Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s Website
Kia Canada

Review and photos by Gerry Frechette

Photo Gallery:
2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo

Kia is making big waves in the auto business, having had another stellar year in 2012, after completely redesigning its lineup in the past few years. Its vehicles have gone from being non-descript to some of the most distinctive on the road. The Optima mid-sized sedan, introduced a couple of years ago, is aging well and remains one of the more appealing such cars on the road.

At the outset, it must be said that the platform and technology of the Optima mirrors that of its cousin, the Hyundai Sonata, and that is no bad thing, because it means that the Optima can be had in the same three versions – regular, turbo and hybrid. Beyond that, this car goes its own way as far as exterior and interior design, with Kia pursuing a more youthful and aggressive image.

Exterior and interior design has been totally revamped on Kias, and the Optima is one of the sleekest mid-size sedans on the road, with muscular proportions and a classy look. The model we drove was the EX Turbo, the EX being the mid-range model overall, and the entry level for the turbocharged direct-injection 2.0L four-cylinder engine, which pumps out 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque at as low as 1,750 rpm. In pre-metric terms, this is a 122 cubic-inch engine! Not so long ago, it would take twice the cylinders and three times the displacement to achieve those numbers. It is no wonder that a V6 is not available, a product planning decision that many of the companies in this segment have taken, because the added weight and expense are no longer necessary.

Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo. Click image to enlarge

The power is directed to the front wheels through a six-speed “Steptronic” (manual-shift capable with paddles) automatic transmission, and there, the sportiness pretty much ends other than slightly larger brakes in front (12.6 versus 11.8 inches), as Kia has chosen to equip this “basic” Turbo the way the regular non-turbo EX is, with 17-inch wheels, regular ride–biased suspension (McPherson struts up front, multi-link design at the rear), and a slightly disconnected feel in some circumstances from the electric motor–driven steering. To get the sport suspension and 18-inch wheels with bigger tires, one must step up (to the tune of almost $5,000) to the top-of-the-line SX model. The EX isn’t an especially engaging driving experience for the enthusiast, beyond the very capable engine and drivetrain, but it certainly provides a refined and unruffled ride in normal use. The winter tires on our tester weren’t the grippiest for dry-pavement handling, but in the wet – which was the most “winter” we encountered – the Optima seemed happy to have them and handled well.

Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo. Click image to enlarge

The Steptronic automatic features a manual-shift gate to the left of the regular gate, with upshifts accomplished by moving the lever forward, and downshifts, obviously, rearward. One might argue that the opposite configuration should be the case, but that would be a subjective judgement. In any case, the best way to shift manually is to keep one’s hands on the wheel and use the steering wheel–mounted paddles, the right one for upshifts, the left one for downshifts. Shifts are crisp and positive in nature. One thing to note, all the transmission’s sportiness is in its manual-shift capability; there is no sport mode in full leave-it-alone automatic usage.

There is, however, an  “Active ECO System” that optimizes engine and transmission management to reduce fuel consumption at the push of a button on the steering wheel. Engaging it, you’ll find the transmission gets to a higher gear quicker and stays there longer, essentially.

Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo. Click image to enlarge

To look at the Optima EX Turbo, you will really think you are in a car that sells for more than its asking price of $29,095, such is its premium Euro-like design and presence on the road. It is hard to believe how far Kia has come with its mid-size sedan in only one generation – it’s a great leap that lets it hold its head high next to any other mid-size sedan. Most of said sedans are all new in the past couple of years, and yet the Optima doesn’t look at all dated or passé.

Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo. Click image to enlarge

The place you will obviously spend the most time in the Optima is… well, inside, and there, the impressions are also good. The interior is roomy and comfortable, and the seats reasonably supportive, both front and rear. The appearance is a bit drab and monochromatic (read: black), so some contrasting tones would be nice, but the dashboard design is sweeping and highly visibile. Ingress and egress are as expected – no problem in front, and “duck your head” in the back. Once in there, though, the sloping roofline does not exact too large a price in headroom, and a taller person can “sit behind himself.” A central armrest with two cupholders folds down, and it is big enough to have storage, but it doesn’t. The trunk is capacious enough, but as we’ve come to expect these days, its opening is not especially large, and the large curved hinges will swing into the available space, diminishing the actual cargo capacity in those immediate areas.

Given its pricing, one must be impressed by the level of standard equipment on the Optima EX Turbo. It includes heated leather power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, tilt and telescopic steering, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, and the useful UVO Infotainment system (developed in conjunction with Microsoft) that allows drivers to quickly access music files, change radio stations, and make phone calls, all through voice‐activated controls using Microsoft speech recognition technology. It also offers a hard drive for storage and all the physical device connectivity you could want. It must be said that the UVO’s screen is a bit smaller than what most might be accustomed to, and manoeuvring through the radio options was bit frustrating, in that only three pre-sets are shown at a time without calling up more in another menu.

The only option on the EX Turbo is a full-length panoramic sunroof, and while the car is very well equipped for the majority of those looking at it, it is perhaps easier to mention some of the equipment not available on it, to give an idea of the step up that must be taken.

To get the desirable options such as the aforementioned 18-inch wheels (with a rather unique design that may not be to everyone’s taste) and upgraded suspension, plus Infinity premium audio system, xenon HID headlights, navigation system, and leather seats with sport cloth trim (oddly, replacing the leather-with-no-cloth standard on even the basic EX), plus numerous other comfort items, one must move up to the SX. Fair enough; even it is a good deal at $33,995. Yes, that is the most one can spend on a non-hybrid Optima; value is a big part of the Kia story, as we’ve come to know.

Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
Test Drive: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo car test drives reviews kia
Click image to enlarge

It goes without saying that every possible safety and security feature is on board, including six airbags (fewer than some of the newer competition), four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, traction and stability control system, vehicle stability management, immobilizer and alarm.

Without even getting into the recent controversy concerning Kia’s published fuel economy ratings, in our time with the Optima Turbo, it achieved 10.6 L/100 km in 80-percent urban driving with a light right foot, according to the onboard computer, versus an EnerGuide rating of 9.2 city/5.8 highway. Not bad for a turbocharged engine, but you can draw your own conclusions about the actual consumption versus the ratings.

Considering its room, comfort, performance, design, and technology, the Kia Optima Turbo is one of the best values for the money in a mid-size sedan.

Pricing: 2013 Kia Optima EX Turbo
Base price (EX Turbo): $29,095
Options: $1,400 (Full-length panoramic sunroof)
Freight: Included
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $30,595

Competitors
Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler 200
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata
Mazda6
Nissan Altima
Subaru Legacy
Toyota Camry

Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)