First driving impressions mean a lot — at least to me. Whether it’s a rental vehicle, a friend’s car or a new weekly test drive, I can usually tell if I’ll like the vehicle within a few minutes. Honda and Cadillac offer diverse cars, but I always immediately feel comfortable in all the manufacturers’ vehicles. Kia now joins my “comfort car club.”
I recently drove a 2008 Kia Optima nearly 1,100 miles in eight days in Georgia. It’s a vastly unheralded midsize sedan. There’s little flash, no outrageous color choices, nothing so computer high-tech it’s problematic for the average driver.
What the Optima provides is dependable transportation, a superior warranty and stellar crash tests results that all add up to prompt one question: Why isn’t the public giving Kia more attention?
Several leading automotive publications have commented that one of the Kia’s best attributes is its ability to not stand out in a crowd. It’s a good thing, and as the Edmunds.com reviewer commented, “The Kia is a clever, value-conscious buy. And besides, what other car comes with a cloaking device?”
The Kia Optima is offered in LX and EX trim. Standard equipment on the LX with a 4-cylinder includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, tilt steering column, and a six-speaker sound system with single-CD player and auxiliary audio jack.
The LX model, which I drove for a week, comes with a V6 engine or automatic-equipped four-cylinder gain keyless entry, cruise control and tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls.
The]]> LX V6 also has alloy wheels. The LX Appearance Package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, trip computer, and upgraded exterior and interior trim.
The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 162 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the four-cylinder LX. Optional on the LX and standard on the four-cylinder EX is a five-speed automatic transmission. Optional on both trim levels is a 2.7-liter V6 with 185 horsepower.
Optima crash test scores are superior, with a perfect five stars for front-and side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the highest possible rating of “Good” in its frontal-offset crash test.
The 2008 Optima’s interior is efficient, easy-to-use and devoid of any unique characteristic other than it “gets the job done.” There’s plenty of legroom and seats are well shaped and supportive.
During my week in the Optima, I negotiated high-speed highways to country roads. I used the air conditioner often and I also drove to the summit of Brasstown Bald Mountain, the highest elevation in Georgia at nearly 5,000 feet.
With three adult males in the car, the Kia struggled on the steep parts of the mountain ascent. But nearly every other car in the entourage I was traveling in also suffered. It was the only hesitation in my time in the vehicle. I filled the gas tank three times and it averaged 28.2 mpg.
It’s doubtful if Kia will cut into the Honda, Toyota or Nissan stronghold in the midsize market. But it’s a less-expensive, efficient, no-frills alternative to the leading trio, and it deserves a second look.
Safety Features — Front seat front, side and side curtain airbags. Stability control, ABS brakes.
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/100,000 miles; Roadside assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles;
Gas Mileage Estimates — 21 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway).
Base Price — $20,500.