2013 Kia Optima SXL Verdict
For the last several years, Kia has really been bringing its A game, loading its cars with upscale bells and whistles at non-luxury prices. Our 2013 long-term Optima turned heads—“That’s a Kia?”—and rewarded drivers with its sophisticated exterior and high-tech interior. Our sleek Titanium Silver sedan was the new-for-2013 SX Limited trim, filled with too many standard and additional buttons, knobs, gewgaws, and what-have-yous to mention here. Some exterior highlights: spiffy red brake calipers, unique 18-inch sport-design alloy wheels, and a chrome accent rear spoiler. Among my favorites in the well-equipped interior were the incredibly sharp rearview camera with multicolored backup guidelines that’s one of the best I’ve experienced; a well-laid out, easy-to-use infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touch screen; the panoramic sunroof; and 15.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
I’ve especially got to give kudos to the seats, which in SXL guise are clad in perforated black nappa leather. The chaperone of our last long-term Optima, a 2011, felt its seats were too firm and the seat bottoms were too flat, with not enough thigh support. Kia added softer foam and better bolstering in 2012, and to me the seats now feel as good as they look—not too soft and not too hard, not too narrow and not too wide. I loved the six-way adjustability of the driver’s seat and the tweakable lumbar support, plus you can save seat settings for two drivers. The front heaters work quickly and are especially soothing on a stiff lower back. I didn’t use the cooling option very often, but it’s nice to have. The back passengers also get bun warmers—an unexpected perk in this segment.
On the technology side, the Infinity audio system was stellar and Bluetooth synchronization was a breeze, but there were a few nits. I had to buy an aftermarket cord to sync my iPhone music through the sound system, and I didn’t get to play with Kia’s UVO voice-activated infotainment system because in the EX/SX Technology Package it was replaced by navigation with SIRIUS traffic and radio. The nav system worked outstandingly except for the two times I got turned around in downtown L.A. and it didn’t recalibrate quickly enough to steer me right immediately. Fellow MT staffer Benson Kong shared my adoration of the classy four-spoke steering wheel wrapped in leather and accented in dark wood laminate with a subtle pearly sheen. He noted that the large, legible buttons for the audio system, cruise control, trip computer, and hands-free calling were so well-placed that he barely had to look down at his thumbs while on a 800-mile road trip. I’ll second all that, and add that I loved how the four spokes gave me a little nook at the bottom center to hook my left thumb. The new wheel in the 2014 is flat-bottomed and three-spoked. Another really cool feature is auto hold. If you know you’ll be at a standstill for a while, like in a big traffic jam, press the button before you come to a stop. When you’re stopped and take your foot off the brake, the car will stay stopped. The hold will deactivate when you press the gas.
"With heated seats front and back and plenty of cargo space, the Optima is a versatile cruiser."
Handling and ride quality continue to be the Optima’s Achilles heel—if it were a frozen yogurt flavor, it’d be vanilla, and not even French vanilla. A 2014 Optima EX recently was the runner-up in a six-car MT midsize sedan comparison, with the judges dinging it for its floaty and lazy ride quality and too-soft suspension. That was the name of the game for the 2013 as well.
Then again, most customers shopping for a family sedan aren’t seeking a Nürburgring-worthy driving experience. Enough power to efficiently merge onto the freeway, decent fuel economy, and a good safety rating take precedence on their priority list. With its turbocharged 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-four making 274 hp and 269 lb-ft, the Optima is fine on the onramp, but it’s far from zippy, and with 7.2 seconds to 60 mph it won’t win any stoplight drag races. Our IIHS Top Safety Pick+ sedan averaged 22.8 mpg during its stay—not very close to its EPA combined rating of 26 mpg. (The 2014’s EPA city/highway ratings have been dropped from 22/34 to 20/31.) As for maintenance, the Optima sailed through its term with no problems or recalls. Two routine oil changes and 1 tire rotation cost $228.90, within $15 of what we paid for the same maintenance on our 2011 Optima. The same maintenance cost $209.42 for our long-term 2013 Honda Accord Sport.
Overall, the Optima is a winner. If you want a ton of features and can do without a European or Japanese badge, it’s a solid choice.
More on our long-term 2013 Kia Optima SXL:
|SERVICE LIFE||15 mo/21,908 mi|
|OPTIONS||Limited Package ($3350: LED DRLs, red brake calipers, nappa leather seats, electronic parking brake), Premium Touring Package ($2950: panoramic sunroof, rear camera display, heated and cooled front seats), Technology Package ($1400: navigation system)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$35,275|
|AVG ECON/CO2||22.8 mpg / 0.85 lb/mi|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$228.90 (2-oil change, inspection; 1-tire rotation, cabin-air filter, engine-air filter)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$17,638|
|*Automotive Lease Guide data|
|2013 Kia Optima SXL Turbo|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, aluminum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1998 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||274 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||269 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||12.8 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||12.6-in vented disc; 11.2-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||6.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||225/45R18 95V M+S Hankook Optimo H431|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/62.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||190.7 x 72.1 x 57.3 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||35.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3499 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||60/40%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.0/37.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||45.5/34.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R||57.3/55.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||15.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.9|
|QUARTER MILE||15.6 sec @ 90.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.3 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1750 rpm|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||10 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||18.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||22/34/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB||153/99 kW-hr/ 100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMBINED||0.74 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|