By Jonathan Micocci – GRAND Car Reviewer
I’ve admired the lines of the Kia Optima SXL so I jumped at the chance to spend some quality time with this sporty 4-door. Midsize sedans have some inevitable design similarities, but the Optima makes better use of the same amount of sheet metal. The look is balanced, sleek and muscular, with a beautiful arc of a roofline. If the front of the car is a face that makes a statement, the Optima SXL is saying ‘move over’.
That styling is not the only assertive aspect. The 2.0 liter 4cyl turbo runs 274 horsepower through a six speed automatic with actual, no kidding, paddle shifters on the wheel. Half that thrust is for transportation. The rest is for lust. If you don’t know why anyone would want more than enough power, this may not be the Optima model for you.
Same with the 18-inch chrome wheels, big red brake calipers, sporty suspension and those paddle shifters. This Formula One inspired gadgetry may seem over the top in a family sedan but when you get the urge to push it, they give you the control you want. And if you’re not going for pole at Monaco, just leave it in ‘D’.
The result of all this engineering is a car that does everything well. The little four gives an average of 26 mph while offering up surprising torque, and with six gears to pick from, it’s never caught empty handed. The big brakes haul the modest 3,400 lbs. to a stop right now with a firm linear pedal. Handling is pleasant; front-drive family sedan sort of pleasant, with a tight turning radius and perhaps a touch more road feel than you expect. That is, until you start to push the car and it starts to push back as if to say ‘Ok, I see what you’re getting at. Let’s play’. It’s no M5 but a driving enthusiast could look forward to this car every day.
The fully optioned SXL does not leave you wanting for technology and despite a contrarian streak, I find I like that stuff, if not the learning curve required to master it. Settling in to the well contoured heated and cooled driver’s seat, first impressions are encouraging. The dash is clean and elegant with no unnecessary Star Wars touches. The steering wheel does a lot more than turn the car, giving you control of the radio, cell phone, cruise and more that I never mastered because I was always driving (note, do not try to figure this stuff out while underway).
There’s Bluetooth and satellite radio and this big screen with turn-by-turn navigation, a very handy backup video and a lot more information you better not be looking at.
Interior styling matches the outside. Handles and controls fall easily to hand. Soft leather is mixed with supple cloths, some exotic dark wood and even …chrome. Yes, chrome accents abound inside and out and, once again, I found a prejudice under attack, in this case my anti-chromism. Apparently it has another function besides throwing blinding laser darts at other drivers.
The grandkids will realize you are in fact the coolest grandparent when you usher them into the comfortable and classy back seat. It is best if your grandkids are under six feet as that beautiful roofline is paid for with some rear headroom. I think it’s a fair price.
Kia recently chose their head of design rather than a bean counter to be company president, demonstrating a refreshing focus on the product. Born in Bavaria, Peter Schreyer comes to the Korean company through VW and Audi and his stamp is all over the 2013 Optima SXL. If you seek a highly reliable 4-door with styling that turns heads, the latest in techno and a big dose of fun, put this car on your short list.
Specifications as tested:
Engine: 2.0L 4 cyl. Turbo gas, direct injection
Transmission: 6 speed Sportmatic
Curb Weight: 3,385 lb.
EPA MPG 22/34
SX Premium Touring Package
EX/SX Technology Package
SX Limited Package
MSRP as tested: $34,500
Micocci reviews cars of interest to grandparents for GRAND Magazine. Of course, all cars may be of interest to grandparents and they particularly like high-performance two-seaters.
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