Reviews

2012 Kia Optima Walk Around

When this generation Optima was introduced as a 2011 model, it was a bold, fresh prism through which to view the Kia image. As with the Sorento and quirky good-natured Soul, the new Optima's design focus is not Korean nor even Asian. It is a world car like sedans from Ford, Toyota or Honda. Sleek, aggressive and modern, the Optima is at ease; it's like a well-tailored Italian suit, made in Korea.

The suit seems a bit tight in the front, though. The Optima grille, a sharp-angled chrome bezel surrounding a black mesh screen, arouses opposite opinions. One correspondent called it elegantly simple, comparing it to Jaguar and Bentley, but most of us think it looks like it came out of an aftermarket catalog.

The racy wraparound headlamps, and low wide stance, imply athleticism. The front air dam is low enough to scrape in surprising places for a so-called sedate sedan like this, and gives the nose an aggressive look while helping fuel mileage. Scraping can be annoying if your driveway or a nearby intersection you use is severe enough to cause the nose to drag.

The sides of the car are admirably clean, with three horizontal character lines giving them form and flow. Handsome flared fenders add muscularity to the Optima's flanks.

The wheels come in several patterns and sizes, and are cutting edge. The sporty Optima SX comes with wheels that make a strong styling statement, but because they're soft alloy and wider than the tires, it's very easy to scrape and scar them against a curb.

Wraparound red taillights complete the dynamic look, with dual chrome exhausts, one at each side, fulfilling the sporty image by gilding the rose, since dual exhausts on an inline four-cylinder are pure styling, like snowshoes on a duck. Still, the imagery is enticing.

Interior

The Optima's interior concedes nothing to its European or American competitors, except for its black plastic trim. The dashboard uses pebble-grain black leather, handsomely stitched with French seams. Optional leather spreads to the seats, trimmed with fabric.

The instrument panel is clean, including four handsome horizontal climate vents. Instruments use a clear font. The lettering on the tach and speedometer is organic white with a red needle, although the tach is too small to be very useful.

The leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel is thick, feels good in the hands. It tilts and telescopes, and contains controls for audio, cruise control, phone and a big green button for Eco. Heating is optional.

The five-passenger seating is excellent, with a full range of adjustability available in the driver's seat. The seats are firm, well-bolstered, and deliver snug lateral support for more vigorous driving. However, the center-rear passenger must ride the camel's hump, and the rear legroom is on the low side of average, at 34.7 inches. Heated front and rear seating is available, as is front cooling and a cooled glovebox for drinks.

The front windows feature fully automatic one-touch up/down operation, a provision found in pricier European sedans. The panoramic sunroof is huge, airy and truly bright. When closing it, the sunscreen panel closes automatically. A separate function opens only the screen and tilt roof. Nice, as with the controls on the center console, angled slightly towards the driver.

The right side B pillar creates a blind spot over the driver's shoulder.

Starting the car turns on the screen. One thing we continue to hate, and gets us off on the wrong foot every time, is having to click I AGREE to something, before the car will even show you its clock. Adding insult to injury, on the Optima you have to reach way up there to AGREE. We have no idea what we're agreeing to.

The screen didn't get much better for us. There are a bewildering number of things to click: GPS, Daylight Savings Time, some icon that looks like a hairbrush, and so on. The Navigation is fairly easy to set, and you can operate it while the car is moving, though we recommend your co-driver perform this duty. We found the navigation in our car inaccurate. It was so wrong it was useless at worst, untrustworthy at best. It was totally confused by a freeway branch outside the city, and if we hadn't known our way and ignored it, it would have put us on the wrong freeway, wrong direction, for at least six miles. Another time, we were parked in front of our destination, and navigation told us to drive around the block: The map on the screen showed four right turns at the end of each block, to reach where we already were.

The display for the Hybrid is only slightly strange, for a hybrid: growing flowers in Eco mode, the bigger the bouquet the better you're doing. In the center of the speedo a display shows average and instant fuel mileage, with blue bars that move with the throttle position, duh. It also scores your efficiency. There's a big round instrument on the left that's an Eco guide, with white, green and red zones. You can see energy flow back and forth between the wheels, battery, and engine. Fun to watch for the first few minutes of the few years you might own the car.

The Hybrid offers a Microsoft voice-activated infotainment system with its audio system, incorporating Bluetooth and back-up camera. Infinity's deluxe 12-speaker audio system, with stylish speakers in the doors and dash, delivered superb sound.

A Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS) plays an engine sound during electric-only operation up to 12 miles per hour, to help notify people outside the vehicle that it is approaching. We would have liked to hear this mock buzz, but we couldn't get the Hybrid to run on electric only. It took the internal combustion engine just to back downhill out of our driveway. Nothing new with hybrids. And rather than a buzz, why not play music? Hi folks, we're coming through, now how about a little Led Zeppelin for you? Or perhaps exotic engine sounds, like a Formula 1 Ferrari or an old Can Am car. Or maybe it should woo woo like an old steam locomotive. Purposely making cars noisier. Is that progress?

The Hybrid's air conditioning system uses an electric compressor, reducing the losses in belt-driven systems and allowing cool air to flow, even with the engine off in Idle-Stop mode. We didn't test it because it was freezing outside. So far, we've found that when they say cool air, they mean exactly that, as in not hot. Don't expect air-conditioning cold, in summer.

Cargo space is vast in the Optima EX and SX (15.4 cubic feet), but not so vast with the Hybrid (9.9 cubic feet) because of battery placement.

* MSRP is the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the vehicle. Unless specifically indicated in the advertisement, MSRP does not include taxes, fees or other charges. Actual dealer pricing may vary. Consult your dealer for more information and complete details.

* The dealer advertised price may not reflect specific dealer offers, and may be subject to certain terms and conditions as indicated in the advertisement. Consult your dealer for more information and complete details.

* Images and options shown are examples, only, and may not reflect exact vehicle color, trim, options, pricing or other specifications.

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