When I first got my brand new 2005 Honda Odyssey I thought it was a height of luxury. It wasn’t a Cadillac or Lexus, but for a family vehicle it was a minivan that drove like a luxury car. Now that it has been almost 9 years since I had a new van I realize that vehicles have come a long way since I drove off the lot. I definitely realized that when I test-drove the 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid EX. Now I think I need a new car.
The first cool thing I quickly got used to with the Kia Optima EX is the keyless entry system. Oh, you still need to have your key with you somewhere, like in your handbag or pocket. But you no longer have to spill all of your contents to find your keys. You merely have to click the button on the car handle of the driver side door. Viola, you’re in. Of course if you are an organized person and can instantly find your keys you can always unlock them with a click of your key remote. But what fun is that? So last decade.
Next, the other cool thing is starting up the car with the push of a button. More and more cars have this feature, which means as long as you have your keys somewhere on you can also start the car. Is that a pro or con? I think it could be something I get used to but also problematic in that I’d better not lose my purse or change purses.
To start the engine you merely press the brake and the ignition button. The Kia Optima purrs like a cat – maybe quieter. Because it is a hybrid-electric vehicle that means it combines the benefits of a gas engine and an electric motor. This combination theoretically provides the benefit of fuel economy. However in my investigation the Kia Optima does not have as great a range in fuel economy as other hybrids. But it was sure better than my old Odyssey AND better than my brand new 2013 Ford Focus. In general the Optima was averaging about 38 MPG compared to 18 MPG for my Honda Odyssey and 24 MPG for my Ford Focus. That savings can add up.
As it turned out, the Ford Focus was a good comparison to the Kia Optima. Both are midsize standard cars. We purchased the Ford last year as a first vehicle for our two teenage kids to drive. We bought a new car rather than a used car because we wanted a new warranty and some of the latest technology. I hadn’t considered the Kia at the time but now wish I had in terms of the fuel savings alone. Investment-wise the Kia is considerably more off the lot (starting around $32,000) but after 5-7 years the fuel savings could even things out.
Other nice features of the Kia include Satellite radio, rear camera assistance (which I would love to have for my new teen drivers), a four-cylinder engine and electric motor with a six-speed automatic transmission. To be honest, however, I found the hybrid powertrain to be slightly sluggish and I felt I had to give it a little more “gas” to get moving from a complete stop.
The interior has some nice features and the control panel is angled nicely for the driver to see all controls. One thing that seemed to be missing is a clock that I could see at all times at a glance. I had to push the clock button to see the time display in the same screen as the map and audio functions. I prefer a separate clock display.
The navigation system is intuitive like an app on your smartphone. It’s handy to have a built in USB port and auxiliary jack. Other features that are not standard on other hybrid mid-size cards include heated and cooled front seats, independent heat and cooling systems in the front, front and rear sunroof and power folding side-mirrors. None of those exist in my Ford Focus, which by the way is more of a compact than midsize vehicle.
Safety is a key concern on any vehicle and the Optima gets 5-stars in four key tests based on the National Traffic Safety Administration including “Overall Rating,” “Front Crash,” “Side Crash”” and Rollover.” That’s impressive.
US News gives the 2013 Kia Optima a 16 out of 20 in their 2013 Car Rankings. Ironically Hyundai takes the top spot on the list with the 2013 Sonata, which is sort of like the brother-from-another-motor considering the two companies are owned under the Hyundai Motor Group. Hyundai owns 51% of Kia, which is a separate company of that affiliation since 1998.
Would I purchase the Kia Optima? While it had a ton of nice bells and whistles, and is a hybrid, I hesitate due to the powertrain’s slow pick up. I’d rather have a seamless transition with a slight touch to the pedal. But it was a sweet test drive and has certainly made me consider going hybrid in my next vehicle. I want to check out the Hyundai Sonata next.