GO
Avg. Price Paid:$6,139 - $7,416
Original MSRP: $16,755 - $20,900
MPG: 21 City / 31 Hwy
Search Used Listings:

2008 Kia Optima Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Kia Optima was new.

The 2008 Kia Optima performs well, especially given its affordable price. Motor Trend says the Optima "does provide a pleasurable driving experience." However, weak highway acceleration is a frequent complaint.

About.com says, "My test vehicle's four-cylinder engine felt adequate around town but lacking on the highway. I found myself constantly pressing the accelerator to get the Optima to move when and as fast as needed it to."

Acceleration and Power

Under the hood, the Kia Optima comes standard with a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder double overhead camshaft engine that puts out 162 horsepower. A more powerful 2.7-liter V6 with 185 horsepower is optional. Most reviewers find the four-cylinder power plant adequate enough, with Car and Driver reporting it delivered "a surprisingly buzz-free 60 mph in 8.9 seconds and a quarter-mile in 17.0 seconds at 83 mph." Kelley Blue Book was "pleased by the engine's responsiveness." However, some say its power is too modest for comfortable highway driving. Edmunds explains "It's not that the car feels terribly underpowered, but if you've been tooling around at city speeds and then get on the freeway and try to pass someone, you might be disappointed."

The V6 offers more power and "a stronger tug for cruising on the highway," according to the Boston Globe. But the larger engine also disappoints many reviewers because it doesn't quite measure up to the competition -- and doesn't justify its extra cost over the base engine. Edmunds points out that even though the V6 now makes 15 more horsepower than the previous generation's, "the engine is still smaller and less powerful than every other V6 in its class, so the front-wheel-drive Optima is no hot rod." Plus, the reviewer doesn't see the advantage in opting for the V6, noting "because the Optima weighs only 3,179 pounds, the four-cylinder packs enough spice that you need not splurge on the V6." Cars.com feels the same way, saying "With the performance of these two engines being so similar, I'd opt for a four-cylinder model and take the gas mileage gain if I were going to buy one."

According to the EPA, the Optima with the four-cylinder is estimated to net 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway with both a manual or automatic transmission. The V6 should get 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. During a week of mixed driving with the four-cylinder, the Edmunds reviewers averaged 20.7 miles per gallon.

The four-cylinder engine is paired with a five-speed manual transmission with overdrive or an optional five-speed automatic with Sportmatic manual shifting. The V6 is only available with the automatic. Consumer Guide criticizes the automatic transmission, noting that with either engine, "upshifts are occasionally lazy, downshifts tardy." Edmunds had a similar experience, commenting that with the V6, the "five-speed automatic transmission isn't quick to deliver a downshift. Usually, full throttle or manipulation of the transmission's manual gate is needed to slip through that hole in the traffic."

But Motor Trend loves the automatic, advising "Whichever engine you decide upon, the five-speed automatic is the tranny of choice, with its seamless quality and Sportmatic manual shifting." Auto Mall USA also registers praise: "Left alone, the automatic's shifts are smooth, if not invisible, and while downshifts for quick passes could be more prompt, we never scared ourselves, or our passengers."

The manual transmission also gets rather unenthusiastic reviews. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says it's just "so-so," and notes the "grabby clutch." About.com calls it "pretty crummy as far as stick-shifts go. The shifter feel is oddly artificial and the clutch offers no feedback. I blame that, and the engine's lack of low-end torque, for the fact that I stalled the Optima at least a half-dozen times."

Handling and Braking

Many reviewers find the Optima unexpectedly fun to drive. Kelley Blue Book says "Movements of the steering wheel are rewarded with crisp reactions into corners, body roll is minimal and the Optima enjoys a balanced feel, particularly when you consider it's a modestly-priced front-wheel-drive sedan. We found it completely engaging and enjoyable." Edmunds continues the thought, noting "Around town, the Optima feels a bit like a sport sedan thanks to its quick power-assisted rack and pinion steering, tight suspension and unexpectedly generous helping of road feel."

The Optima features a MacPherson strut front suspension and multilink rear suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bars. This is a change from the previous model, which featured double wishbone suspensions in the front and rear. Cars.com and others like the new setup: "The suspension treads the middle ground between overt softness and punishing firmness, resulting in a setup that's definitely taut, yet able to smooth out bumps and depressions in the road." The Auto Channel offers high praise, noting suspension is "supple and comfortable, and yet very well-controlled in the manner of a European entry-luxury."

A minority of reviewers aren’t as thrilled, with the Chicago Sun-Times noting "The front-drive Optima has quick steering and a good ride, but the softness of an older Buick and average handling." Automobile.com explains that the tradeoff for the new firmer suspension is "a slightly less compliant ride." But the reviewer adds "I'd be shocked if anyone complained about it being rough."

The Optima features power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering that also brings out mixed reviews. Auto Mall USA found steering to be "a little light, almost too responsive, which tended to give the car a top-heavy feel; once recognized, though, it was easily managed." Likewise, Car and Driver says "faster, livelier steering is needed to wake up our slumbering perkiness meter." Edmunds, on the other hand, finds steering "crisp and lively," but also notes "driving the rolling curves of the Napa Valley was a little more work than flat-out excitement. Response is good, but nobody should buy an Optima to tear around in."

The Optima's hydraulic, power-assisted all-disc brakes do not come standard with anti-lock (ABS) technology -- it's an option and requires the addition of the Electronic Stability Control package, though it's not even available on the base LX with manual transmission. However, even with the optional equipment, Edmunds calls brake feel "unimpressive and not very progressive, and the pedal travel is too long." The reviewer notes a best 60-0-mph stopping distance of 131.89 feet. On the flip side, Cars.com says the brakes "provide confident stopping performance."

Review Last Updated: 2/26/09

Next Steps: Kia Optima

  • Search used Kia Optima for sale (16,024 listings)
  • Calculate monthly payment and apply for a loan
  • See Affordable Midsize Cars rankings