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2013 Kia Optima: New Car Review

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author photo by Joe Tralongo April 2013

Pros: Sleek styling; impressive fuel economy; generous standard equipment; excellent safety and resale figures

Cons: No V6 engine option; limited number of dealerships; no all-wheel drive option

What's New: A new SX Limited trim level is available, featuring Nappa leather seating, LED daytime running lights, an electronic parking brake and 18-inch chrome wheels. The manual transmission LX model is dropped this year, as is the EX turbo trim.

The Kia Optima Hybrid is also updated for 2013. Horsepower drops from 206 to 199, but torque is up substantially. It increases from 195 lb-ft to 235 lb-ft. Powertrain updates have increased the Optima Hybrid's fuel economy by one mile per gallon, raising the new model to 36 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.

The 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid also adds a new EX trim, which features a navigation system, a reversing camera and a panoramic sunroof.

That the 2013 Kia Optima can hold its own against such industry giants as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry is an achievement all on its own. But the fact that so many customers and journalists are actually choosing the Optima over its Japanese and American rivals shows just how far, and how fast, Kia has leapfrogged from bottom feeder to best in show.

The Optima offers more than just a roomy cabin, smooth ride and great gas mileage. Where most midsize sedans follow a rather conservative path, the Optima appears as if it could have been styled by Jaguar or Ferrari. Its interior is equally well heeled, with features virtually unheard of in the midsize family sedan class (like an available heated rear seat and panoramic glass roof) and absent even on some luxury brands. The Optima comes in a variety of trims and prices, so there's a model to fit just about any budget, including a sporty turbocharged version and a super-efficient hybrid. With pricing that starts around $22,000, the Optima is also easy to get into.

It should be noted that while we really love the Optima for its fuel economy, price and features, it doesn't yet have the proven long-term reliability and resale history of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Kia understands this, which is why every Optima comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile vehicle warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Comfort & Utility

As family sedans go, this is one of our favorites. The Optima's interior is a welcome spot for the long-legged, and the seating is both comfortable and supportive. We do wish the passenger's seat offered adjustable positions and lumbar support like the driver's seat. About the only area that falls short in the 2013 Optima is rear-seat headroom, which is somewhat curtailed by the stylish, but sharply angled roof.

We give two thumbs up to the Optima's Saab-like instrument cluster, elegant blend of two-tone colors inside and overall feel of the levers and switches. Some of the plastics on the dash, steering wheel and door panels don't quite live up to the standard set by Mazda or Volkswagen, but they are not far off the mark.

The abundance of fabulous interior features is the most impressive thing about the Optima. Mercedes-Benz may not offer a heated rear seat on its C-Class sedan, but you can have one on the Optima. You can also check the boxes for a panoramic glass moonroof, heated and cooled front seats and an 8-speaker Infinity audio system.

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Not only is Kia's voice-activated navigation system one of the better units around, Kia makes it available as an option on any Optima with an automatic transmission. The navigation unit is complemented by a back-up camera and SirusXM traffic and weather updates. An 8-speaker Infinity audio system is available across all trims. The EX and SX offer the UVO voice-activated infotainment system, which allows voice control of your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and portable music storage device.

The Optima Hybrid has its own unique instrument cluster. It includes an EcoMinder LCD display that uses clever graphics to show when you are achieving optimal fuel economy.

Other notable features available with either the Premium or Technology Packages include heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, power folding exterior mirrors and driver's-seat memory.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 2013 Kia Optima is offered in five trims: LX, EX, SX, SX Limited and Hybrid. LX and EX models are powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine equipped with gasoline direct injection technology. Producing 200 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, this engine is nearly as powerful as some competitor's V6s and delivers outstanding fuel economy figures of 24 mpg city/35 mpg hwy. The standard transmission is a 6-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission with manual shift control.

The SX and SX Limited employ a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that ups power to 274 hp and torque to 269 lb-ft. The added horsepower gives the Optima a big performance boost, but fuel economy doesn't suffer much, with an estimated 22 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.

For the ultimate in fuel economy, the Optima Hybrid uses a slightly less powerful version of the 2.4-liter engine teamed to a 40-hp electric motor, with a combined engine output of 206 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. With performance figures on par with the standard gasoline engine, the hybrid is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 35/40 mpg. It is possible to attain such numbers in optimal driving conditions, but in practice we experienced about 5 mpg less overall, making the hybrid's fuel economy not much better than the gasoline-only models. We also find that the hybrid powertrain can feel a little jerky and lacking in low-end power when attempting to pass or enter a freeway. Be sure to take an extended test drive before choosing the Optima Hybrid.


Standard safety equipment on all Optimas includes front side-impact airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags and electronic traction and stability control. Oddly, for all its advanced technology features, Kia doesn't currently offer blind spot warning or parking assist systems.

Driving Impressions

If you think a car should be as good at driving as it looks, you'll feel right at home in the 2013 Kia Optima. In EX and SX trim, the larger wheels and tires, along with the sport suspension in the SX, gives this big sedan an athletic demeanor usually reserved for smaller, sportier cars. The Optima corners well; body roll and lean only become noticeable during the most demanding maneuvers. Aided by the nicely weighted steering and electronic stability control, we were able to push the Optima to its limit without getting ourselves into too much trouble. 
The 2.4-liter gasoline engine has more than enough power for the average driver, but we fell in love with the rush of power afforded by the turbo. The engine is calibrated to deliver smooth flow from a dead stop, making the turbo feel like a robust V6. There's even an "Eco" setting that dials back the turbo and some of the engine's output to improve fuel economy when you're cruising at a steady speed.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Malibu: The Optima has a more powerful 4-cylinder engine and a better warranty than the Malibu, but the Chevrolet sedan has more rear-seat legroom and added piece of mind provided by GM's OnStar service.

Honda Accord: The Accord may not be quite as stylish as the Optima (though the all-new 2013 Accord looks sharp) and not as laden with content, but it has a longer history of reliability and a strong resale value.

Toyota Camry: The Camry has a much larger rear seat than the Optima and offers strong resale value; there are also far more Toyota dealerships than Kia outlets nationwide. However, the Optima offers a better warranty, and it out-muscles, out-options and out-styles the Camry.

AutoTrader Recommends

While we can't advise against the thrilling performance provided by the turbocharged Optima EX and SX, we think the best value in the Optima line is the EX with the standard 2.4-liter engine. The 2.4-liter delivers excellent power and fuel economy, and the Optima EX is very well equipped yet undercuts its competitors by thousands of dollars. Better yet, the EX can be loaded with optional features not offered on the Camry, Accord, Malibu or Altima.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2013 Kia Optima: New Car Review - Autotrader