Engineering a New World

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Kia Optima – Rental Car Review

My Optima vs. My Nemesis by tadnkat
My Optima vs. My Nemesis, a photo by tadnkat on Flickr.


Well, this is going to be another in what is likely going to be a recurring theme for this blog.  I rent cars at least once a month for a road trip from DC to Knoxville, Tennessee, for business purposes.  Being a car nut, I try to rent a different car every time – and of course, I do end up being fairly opinionated on each.

On once such recent trip, I rented a maroon Kia Optima EX.  Enterprise had originally put me into a Chevy Malibu, but as I needed bluetooth for the long trip (so I can do conference calls & such) and the included OnStar wasn’t going to cut it.

The Optima is actually an incredibly capable sedan, and I came away impressed.

Summary In a Sentence:

I would own this car in a heartbeat if it came with a 6-speed manual.

Brief driving notes:

Powertrain & Handling:

The Optima has a 2.4 liter twincam 4-cylinder making 200hp to the front wheels through a decent 6-speed automatic.  While it’s got these big dual-exhausts and such, the engine sort of makes a tinny sound but still is plenty gutsy especially for a base engine.    I did wish for a bit more passing power when on two-lane roads, but in the main, it’s a great little engine.   My main beef?  Lack of a manual transmission.  As it doesn’t have much in the way of low-end torque, you have to rev it to make it seem quick, and that’s laborious and imprecise with the automatic, even in manual-shift mode.

Probably the thing which struck me first about the car was its handling.  It feels athletic when you drive it – especially when driven back to back with the Chevy Malibu.  It has a small-diameter steering wheel, and a nice & direct steering feel, and has grippy seats which I found good for cornering.

Heading home via The Dragon. 318 curves in 11 miles...this ought to be good.

Sign at the entrance to the Tail of the Dragon on Route 129.

And I DID definitely test the cornering, as on my way back from Knoxville I took the car through the infamous Dragon’s Tail on Route 129 through the Smokies.  The route has (as advertised) 318 curves in 11 miles and – let me tell you – it does not disappoint.

The Kia, while not the IDEAL vehicle for such an excursion (I’d say ideal would be more of a Subaru BRZ), also was no slouch for a family sedan.  The 215/55 tires held on well, and the manual mode on the transmission (though frustrating) worked OK in lieu of a proper gearbox.

Gas Mileage:

I got 25mpg in mixed city/highway driving, and 32.5mpg on the 500-mile trip from Knoxville to DC.   Not terrible, but also a bit below the EPA estimates.

All told, I’d definitely recommend the Kia Optima to anyone looking for a sedan more on the sporty side, and definitely a comfortable cruiser for the trip down the I-81.

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This entry was posted on November 8, 2012 by in Rental Car Review and tagged , , , , , , , .
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