2013 Kia Optima Turbo Review: What Is It
For this review of the excellent Kia Optima midsize family sedan, we’re going to focus our attention on the turbocharged Optima SX and SXL models, which reside at the top of the model lineup and which behave in decidedly different fashion from the Optima LX and EX and the Optima Hybrid variants.
Equipped with a 274-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, the Optima SX and SXL include a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels wrapped in 225/45 all-season performance tires, and paddle shifters in their bid for sport sedan legitimacy. They’re also loaded with equipment and include one of the best warranty programs in the business, yet as we shall learn in the next section, these Optima Turbo models are competitively priced.
Turbocharged 2013 Kia Optimas are offered only in SX and SXL trim levels, with prices starting at $27,575 and topping out at $35,740 with every option. Yes, those prices include the $775 destination charge.
The Kia Optima SX is equipped with so many standard features, it makes no sense to list everything here. Rather, we’ll cover the highlights, starting with what the SX model adds over the less powerful Optima EX.
In addition to the turbocharged engine and the sporting hardware we’ve previously mentioned, the Optima SX includes a unique grille treatment and a subtle body kit with a rear lip spoiler, auto-leveling HID headlights, LED taillights, a premium “Supervision” gauge cluster, illuminated stainless steel door sill scuff plates, cloth and leather seats, interior trim with a carbon fiber appearance, and alloy pedals.
Otherwise, the Optima SX is kitted out like the Optima EX, including heated side mirrors with LED turn signal indicators, push-button ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver’s seat, a HomeLink universal remote, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio input jack.
For the ultimate Optima, try the new-for-2013 Optima SXL, which is what we drove for this review. The SXL is distinguished by its chrome 18-inch wheels, red-painted brake calipers, chrome exterior accents, LED running lights, power folding exterior mirrors, and panoramic glass sunroof.
Inside, the Optima SXL features wood trim accents and fabric-wrapped roof pillars that match the headliner. The seats are wrapped in premium Nappa leather, the front passenger’s seat is power adjustable, both front seats are heated and ventilated, and the rear seats are heated. A memory system stores individual driver settings, and a navigation system, a reversing camera, a premium Infinity sound system with HD Radio, Microsoft UVO infotainment technology, an electronic parking brake, and a first aid kit are also standard on the Optima SXL.
Now you can understand how our test car ran $35,275.
As for safety equipment, the Optima Turbo includes six airbags, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, and a traction and stability control system. A reversing camera is optional on the SX and standard on the SXL.
In crash tests conducted by the NHTSA, the 2013 Optima received a 5-Star overall rating. Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2012 Optima a “Top Safety Pick” rating. The IIHS, however, has not yet carried that rating forward for the essentially identical 2013 Optima.2013 Kia Optima Turbo Review: What It’s Up Against
When considering the Optima SX and SXL models specifically, the competitive set includes the Buick Regal Turbo and Regal GS, the Chevrolet Malibu Turbo, the Chrysler 200S V6, the Dodge Avenger R/T V6, the Ford Fusion with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, the Honda Accord V6, the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T, the Mazda 6s, the Nissan Altima 3.5, the Nissan Maxima, the Subaru Legacy 3.6R, the Toyota Camry SE V6, and the Volkswagen Passat V6.
Among these models, the Chevy Malibu, the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima, the Toyota Camry, and the Volkswagen Passat have been completely redesigned since the current iteration of the Kia Optima went on sale for the 2011 model year. Nevertheless, the Optima proves itself competitive, and is one of our favorite models in the class.2013 Kia Optima Turbo Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- Redesigned Kia badges
- New Remington Red exterior color
- New SXL model with unique exterior treatment
How It Looks
During my week with the Optima, I met a friend for coffee, an executive with an MBA and the keys to a new 2012 Volkswagen CC. He decided to come and take a look at the car, and was really impressed with the design, inside and out. As much as he agreed with me that the Optima SXL is distinctive, stylish, and upscale, truly an entry luxury car without the entry luxury badge or the entry luxury price premium for interior space, amenities, or technology, he explained that no matter how good the car was, he just couldn’t drive a Kia.
There are plenty of people who feel otherwise, of course, even with the Optima SXL’s $35,000 price tag. Kia is selling a whole bunch of these family sedans to folks who appreciate the Optima’s design, understand the Optima’s value, and enjoy the Optima’s driving dynamics. During the first half of 2012, the Optima was one of the top 30 best selling models in America.2013 Kia Optima Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- New SXL model with Nappa leather seats, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, navigation, a premium sound system, and more
How It Looks and Feels
Check this out. The 2013 Kia Optima SXL is equipped with a fabric headliner and fabric-wrapped roof pillars. Not just the windshield A-pillar, not just the windshield A-pillar and the B-pillar between the front and rear doors, but all of the pillars, clear back to the bottom corners of the back window. That is serious attention to detail, and an impressive rebuke of the kind of cost cutting that permeates, and even infects, product development at competing car companies.
That attention to detail extends to the soft-touch single-piece dashboard that stretches all the way to the base of the windshield, and the padded vinyl control panel and gauge cluster surround that mimics the look of leather, and the brilliant “Supervision” gauges. The way the doors open and close, the way the steering feels, the way the shifter moves through the gate, hell, pretty much everything about the Optima conveys a sense of heft and quality that looks, sounds, feels, and smells like luxury.
Except for that Kia badge, of course.
Comfort levels are high for everyone except for the front passenger. That’s because the front passenger’s seat lacks a height adjuster, which means that the front passenger sits on the floor, and which also means that the front passenger plops into the car and struggles to exit the car. Hey, Kia. Put a passenger’s seat height adjuster in this thing already.
Everybody else sits high with plenty of thigh support. That works against taller people sitting in the back, especially on models with the panoramic glass sunroof. But since I’ve got long legs and a short torso, headroom was not a problem for me.
The Optima is equipped with a big 15.4 cu.-ft. trunk, too, but when packing for a trip, owners will need to leave space for the trunk lid hinges in order to close it.2013 Kia Optima Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2013:
- EX Turbo model cancelled
How Does It Go
The 2013 Kia Optima SX and SXL are equipped with a direct-injected, turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm.
Translated, the Optima Turbo delivers peak torque – the engine output element that you can feel when accelerating – soon after launching the car, and then swaps it out for peak horsepower as the engine revs toward redline. The result is impressive acceleration, and because it’s a turbocharged engine, it feels strong even at altitude.
The six-speed automatic offers a manual shift gate to the left of the main gate, snug to the driver’s right leg where it falls readily to hand. The driver intuitively taps up for an upshift, and intuitively taps down for a downshift. No nonsensical Formula One racing mimicry here. The Optima SX and SXL also provide paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel.
The EPA says the Optima Turbo will get 22 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg in combined driving. We averaged 21.7 mpg during a weeklong test, so you can understand why we think the Optima Turbo’s real-world fuel economy is the worst thing about the car.
That said, we must admit we drove the Optima with the Active Eco system disengaged. To give the Optima SXL a fair shake, we took a nine-mile round-trip freeway drive down and then back up a local mountain range. With a quarter of a tank of gas, no passengers, and the cruise control set at 70 mph, the Optima SXL got 50.4 mpg going down the hill and 19.4 mpg coming back up the hill, for an average of 34.9 mpg. That’s better than the EPA rating.2013 Kia Optima Review: How It Drives
Kia can drop an Optima Turbo off in my driveway anytime. This is an exceptionally good automobile to drive, equipped with a thrilling turbocharged engine, speedy acceleration, balanced ride and handling qualities, and a stout braking system.
The Optima Turbo’s mighty little 2.0-liter engine delivers impressive acceleration, whooshing the car to speed with little effort. The tires occasionally grapple for purchase on the pavement, and there’s a hint of torque steer when stomping on the gas while exiting a turn, but the traction control system does a good job of getting the Optima’s power to the pavement.
The brakes work well, too, providing terrific pedal feel and response. We tested the Optima on a warm day using a road that required heavy braking into hairpin turns, and the Kia’s brakes suffered zero fade despite significant abuse.
The Optima SXL’s electric steering offers a Jaguar-esque heft very unlike typical electric systems, but hints of ghosts in the machine remain, such as when engaged in prolonged steady-state cornering, or while accelerating hard, or during steady state cruising down the freeway in a straight line. The SXL model’s leather/wood steering wheel is great to hold, though.
We also thought the Optima SXL’s suspension felt a little soft, especially up front, giving the car an old-school nose-heavy feel at times. Yet, the Optima’s handling proved absolutely up to snuff, with commendable roll control, terrific stick, and tires that didn’t squeal in pain under duress. The Optima feels exceptionally planted and balanced when covering ground at speed.
If there’s a serious detriment to driving enjoyment with the 2013 Kia Optima Turbo, it’s directly attributable to a stability control system that engages unnecessarily, abruptly, and loudly, almost scaring a driver who is intently concentrating on the task at hand.2013 Kia Optima Review: Final Thoughts
For 2013, there are a number of new sheriffs in Midsize Sedanville. However, considering the 2013 Kia Optima’s appealing design, class-leading warranty, impressive list of amenities and technology, seat comfort in most seating positions, 5-Star and “Top Safety Pick” crash-test ratings, and entertaining driving character, it is clear that Kia can continue to compete against newer, but perhaps not as well executed, rivals.2013 Kia Optima Review: Pros and Cons
- Everything about the car, except the following complaints…
- Intrusive stability control engagement
- Lacks a passenger’s seat height adjuster
- Fuel economy falls short of EPA estimates
- It is a long reach to the in-dash touchscreen
- Tight rear seat headroom for taller passengers
Kia provided the vehicle for this review
2013 Kia Optima Photos by Christian Wardlaw