I used to have a car that was manufactured by Kia, the Ford Aspire. It was a small reliable car but there was nothing fancy about the car. It had crank windows, a simple radio and manual locks. One comedian joked that the Aspire was the best named car in America because “Aspire” means to “long for something greater”. My little Aspire was a bright green easter egg color that my co-workers called a “clown car” when I would unfold my 6′ 3″ frame from this tiny automobile.
With this experience I was very interested when I was offered a week long test drive of the Kia Optima. Wow. What a different experience the Optima is over the Aspire. The Optima is well-appointed luxury car. In fact the first thing I really noticed after driving the car for a day was not that one particular feature stood out that made it exceptional, but that it was what I expected in a luxury car. Add onto that good fuel economy (I averaged about 32 MPG during my week with the car in mostly heavy commute traffic) and I found it a bit difficult to go back to my usual ride.
The interior of the Kia Optima is comfortable with some interesting little features like the seat adjusts itself forward a little when you start the car and back when you turn it off to make it easier to get in and out. The car also had a key fob instead of an old-school key system, so you can start the car with the fob in your pocket with a push of a button. A number of cars have the fob system these days but it was my first exposure. It takes a little getting used to and honestly I am not sure whether I prefer it, but I suspect in 10 years I will look back on car keys the way I look back on the quaintness of a rotary telephone.
The most obvious feature in the interior and the most seductive is the in dash radio / satellite radio / navigation unit called UVO powered by Microsoft. It combines with voice commands and with controls on the steering column for a more hands off experience. It also has a connector so I could connect my iPhone and control it via the same system to play my favorite music or podcasts. The voice control worked surprisingly well for navigation except that you had to look at the display and choose line 1, line 2, line 3, etc from a range of possible streets or cities. For some reason although it had access to my contacts from my iPhone the voice dialing did not work for me at all.
When you put the car into reverse the UVO screen displays a back up camera. My house is at an intersection of 2 streets and the backup camera is a feature I truly miss after returning the Optima. For safety reasons when the car is in reverse and the backup camera is activated you cannot control your media, even if you stop the motion of the car. So find your podcast playlist before you put the car in reverse.
I thought the car had solid pickup getting on of the highway and handled very smoothly. I did have it stutter a little leaving the packring garage at my office on a steep ramp just after it started up but in general I really enjoyed driving the Optima Hybrid. The car would, of course, start with no sound at all which was both very cool and kind of weird. That made it great for leaving for work without waking the entire house, but I admit that I restarted it at least once because I could not believe it was already running. The Optima would automatically shift from electric motor to gas and back again with imperceptible ease. It had one particular display that would show a branch with leaves and blossoms to show how “green” the car was running. A simple gauge would probably have worked as well for me.
I liked the design of the Kia Optima Hybrid, which has won some design awards. I was driving a blue 4 door sedan. I don’t think I would call the design revolutionary but I did notice it turn a few heads as I drove by.
I would be glad to try out the Kia Optima Hybrid on a road trip if anyone wanted to loan me one. Heck, I would love to drive it around town for another week. This is the kind of car that spoils you for going back to a non-luxury car. I am just glad I didn’t name the car I had or I might have had to keep it.Kia has come a long way.
The Kia Optima Hybrid starts at $25,700 although I suspect the tricked out version I was driving would cost a bit more.
+Chris Christensen | @chris2x | facebook
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