When heading home after leaving the Mazda dealer on the Brian & Donna Buy A New Car Tour our route took us right by the KIA dealer. I waved at them as we went by. Donna suggested we go back and drive the Optima because we had a certificate to get a $25 gift card for test driving one sometime during the months of February or March. I doubled back and parked next door in the used car area. A local radio station was doing a remote broadcast from out front, loud urban hip-hop is not on any radio preset of ours, but they had a grill going and a sausage dog with a Sprite went down nice as we wandered the lot unmolested. The Optima had one strike against it going in, in that the colors it is available in, with he exception of the Spicy Red, were picked out by defecting members of the old Soviet Politburo – white, silver, light gray, dark gray, dark red and black (it does come in a bright blue, but only in the high zoot turbo model.)
Walking back towards the Miata after getting our fill of looking at the pine pollen covered cars we passed right by the showroom and there was one salesman standing near the front door just staring off into the distance. Donna said, “If he doesn’t approach us, we just keep on going.” I said, “Nah, I’ll walk up to him so we can test drive a car.” I showed him the certificate and asked if we could drive one. He looked at it kind of sideways and said come on in and held the door for us. I’m not sure if his reaction to the certificate was, what is this or oh, no, not another one, but after about a five minutes he came back out of the sales manager’s office with their part of the form filled in. He made a copy of my license and said, “I’ll be back up in a minute, let me get a car.” After another five minute wait, he pulled up in a Metal Bronze LX. The color isn’t half bad, but it is not going to going to get the neighbor’s all jealous and oohing and aahing over it.
As I set about adjusting the rear view mirrors (both inside and out) our friendly salesman proceeded to count off the interior and exterior features of the automobile from the backseat. Unfortunately he kept that up for the entire 5 mile loop of our test drive. It was like he memorized the glossy brochure produced by Kia’s marketing department and was reciting it for us. He tripped himself up though when he veered off the script and mentioned that the Optima was recently picked the #1 best buy. Donna asked him by who and he didn’t have the answer, he hemmed and hawed and finally I volunteered J.D Powers and he said, “That’s it.” (I looked when we got home and it was really Cars.com 2 months ago.)
While not exactly appliance looking like a Camry, the Optima is kind of a wallflower next to its cousin the Sonata. It’s saving grace is that it isn’t the seller the Hyundai is, so it will retain a bit of exclusivity. The interior is very modern looking compared to my 7 year-old Miata, but looks dated compared to the Sonata. The surprising thing was the driving experience, the Sonata drove like a big fluffy Old Man With A Hat car, but the Optima felt like a driver’s car with nicely weighted and crisp steering feel. While not exactly BMW-like, a 5 Series sized car at half the price makes this a winner in the cost/fun ratio. The handling and engine response wasn’t up to Genesis Coupe levels, but all and all I could see me owning this car.
The big down side to the Optima was once again size. In the Sonata Donna had to jack up the seat to the highest level it could go, slide the seat way forward and then still do a little leaning forward to see where the hood ended. This car as expected, was the same way and to make matters worse the Optima’s head rest was positioned in a manner that poked her in the back of the head no matter the height it was placed at.
When were were done test driving the Optima we asked if we could try out their Elantra sized car, the Forte. The Forte comes in a coupe form which is a plus, but it’s exterior styling is in serious need of updating. Because of the differences in the Sonata and Optima, maybe the Forte would surprise us by being quieter than the Elantra, more comfortable and a more engaging drive. We never found out.
We asked if we could test drive the little black Koupe (their spelling, not mine) that we had parked the Optima next to. Our salesman said, “I’ll go get the keys.” We waited the five minutes required by the Secret Car Salesman Manual. Then we waited about 3 or 4 more minutes more before walking back by the showroom to the Emperor and driving off. Maybe he sensed we weren’t buying today, so not worth the effort or he got stuck trying to find those keys, but either way he lost himself and his company any chance at our money.
Started up, still up.
Miata Top Transitions since 10/24/08: 979