2014 Kia Optima EX First Test
*Kitchen Sink Not Included
"Everything but the kitchen sink." That should be the 2014 Kia Optima EX's official slogan, because during seven days in the cushy adjustable driver's seat, I couldn't think of an amenity it lacked. And this was the second of five trims, one rung above the $22,300 entry-level LX. Not too shabby.
The landscape of features was welcoming to my eyes as well as my fingertips. An extra-large, nicely toned TFT screen reacted quickly to inputs for navigation, climate control, and media. In a flash, the screen switched to a crisp rearward view, with distance lines, to ease parking. The navigation, backup warning system, and blind-spot detection are included in the optional Technology Package ($2000).
Storage spaces galore gobbled my mobile phone and small items. Multiple USB inputs charged my and passengers' devices. But what really caught my attention was a trio: the new-for-2014 three-spoke steering wheel with a bevy of controls; the paddle shifters set behind it; and the sharp 4.3-inch TFT display set behind both (also new for 2014). The leather-swathed wheel looks like a sports car's, lending the mid-size sedan a mild flair of sportiness. Finding my way around menus via the wheel's buttons was a cinch -- crucial when you're cruising -- and the multitude of information broadcasted on the Supervision Meter Cluster added to the cockpit's premium feel.
An optional Premium Package ($3150), which is required for the inclusion of the Tech Package, brings even more: panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, power front passenger seat, rearview camera, HD radio capability, UVO eServices, power folding mirrors, and an eight-speaker Infinity audio system. Don't let me forget about the heated outboard rear seats either. That's Rolls-Royce-grade stuff right there. The audio system proved its mettle, and for those keen on connecting phones, the Bluetooth connectivity process is a snap.
I tallied zero complaints from a week's worth of backseat riders. They luxuriated in the cushy bench as they easily adjusted the climate control's centrally located vents. Morning jaunts for coffee had them thoroughly appreciative of Kia engineers' inclusion of bum heaters, as well as the respectable 37.6 inches of headroom and massive 15.4 cu-ft of trunk space, enough for numerous suitcases and duffels of all sizes.
Said riders consistently complimented Kia's exterior designers. "Whoa, that looks good," said one. Two others commented with, "Is that the new [insert BMW or Audi model here]?" The form received a slight update for 2014 in the way of revised front and rear bumpers and wheel styles. But it's largely unchanged. Kudos to Kia for ignoring the natural urge that automakers and designers have for "refreshing" something that already looks splendid. It's just too bad the standard 17-inch wheels look outright small, and compared to some other players in the segment, rearward visibility from inside is slightly compromised due to the raked roofline.
If there is a major knock against the Optima, a sedan replete with features, comfort, value and style, it is related to the driving experience. The 2.4-liter four-banger is potent, with its 192 horses channeled through a six-speed, Time to 60 mph is a relatively decent 8.4 seconds, and the quarter mile passes in 16.5 seconds at 86.5 mph. That's about what can be expected from the 3400-pound sedan.
But tilt the tiller either direction and you get almost no useful, enjoyable feedback of what's occurring at each corner. And while cruising on the highway, it had a noticeable tendency to float, ever so slightly, side to side, requiring constant correction on the driver's part. Annoying? Just a bit.
That annoyance, however, faded as more miles were traversed. Because, well, more miles were traversed. For although the helm may not be ideally weighted or clear in its communications, and the 2.4 liter's exhaust pipes might not produce melodies worthy of praise, the Optima EX did return some very impressive fuel mileage -- specifically, 27 mpg combined, says the EPA. And according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it's worthy of a Top Safety Pick rating.
Loads of valuable amenities, plus quality design and engineering. It's a mixture of essential traits that keeps owners happy and potential buyers intrigued. And with this newest Optima, Kia, without question, has that money-making formula down pat.
Want more on the 2014 Kia Optima? Stay tuned -- the midsize sedan competes in a Motor Trend Big Test comparison coming May 19.
|2014 Kia Optima EX|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$30,120|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.4L/192-hp/181-lb-ft 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3384 lb (59/41%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||190.7 x 72.1 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 86.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||131 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.78 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.3 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|