPA estimates.
All told, I’d definitely recommend the Kia Optima to anyone looking for a sedan more on the sporty side, and definitely a comfortable cruiser for the trip down the I-81.