Our recent midsize sedan comparison provided an excellent opportunity to experience the revised 2014 Kia Optima in all types of driving situations from freeway cruising to at-the-limit encounters with several of California's most engagingly twisty two-lane highways. During that roughly 500-mile odyssey, we learned a good deal about Kia's best-selling vehicle. In the end, the mid-range Optima EX drew both praise and pans from all who spent time behind the wheel. Given our previous Optima experience, it was no surprise the plus-side comments were far more abundant. However, this head-to-head confrontation also confirmed that Kia still has some work to do to bring the Optima's dynamic character up to the same level as its distinctive style.
The Optima gained even more visual pop for 2014, complementing its sleek profile with revamped front and rear fascias treatments as well as new 17-inch alloy wheels. While we thought the Mazda6 and Ford Fusion were still the pick of this midsize-sedan pack when it came to pure curb appeal, Kia's entry claimed a very respectable third spot on the podium. We also found plenty to like about the Optima's passenger compartment. There's a contemporary and decidedly upscale flair to its basic design and the upgraded front buckets are now notably more comfortable. The Optima's driver-oriented dash layout and highly-legible tri-barrel main instrument cluster also drew kudos as did less-obvious touches like its large central covered storage bin, easily accessible ports/powerpoints, rear-seat A/C vents and trick cooled glovebox.
Fitted with the optional Premium Package, our Optima tester further elevated that ambiance by complementing its EX-spec real leather upholstery and faux wood accents with an upline Infinity audio system, a dual-pane glass panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seat and steering wheel along with a power-adjustable passenger seat, backup camera and power-folding outside mirrors that automatically deploy when you approach the vehicle. Going the Premium route did add $2,950 to the car's bottom line, which at $27,900 placed our Optima second only to the V6-powered Camry. The tradeoff is that this Optima didn't have navigation, unlike two of the less expensive midsize sedans in our test. However, it's important to point out that neither of those had leather seats, power folding mirrors, or an audio upgrade.
We were less taken with the Optima's relatively small center LCD screen and somewhat questionable mix-and-not-match colors on its various dash displays. But the most pointed criticism of this fairly well-isolated realm centered on a lack of rear-seat headroom. Although its 37.6-inch formal stat bettered five of the players in our gang of eight, the Optima's aft quarters came under the same criticism we leveled at the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu for being too small. On the upside, the Optima's average-sized -- for a midsize sedan -- 15.4-cubic-foot trunk gained bonus points for its large, well-shaped decklid cutout that simplifies cargo loading/unloading chores.
While lacking the Accord's level of accelerative enthusiasm, the Optima's 2.4-liter/192-horsepower 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed Sportmatic autoshifter still give this Kia category-competitive straight-line performance. The same does not hold true of the Optima's overall handling, which was deemed least satisfying of the group. A suspension light on meaningful driver feedback coupled with fussy steering that requires frequent mini-corrections detract from an otherwise genuinely impressive midsize-sedan package.
How much should you pay for a new Kia Optima? How does its 5-Year Cost to Own stack up? Our Kia Optima Editors' Page is your gateway to answers.
If you're still looking around, check out the other seven cars included in our 2014 Midsize Sedan Comparison Test.