Test Drive #1: Kia Optima SX

I took some time this weekend to test drive the first of my three next-car contenders. I stopped by Portsmouth Kia to test drive an Optima SX that they had on the lot. Based on my research I was equally excited and skeptical. I made sure to spend a couple of hours driving it to make sure that I could evaluate all of the angles. Again, the intent of this test drive was to test the model not the car. I have no intent of purchasing a vehicle until I have test driven all three.

My test drive route included highway time on 16 to test out acceleration, some handling, wind/road noise, and the steering issues that I had read about. I drove back to Dover to drive on some of the bumpier and curvier roads near my house to test out the suspension and stopped at home so that Sally could hop in to give me her opinion. I drove some hilly and curvy roads to test out the handling, making sure to listen for creaks and rattles. I drove it with the radio off for a while to listen to the sounds of the engine and assess noise levels, and then cranked the radio to see how a variety of music sounded. I brought my iPod along for that purpose. I ended up spending quite a bit of time exploring the interior and fiddling with all of the settings and buttons both while parked and while driving. I sat in the passenger seat and the back as well.

8172_st0640_046I actually drove two during my trial: a brand new 2014 model and a 2013 with 20k miles on it. I spent the most time in the 2014 as it was new and provides a good baseline that I can use to compare with the used models. From an engine, drivetrain, feature, and general styling perspective the 2014 is the same as all other Optima models. There are some tweaks with the headlights but most of the change is in the interior. The layout is the same but the steering wheel, gauge cluster, stereo/climate control area, and gear shift are different. All of the functionality is the same but things are laid out a bit better. The styling of the seats is slightly different as well. The Optima that I drove was a silver/gold sort of color called Satin Metal. It isn’t necessarily my first color choice but it actually looks kind of nice.

Overall I was very impressed with the car. Acceleration was both smoother than my TSX and certainly faster. I’ve never driven a turbo before but I did not notice any turbo lag. There was a slight hesitation on occasion but it wasn’t any different from the standard hesitation that you get while an automatic tries to figure out what gear to choose. Again, it didn’t happen often. The engine can certainly kick! The 2014 includes a “sport” mode that the 2013 and below do not offer. It basically adjusts the steering and shift points a bit to provide a bit more power on tap and improve handling. I noticed a difference and feel like it is a mode that I’d use pretty often. The transmission shifted smoothly and quickly and was also very responsive to the paddle shifters. It was definitely a fun car to drive!

I had read that the Optima has traction issues even on dry roads but I couldn’t get it to slip while I was driving around. From a suspension standpoint the ride is a bit less firm than my TSX (but not too mushy) and absorbs bumps well. I also read about steering issues where the car would suddenly pull to the left or right at highway speeds. I didn’t feel that either, nor would I expect it with a brand new car. Based on what I read it sounded like people just needed to bring their car in under warranty, which is exactly what I’d do.

The interior is comfortable and the leather on the seats a bit softer than the leather in my TSX, maybe because it’s new. This model didn’t have a nav system, but it had everything else including heated/ventilated seats, power folding mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, and automatic headlights, and a cooled glove box. It wasn’t the top-of-the-line model with Nappa leather and a blind spot monitoring system but it was close enough. One of the more interesting features of the interior is that the sun shades for the panoramic sunroof are electronic – you push the sunroof button all the way forward and the shades close. It also has power folding side mirrors which fold automatically when you lock the doors as well as via a button on the driver’s side. Ventilated seats are one of the reasons that I am considering an Optima and they didn’t disappoint. They provide a gentle stream of cool air that almost feels like the mist from a freezer. I had it running while the heat was on and it was a cool effect. It does make a bit of a whirring sound but it’s a reasonable tradeoff.

I drove without the stereo on for about half the trip so that I could listen to the sounds of the car. It definitely has some wind noise (my particular car also had a bit of a whistle coming from the back) but it is quieter than my TSX and comparable to Sally’s Sorrento. Once I was satisfied with the sounds I turned on the stereo. It isn’t rated as high as Acura’s ELS system but it has been rated pretty well. After connecting my phone and tweaking the audio settings a bit I was pretty satisfied with the sound. The songs that I played had solid bass and clear mids and highs – much better than my current system.

97931a27aaad4a778d39e60d1fd0a32bWhen I arrived at the dealership I told the sales rep that I was looking for a used Optima SX and he said that he didn’t see too many of them around, indicating that he didn’t have any. That was interesting since I had been looking at a listing for one at that dealership for weeks. I figured that if he was going to let me drive a 2014 then I might as well. When I came back he coincidentally found the one that I had seen an ad for and allowed me to drive it as well. It was a 2013 model with 22k miles in a beautiful bright blue called Corsa Blue Pearl Metallic.

As I said earlier, the car is generally the same, with a different interior in the 2013 and below models. Overall the car was similar, though the engine was a bit louder. I read that the 2014 had reduced noise a bit and that may have been related to the engine compartment. Wind noise was about the same though it didn’t have the whistling of the 2014 model. The controls worked fine and the stereo was very similar to the UVO system in Sally’s Sorrento. It still had the sound of the 2014 though it seemed much louder. I didn’t like the control layout on the steering wheel as much and the info screen in between the gauges wasn’t as nice looking (or as bright) but otherwise it was a very nice car.

Again, I’m very impressed with the Optima. The 2013 had all of the features of the brand new 2014 model and low miles. It is priced at $24,995, which could probably come down a bit with negotiation (it’s been on the lot for a while). The 2014 model is priced at $31,585 which puts it out of my budget which is fine because I’m not considering new cars… Except that there was a sticker on this one that listed a $1,400 rebate and a $2,385 “your discount” that brought the total price down to $27,800. All of the sudden a new car became a bit more tempting. I’m not sure if I really care that much but it does factor into the equation a bit. If I decide on an Optima I may be able to get them to drop it even more if I “accept” the Satin Metal color even though it’s not my favorite. 

All in all it was a good experience. The sales rep was very nice and only spoke to me for a couple of minutes before letting me take it for a drive. He didn’t ask to do a credit check and didn’t even ask for my keys to evaluate a trade-in of my current car. He asked me what I wanted to do and accepted that I wanted to drive some other vehicles. There was no pressure. I told him it would take about two weeks for me to get the test drives done but I expect to get a call within the next few days. Tomorrow I’m going to visit my Acura dealership and drive a TL or two. I wanted to hit Infinity first but it’s all the way in Nashua so I’m going to adjust my plans a bit. Another review to follow!

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