As much as we rightfully celebrate cars that offer a good value, it's arguably more impressive to drive something that succeeds purely on its own merits, with no help from the window sticker. That's why I was somewhat glad to see that this attractive car from Kia -- long America's bargain king -- has a big-boy price of $30,840. For that money, you get tons of goodies, including heated and cooled front seats, passive keyless entry, navigation, a backup camera, and a sunroof wide enough to toss a basketball through. Beyond the options list, though, the Optima has evolved into a car that can charge full price.
The key to this success, aside from the very daring styling, is the equally pleasing interior. Kia designers wisely took a step back from the wacky materials and colors they've uses in their cheaper offerings, like the Soul, and instead opted for a traditional, but still very interesting, aesthetic. Even the faux-carbon-fiber trim inserts -- something that trips up some premium brands -- are realistic and tasteful. The technology also works quite well and synched seamlessly with my iPhone (for music playback). My only suggestion would be to add a knob for tuning, as it can become tedious to search through more than a hundred satellite channels by tapping buttons. Tall people might take issue with both the short seat cushions and the raked roofline, but average or smaller-than-average folks will have plenty of room. Center rear-seat passengers will appreciate the fact that there's almost no hump in the floor.
The Optima also drives quite well overall for a mid-size sedan, with strong acceleration, good body control, and steering with actual weight. There are, however, a few subtle flaws. The steering, for instance, has a nice heft to it but feels strangely vague just off center, and large bumps and potholes jar the passenger compartment more than one expects in a car this size. Given Joe's observation about the off-brand tires, I'd be very curious to see if more reputable rubber addresses some of these issues. Still, these are rather minor complaints. The Optima has elbowed its way into the ranks of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion by offering all the right content along with a welcome dose of panache.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor