Ever since I laid eyes on the Optima, I’ve loved its style and couldn’t wait to drive it. Well time flies and it took longer than expected to finally get behind the wheel. Half-way through its model cycle, the Optima gets a refresh for the 2015 model year (its subtle, but better looking inside and out), so it was important to grab the keys to a 2014 before the change, in order to compare them next year.
What Is It?
- Mid-size sedan
- Full Hybrid – A traditional vehicle with an electric motor that can exclusively propel the vehicle at times or in combination with a gas engine. An example of this would be an electric motor that propels the vehicle from a stop, a gas engine that operates at highway speeds and both combine when extra power is required. A Full Hybrid charges its own batteries via electric motor or gasoline engine.
- Depending on the state of charge and load, the electric motor may propel the vehicle for longer distances and speeds up to 100 km/h. I easily got up to 80km/h on the battery power only
- Lithium-Polymer Battery – One of the smallest, lightest and most advanced hybrid batteries in the automotive world
- Hybrid Engine Clutch – A ‘Hybrid Engine Clutch’ allows for a seamless transition between electric motor and gas engine. The entire seamless transition takes only six-tenths of a second
- Traditional Transmission – A traditional 6-speed transmission is used instead of a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). This allows for desirable shift feeling instead of a shiftless ‘golf-cart feeling’
How Does It Look?
- Although it shares it’s platform with the Hyundai Sonata – they both look completely different
- People described it to me as gorgeous, pretty and plenty of people including myself say that it’s one of the best looking cars on the road today
- I prefer the rims on the hybrid to the SE we pulled up beside at the lights
What’s It Like Inside?
- The centre dash has a high-resolution 8-inch multimedia interface with voice-activated navigation
- I like that Kia in its wisdom chose to keep the climate controls separate from the multimedia controls with their own dedicated buttons and knobs – I hate when manufacturers put everything on the screen and it takes forever to scroll through the menus just to change the temperature
- I liked that you could have fresh air come into the cabin without having to turn the A/C on – saving the battery and gas. However, every time my wife adjusted her side, mine changed to – even though it was set at a much lower temperature , and it supposedly had dual climate control.
- The driver and front passenger get standard (in the EX) power-adjustable leather heated and cooled seats with the driver also getting power lumbar.
- The driver’s seat is height-adjustable, but the passenger has to sit very low, close to the floor
- The cooled front seats were virtually non-existent and only worked when the A/C was on. Switch off the A/C to run it with fresh air – as noted above – and the seat coolers switched off too. I didn’t read the manual to check on this one, but perhaps that’s just how they work.
- Rear passengers also get heated seats – nice touch!
- Rear entry and exit for two older people was ‘excellent’ and the seats ‘very comfortable.’ My mother-in-law said she’d happily buy (or have me buy) an Optima because she thought it was beautiful and the rear seats were perfect.
- The driver’s seat was… how can I say this nicely…uncomfortable after 30 minutes. I just couldn’t get comfortable for trips that were more than 30 minutes, and after a long-time sitting they made my bum numb and my back ache – even with the lumbar adjustment all the way out. HOWEVER, after driving the car for a week, I got the seat just perfect – on the trip back to Kia to return the car. Fortunately the driver’s side has a 2-person memory, so once you get comfortable you can lock it in place.
- Switching on the bum warmers helped a little, but they weren’t hot enough, especially if they had to heat you through a winter coat.
- VERY quiet at all speeds, even with the roof open
- Storage space inside the cabin is acceptable, but not outstanding. An average glove-box that is taken up with the manual kinda defeats the purpose when there’s no room for something like – gloves (one of my biggest pet peeves).
- The door pockets are usable but not huge and the centre console is pretty useful – square and quite deep.
- The trunk is larger than I was expecting considering the hybrid equipment and battery reside there – you don’t get folding seats but there is a pass-through for skis etc.
- Killer audio system. Loads of bass and nice clear highs. You can dial the volume all the way up to just below ear-bleeding levels and it’s still amazing
So How Quick Is It & How Does It Handle?
- 2.4L Theta II 4-cylinder MPI Atkinsons-cycle engine, FWD
- 6-speed Automatic Transmission
- Horsepower: 159 @ 5,500 rpm + Electric Motor: 46 hp @ 1,600 – 3,000 rpm
- Horsepower Combined: 199 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque: 154 @ 4,500 rpm + 151 lb.ft @ 0-1,630 rpm
- Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV)
- Never felt overly-sluggish, but didn’t feel like a sports sedan either – which is not what a hybrid is about anyway.
- The gas pedal took a lot of time to get used to, and I’m not sure I actually did after the week… You press on the go pedal and it just putters along and then it surges forward as if you’ve mashed the pedal. There’s a long movement of the pedal before anything happens.
- The electric power steering is over-boosted for my liking and felt very disconnected – like driving a team of horses. You turn the wheel and get nothing, nothing, then you turn.
- Once I got used to the weird feel of the steering it was liveable
Noteworthy Standard Features (EX Premium model)
- Rear view Camera
- HID Headlamps, LED tail lamps
- Smart key w/Push button start
- Heated Front & Rear seats
- Cooled Front seats
- 4.3-inch TFT LCD instrument cluster
- High-resolution 8-inch multimedia interface with voice-activated navigation
- 8-speaker Infinity Premium Audio System
- Rear parking sensors
- Memory drivers seat
- Rain-sensing windshield wipers
- Panorama sunroof – the front can open, but the separate rear glass is fixed (a little disappointing)
What Does It Cost?
As tested: $36,695
+ Metallic Paint: $200
+ Destination/Delivery: $1,485
Total: $37,980 (plus government taxes and add-ons)
- Fuel economy as expected was very good
- I averaged 6.6 L/100 km highway driving at speeds of 80-120 km/h and in mixed city/highway driving
- Fuel economy is rated at: HWY – 5.0 L/100 km / CITY – 5.6 L/100 km
Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
- Looks great from any angle
- Heated steering wheel and heated/cooled front seats
- Awesome stereo system
- Mother-in-Law approved
- The bad … I really didn’t like the drivers seat until I finally got it sorted and then it was fine.
What’s The Verdict?
Overall the Optima didn’t disappoint me, it does everything it’s supposed to do and it does it with flair. However, the seats for me are a deal-breaker – or is that a back-breaker? I’d have to spend more time with it to see if they really were “livable” after I think I’d found the sweet spot. I can only hope they are improved in the 2015 version.
Copyright © 2014 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: Flagworld.com