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Full Review: 2014 Kia Optima

During a recent run-in with a metal pipe on the Grand Central Parkway in New York, I had the distinct privilege of having a rental car for 7 days. When you do get the opportunity to rent a car, it’s both very exciting and very nerve wracking. On the one hand, you could get a car that surprises you which was my experience with the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta when I was in Dayton, Ohio a few years ago. Or the 2015 Ford Focus SE sedan I drove around for two days recently, and will review soon. What a great little car to drive. Felt a bit heavy, but for a rental experience an overall good one. Thumbs up.

On the other, you could get a car that surprises you… In a terrible, terrible way. Going into this, I was really excited. I mean I was bummed about being without my car for a week, but I was legitimately enthused when I saw what pulled up. I dropped my car off, turned around, and there was a 2014 Kia Optima EX. I was honestly stoked. This car that looks really, really good and is notably one of the better looking affordable sedans on the market. It’s one of those sedans that makes you do a double take since it looks much better than any other car Kia makes currently and kind of looks like it could be something vastly more expensive. I mean slap a BMW/Audi/Mercedes/Lexus/Cadillac badge on it and based on the outside, you can sell it for over $50,000. Easily. And it was a white one, too. The color in which all Kia Optima’s should arrive. The higher up models with the blacked out roof are especially good looking. This wasn’t a black roof model, but the white was still great looking and inviting. I was giddy to hop in and see what kind of goodies awaited me on the inside. I signed the appropriate paperwork, got in, started the car, and surveyed my surroundings.

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Dis·ap·point·ment (noun): the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. Google disappointment, and the sentence before this one is what pops up. This is a perfect description of my horror because as I sat down a wave of tan and beige, bland, mediocrity washed over me like I had been transported back to 1998. It was as if I had entered a parallel universe where outside the car was a beautiful 2014, modern family sedan  and inside the car was a 1988 Chevy Celebrity. It was insane how different the inside looked than the outside. It’s almost trying to fool you into thinking it’s modern. It’s not. The dash display is insanely difficult to read. To view the speedo, tach, and gas gauges I had to move my head to three different spots because either the wheel blocked them or I was looking down the 3″ deep plastic tunnel around each gauge pod. Not a great design. The automatic shift knob was not ergonomically proper and was completely whacked out of shape. Shift knobs should be pleasant to the touch and make you want to use them, even in an automatic. This was the opposite. The radio was in red while the rest of the gauges were white and silver. I think Kia was going for the Audi/BMW look and failed miserably. Looks more like an alarm clock which is the last thing we want to see on a daily morning commute reminding us of where we’re going.

 

The Optima interior clearly did not meet my expectations, but what about the driving experience? Not much better I’m afraid as steering is very heavy and it almost felt like attempting to drive a plastic grocery bag filled with oatmeal. The handling was spongy and that’s doing it justice since I’m too lazy to think of more adjectives. There is a silver lining though. Having driven many family sedans over the years, I can attest that this car does stack up on ride quality. Big sidewalls on the tires and the non-sporty suspension adds up to a comfortable and smooth ride over bumps. On long trips though, I wouldn’t recommend it since the seats feel straight out of a Model T. The drivers seat specifically felt like it had been crafted by a lumberjack who’s only creature comfort was a bed made out of the trees he chopped down on the daily. All said and done, the inside of the car is not where the money is made by Kia. The trunk is a comparable size to the other in segment. If you’re in the business of transporting large quantities of groceries or children’s sporting equipment, you’ll be fine.

The power in the car is slightly, and boy do I mean slightly, above average. Throttle response is enough, but could be better. Engine note is surprisingly decent, but I wasn’t expecting mountains to be displaced when I put my foot down. Movement comes from a 2.4L 4-cylinder putting out 192hp and 181 ft-lbs. At a 3272 curb weight, that should get your going to work or soccer practice with ease. If it were my car, I’d have opted for the 2.0L turbo engine it shares with the Hyundai Sonata with 274hp/269lb-ft as that variant is a diamond in the rough. If you have the funds to do so, go for this upgrade. Breaking is right on par with the industry standard and average in my testing. Ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes do a fine job and won’t get you into any trouble.

You don’t get many luxuries in the EX. A radio, a wheel, some air blowing in your face that is either hot or cold, and some gauges is pretty much it. For a base $24,100, I would have expected a little more. What your money does buy you is space as that’s the interior’s only redeeming quality. It’s cavernous in there. An enormous trunk is also a place you’ll find room for many large suitcases and some duffle bags, all while transporting 5 full-sized adults. However, I can’t stress enough how strangely supportive the cloth seats are in this car. It feels as if lumbar support was turn to full tilt without even having a lumbar support function. The lower-back portion of the seat pushed into my spine as I drove, thrusting me forward towards the steering wheel in a very odd manner. It almost felt as though it was in an S-shape.

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So what is this car exactly? It’s absolutely supposed to be a Fusion/Mazda6/Passat competitor, but it just doesn’t stack up. Is it a good buy? In my opinion, not really as you’d get a better car in the Fusion with a better tech package and a better overall look for $105 less. Even though I didn’t like the Fusion, I’d still take that over the Optima. Is it fun to drive? In a word, no. Is it comfortable? Again, not in the slightest. So what do we do with this car? Why is it even on sale? I think it fills a great need in our society…as a rental car. I think this car is the PERFECT car for a short time, one use crowd. Other than that, I wouldn’t wish this car on anyone. When compared to the competition, it is at the bottom. I give it my lowest overall score thus car of 48 out of 100.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me why in the comments.

Photo credit Google Images and Izmo Cars

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