What's New for 2008
An auxiliary audio jack is added to the 2008 Kia Optima.
The 2008 Kia Optima boasts an amazing feature normally restricted to Romulan warbirds and James Bond's Aston Martin from "Die Another Day." Yep, it comes with a cloaking device. Capable of rendering this Kia midsize sedan almost invisible to the naked eye, the Optima's anonymous styling allows it to blend seamlessly into any automotive crowd without the use of futuristic plasmonic materials or whatever the Romulans use. OK, so it's not really invisible, but the Kia's inconspicuous styling cloaks an otherwise admirable car from most of the car-buying public. With strong crash test scores, a lengthy features list and a well-crafted interior, the Optima deserves more attention than its designers saw fit to elicit.
Like most Kias, the name of the game is value, and the Optima delivers it in droves. Both trim levels offer an impressive level of standard equipment at a low price. In fact, a fully loaded EX V6 with leather, heated seats, premium audio and sunroof doesn't crack $25,000. That undercuts similarly equipped competitors like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. Of course, those models, as well as every other vehicle in the midsize class, offer a more powerful V6 engine than the Optima. At a mere 185 horsepower, the six-cylinder not only offers little advantage over the many four-cylinders in its class (including the Optima's own) but it produces as much as 85 fewer horses than competitor V6s.
With such modest power, the 2008 Optima is obviously not intended to be a sport sedan, but around town, it can feel a bit like one. Relatively quick steering, tight suspension tuning and an unexpectedly generous helping of road feel are rather surprising in a car styled with nuns in mind. It's not quite a wolf in sheep's clothing, though, as more serious twisting-and-turning driving quickly shows this Kia's humble family sedan intentions.
Overall, the 2008 Kia Optima ranks pretty high with us in arguably the most competitive automotive segment. It's cheaper than top choices like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, but it lacks their levels of refinement, excitement and competitive V6 power. However, against second-tier four-cylinder models like the Ford Fusion, Saturn Aura and gradually slipping Toyota Camry, the Kia is a well-made, well-rounded candidate at a low price. For those who are seeking those attributes with a lot more visual excitement, though, the all-new Chevy Malibu is probably the better choice.
All these quality competitors go to show the difficulty in choosing a car in the family sedan segment these days and the importance of standing out in a crowd. The Optima literally doesn't, but if you couldn't care less (or you've just joined the witness protection program) this Kia is a clever, value-conscious buy. And besides, what other car comes with a cloaking device?
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Kia Optima is a midsize sedan offered in LX and EX trim levels. Standard equipment on the LX includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, tilt steering column, and a six-speaker sound system with single-CD player and auxiliary audio jack. LX models with the V6 engine or automatic-equipped four-cylinder gain keyless entry, cruise control and tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls. The LX V6 also has alloy wheels. The LX Appearance Package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, trip computer, and upgraded exterior and interior trim.
The Optima EX comes standard with these items while adding automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink and further upgraded interior trim. The EX Appearance Package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, black leather seats and many of the LX Appearance Package's trim upgrades. The EX Convenience Package adds a four-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, manual rear window sunshade and power-adjustable pedals. The EX Premium Package adds a sunroof and an upgraded Infinity sound system with subwoofer, cassette player and a six-CD/MP3 changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The base engine on the 2008 Kia Optima is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes a competitive 162 hp and 164 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the four-cylinder LX. Optional on the LX and standard on the four-cylinder EX is a five-speed automatic transmission. Optional on both trim levels is a 2.7-liter V6 that produces an unimpressive 185 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque; the five-speed auto is standard with this engine. Acceleration is sluggish with either engine, as the V6 produces a leisurely 0-60 sprint of 9.1 seconds. That's the same time needed for a much heavier four-cylinder Honda Accord. Fuel economy estimates for 2008 are 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway for the four-cylinder and 20/28 for the V6.
The Optima's standard safety equipment includes front-seat side airbags, full-length curtain airbags and 5-mph bumpers. Available on all but four-cylinder LX models with the manual transmission is the Electronic Stability Control Package, which includes antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. Crash test scores for the Optima are quite simply excellent. The government gave it a perfect five stars for front- and side-impact protection, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the highest possible rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the exterior, the 2008 Optima's cabin is hardly a vibrant environment. However, it counters any lack of character with a no-brainer control layout and very good interior materials. On both counts, it outdoes better-known competitors like the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion. There's plenty of legroom up front, and the seats are well-shaped and supportive with nicely padded bottom cushions. Legroom is good in back as well, but the seat bottoms are a little short, offering less support for long-limbed occupants than many rivals' accommodations. Trunk capacity is 14.8 cubic feet, and all Optimas have a 60/40-split-folding rear seat.
Between stoplights the 2008 Kia Optima V6 feels plenty powerful, but that engine runs out of steam as the rpm climb. Passing power is adequate but unimpressive for a V6 in this class, and the five-speed automatic is reluctant to downshift. Thankfully, there is a manual mode when you want some extra punch. Given the V6's disappointing performance, we'd recommend that budget-minded buyers stick with the base four-cylinder engine, as it provides fully adequate performance while keeping the price tag and fuel consumption low. Thanks to its tightly tuned suspension and relatively communicative steering, the Kia Optima has a somewhat sporty feel around town. The trade-off is that this Kia ultimately doesn't feel as luxurious as other midsize sedans. In addition, if you start making considerable cornering demands on the car, that sportiness goes away quickly. Used as a daily commuter, though, the Optima can be more entertaining than its exterior would suggest.