Family sedans should not look this good. This would be the conventional wisdom, anyway. But the 2013 Kia Optima does not follow conventional wisdom. Its styling and interior design are not only sleek, sophisticated and timelessly handsome for a family sedan, but also impressive for any car, period. Driving an Optima down a crowded street draws double-takes from bystanders and then inevitable squinting as they attempt to identify the badge on its tail. A look of confusion usually follows as the answer turns out to be "Kia."
Behind the pretty face is a well-rounded midsize sedan with a long list of positive attributes. It starts under the hood with a choice of four-cylinder engines (one is turbocharged) that produce exceptional power and fuel efficiency. There's even the Kia Optima Hybrid model, and the automaker has made changes to the hybrid drivetrain for 2013 to improve its smoothness and efficiency in traffic. The 2013 Optima Hybrid LX earns 36 mpg city/40 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined EPA ratings, up from last year's 34 city/39 highway/36 combined. Alongside that, the overall horsepower rating on the hybrid has declined slightly (206 versus 199 previously), though the effect on acceleration is negligible.
As with any Kia model, the Optima sedan gives you plenty of features for your money. Even the base LX model, for instance, comes standard with items such as alloy wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Optima can also be had with sophisticated features like ventilated front seats and a panoramic sunroof -- items unavailable on most competitors. A long warranty is another dollars-and-sense attribute.
Of course, the Optima isn't perfect. Headroom might be an issue for some passengers, especially those seated in back, and the cabin in general is less spacious than the confines in the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat. Also be mindful that your mileage is likely to vary from Kia's lofty EPA estimates. Overall, though, the 2013 Kia Optima is a great family sedan choice that boasts equal parts style and sensibility. The mechanically related 2013 Hyundai Sonata pulls off a similar trick, and we suspect the eye-catching new 2013 Ford Fusion is likely to as well. However, if you're looking to go beyond conventional wisdom -- as well as the conventional family sedan -- the 2013 Kia Optima is a great place to start.
The 2013 Kia Optima is a midsize sedan. For the conventional gasoline-powered Optima, there are LX, EX and SX trim levels. The Kia Optima Hybrid comes in LX and EX trims only.
The gasoline-powered LX comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The LX Convenience package adds an eight-way power driver seat, driver lumbar adjustment and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, while the Technology package adds dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, HD radio, navigation with real-time traffic updates and a rearview camera.
The Optima Hybrid LX is equipped similarly to the regular LX, but comes standard with automatic climate control, keyless ignition/entry and a rearview camera. The Convenience package items are also optional for the hybrid LX. The upgraded sound system and nav system are not available, but you can get Kia's Uvo voice-activated phone and media player interface as an option.
The gas-powered Optima EX trim includes all the Convenience package items and adds 17-inch wheels, keyless ignition/entry, automatic climate control, rear air vents, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, upgraded dash trim and floor mats. The Technology package remains optional on the EX.
The Optima Hybrid EX has all the Tech package items as standard (except for the nav system) along with auto-leveling xenon HID headlights. You can get navigation as an option on the EX hybrid, but it deletes the Uvo interface. Uvo is part of the optional Premium package for the regular EX model, but again, can't be had in combination with navigation. The Premium package also includes a panoramic sunroof, power-folding mirrors, the rearview camera and HD radio, a four-way power passenger seat, driver memory functions, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
The SX adds a turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, unique exterior and interior styling elements, the HID headlights, steering-wheel-mounted transmission paddle shifters, upgraded gauges and cloth/leather upholstery. As on the EX, you have your choice of the Technology and Premium packages, which allow you to add the Uvo interface or navigation, but not both. There's also the SX Limited package, which bundles 18-inch chrome wheels, red-painted brake calipers, additional chrome trim, LED running lamps, SXL exterior badging, the nav system, an electronic parking brake, a first aid kit and upgraded leather upholstery.
First impressions of the 2013 Kia Optima's interior are usually favorable. Whereas most other family sedans in this segment fall somewhere between sedate and bland, the Optima has a distinct European flair. That should come as no surprise when you consider that Kia's chief designer used to work for Audi. While the Kia's interior isn't as sumptuous as an Audi's, there's an abundance of soft-touch materials, and any hard plastics are at least well textured.
Kia's Uvo (pronounced "yoo-voh") electronics interface system is now available on all but the conventional gasoline LX model. Similar to Ford's Sync system (both are powered by Microsoft), Uvo provides voice control of cell phones and MP3 players as well as other services such as turn-by-turn navigation. In our testing of Uvo, we've found that it works quite well, although we prefer the setup in the 2014 Sorento, which allows you to combine Uvo with a navigation system. That said, the touchscreen interface in navigation-equipped Optimas is easy to use for both navigation purposes and operating the stereo.
The Optima has a fairly spacious cabin, with comfortable seats and a useful amount of legroom front and rear. Headroom (particularly in back) is a bit tight due to the car's rakish, coupelike roof line. Taller folks should definitely think twice about the optional panoramic sunroof, as it further decreases headroom. The Optima's 15.4 cubic feet of trunk space is about average for its class, but the Optima Hybrid's trunk offers considerably less space due to intrusion from the hybrid battery pack.
Every 2013 Kia Optima is front-wheel drive. The LX and EX come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. In California-emissions states, this engine has a Super Ultra Low Emissions rating (versus Ultra-Low elsewhere), and it has a lower power output of 192 hp and 181 lb-ft. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the LX, and a six-speed automatic is optional. The automatic comes standard on the EX.
In Edmunds performance testing, a loaded Optima EX in SULEV form went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, which is average for the class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined regardless of transmission.
The SX is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. In Edmunds testing, the SX went from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is an average time for a family sedan of similar power. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22/34/26, which is theoretically superb, but we struggled to meet those numbers in the course of a year-long test of the Optima SX.
The Optima Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission. Combined power output is rated at 199 hp. During testing, a 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid EX accelerated to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, about the same as the Fusion Hybrid but quite a bit slower than the last Camry Hybrid we tested. The Optima Hybrid LX model earns 36 mpg city/40 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined EPA ratings, while the heavier EX model rates only 35 city/39 highway/37 combined.
The 2013 Kia Optima rides comfortably without isolating you from the environment, although the car's numb steering with its artificially high effort is less praiseworthy. The overall driving experience is certainly pleasant and better than average for the segment. The SX is sportier, though some may find its ride too firm.
Both of the regular four-cylinder engines are impressive. They produce best-in-class power and are paired with responsive and smooth-shifting transmissions. We've found both versions enjoyable for commuting to and from the office.
Most drivers will find the 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid's performance more than adequate as well. You'll scarcely notice the transitions between gas and electric power in traffic, and there's ample power for passing maneuvers. However, you won't find it any easier to hit the Optima Hybrid's EPA fuel economy numbers than in other Kia Optimas.
The biggest thing you'll have to get used to in the Optima Hybrid is the odd braking response: Due to the blending of the car's conventional brakes with the hybrid regenerative braking system, there's a small but noticeable delay between pressing the brake pedal and actually getting the desired braking force. That said, this is a peculiarity of driving the hybrid more than anything else, as our testing has shown that the car has plenty of braking power for repeated, hard stops.
Standard safety features on the 2013 Kia Optima include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, side airbags, side curtain airbags and hill start assist. A rearview camera is optional on regular gasoline Optimas and standard on the Optima Hybrid.
In Edmunds brake testing, an Optima EX came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet, which is average for the class. The SX made this stop in 125 feet, still acceptable for this class. A 2013 Optima Hybrid needed 129 feet -- better than the Fusion Hybrid but not as good as the hybrid Camry.
In government crash tests, the Optima earned a top five-star rating for overall safety performance, with five stars awarded for both overall frontal and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Optima a top score of Good in its moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. The IIHS gave the Kia an Acceptable rating (second highest) in its new small-overlap frontal-offset crash test.
The top-of-the-line Limited trim level debuts for 2013. The EX Turbo trim has been discontinued. The Kia Optima Hybrid is now offered in two trim levels, and both feature a revised hybrid drivetrain that lifts the car's EPA numbers in trade for a slightly lower horsepower rating.