Psych! Drove It To Vegas Instead - 2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test

2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test

2011 Kia Optima: Psych! Drove It To Vegas Instead

April 18, 2011


As I need to be in New York tomorrow for the auto show, I was informed that I could not take off the estimated 15 days need to travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back using the Nissan Leaf. What a bloody shame.

Since I didn't feel like stealing Ron Montoya's birthday present (a weekend in the Mustang GT), my choice fell to the No. 3 car on the "What should Riswick drive to Vegas Poll." For those of you nice people who voted for the Kia Optima Turbo, thank you.

For those of you who aren't following me oh-so-diligently on the Twitter @jriswick, I went to Las Vegas this weekend for the Mumford and Sons concert at the Cosmopolitan (front row ... amazing) and the Las Vegas 51s baseball game (AAA team of my Blue Jays). Because of horrible LA-LV traffic, we got to the Cosmo just in the nick of time. Thankfully, the Optima never once added to my traffic-related frustration/fury, and in fact, was greatly helpful during my off-highway detours to get around desert gridlock. The Nissan GT-R, for comparison, nearly chattered our teeth apart on the barely there pavement of Yermo Road.

This was my first extended drive in the Optima, so I have plenty of thoughts to share. As I told the Mrs. at some point while in hour 3 of our Sunday drive home, "You know, I think I'd take this car over my old TSX. The interior isn't of the same quality and the steering's nowhere near as good, but it has all the toys, it's a bit cheaper, it looks awesome and the engine is fantastic. I love the turbo power delivery and given that power, the fuel economy is excellent. It's even the same color as my TSX."

Then I realized she was asleep, so I kept listening to my baseball game. Here's some more thoughts, albeit in bullet form.

Engine: Torque-rich, responsive, perfect for the hilly drive to Vegas. I was most impressed when on the drive home, I accidentally left the car in manual mode. It took me a good half hour to realize the car was stuck in sixth gear despite numerous grades in that time -- it was only because of the "6" in the trip computer that I noticed.

I ended up getting 28.46 mpg for most of the trip, though it's probably about 1 mpg higher because my calculation doesn't include the portion from Rancho Cucamonga to L.A. where the car said I was getting 31.5 mpg. Sure, neither of those numbers are the EPA's 34 mpg estimate, but then I wasn't exactly driving for the Fuel Sipper Smackdown.

Steering: The Optima's steering has an elastic band quality to it, with an artificial amount of weighting added to make it feel sporty around corners. Only it doesn't, really. It feels like a V6-powered Chevy Malibu's, only electric. But it's firm on center, which is what you're looking for on a road trip I guess.

Seats: I'm not in love with the Optima's driving position. The seat's mounted just a bit too low and the front of the seat could rise a little more, but it's not so objectionable that I wouldn't buy the car. In terms of seat comfort, not a problem after 10-some hours of mostly continuous driving over the weekend.

Ride: Since that GT-R drive, my bar for ride comfort is pretty low on the Vegas drive. Having said that, though, the Optima is perfectly comfortable over the long haul. Sure, you feel the low-profile tires over nasty bumps, but I never had one of those "enough already!" moments you can have when driving on California's concrete highways in a car with a firm ride. There is a fair amount of road noise, however.

Road trip intangibles: Big mirrors make lane changes easy. The cupholders are huge and well positioned. No complaints about the iPod interface, which for me is rare. Sound quality from the stereo is strong, but as I was listening to iTunes downloads, quality obviously differed between different tracks.

All in all, big fan of the Optima. Definitely better than the Leaf, and given traffic, I'm also happy I had it's automatic transmission rather than the Mustang's manual.

See you in New York.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

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