2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test - Audio & Technology

2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test

Audio & Technology

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Dated Interior?

January 31, 2012


Every time I see the exterior of our 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo I remember how much I really dig the styling of this Kia (Peter Schreyer does good work). And I'd option mine in this very same Corsa Blue, it just looks right with the dark grille and Kia's slightly over-the-top wheels.

But then I get in and see the touchscreen that doesn't really make anything easier. It's just a touch-based interface because that's what someone said a car like this needed. And then there's the display in the IP. The resolution is low and the displays are, again, kind of pointless. The whole thing feels like a forced attempt at hitting the marks set by market research.

Kia apparently knows this, though, as they've got the new UVO system available on a host of 2012 MY cars, but you can't get it with Nav. Not in the Optima. The system is dated but isn't deal breaker bad. It would, however, count as a check in the "cons" column of the list I make for every purchase and in a field this tight, every check counts.

(It should be noted that the non-touchscreen controls -- HVAC, hard radio buttons-- are very good.)

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Simple, Useful Tech

January 02, 2012

Optima_12v chargers.jpg

Two 12v outlets flank the Optima's iPod/Aux audio input. Each front occupant gets their own mobile toy charger. Nice. It's a small, but thoughtful detail that suggests Kia product planners were considering drivers and passengers living in the 21st century.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Burger Time

December 05, 2011


OK, this may be a silly thing to point out but if you're a food enthusiast/'80s arcade fan like me you might appreciate this. When cruising around town in our 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo, I couldn't help but notice that someone had checked the "burger joint" box for the nav's POI.

Check out the attention to detail in that burger graphic. Aw, you can actually see the sesame seeds on the bun, the bit of lettuce and the slices of cheese. Also it kind of reminds me of that old arcade game Burger Time.

It's a minor detail for sure, but after being in the Jetta this weekend with its Spartan navigation map, it was a nice contrast. I mean, I really enjoy the Kia's "artwork," like for its climate control graphic and "align steering wheel" pic.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Perfect Feature for Quick Getaways

November 15, 2011


Thanks again, guys, for the heads-up about what you'd like to see us blog about on our 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo. I put in a request to Dan Edmunds for a suspension walkaround. I'll leave the tire test and NSX vs. Optima SX comparo to the testing team.

In any case, one thing I wanted to point out about our Kia that you didn't ask about but that those who watch too many zombie movies or are skittish (both me) will certainly appreciate. When parked somewhere creepy, you'll love the fact that with the smart/keyless entry, you don't have to dig around in your bottomless bag or pocket looking for the key. Not only do the interior lights turn on when you put your hand on the door handle but the handle has that nifty button that you can just press to unlock the car right quick. Pfew! Facilitating quick getaways from the Boogeyman (be it imaginary or real).

I know the Kia isn't the only car in existence with this feature but when I was talking about it to a BMW 1 Series owner she complained that her Bimmer only turns on the interior light when she touches the handle but the handle doesn't have that unlock button. Anyway that surprised me.

Turns out that the Comfort Access keyless entry option comes with the $1,000 Convenience package for the BMW. While Kia offers the keyless entry (with panic alarm function) standard for all its Optima trim levels except the manual LX.

Whatever the car, it's a little feature that I really appreciate, especially going out at night in the city as much as I do.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 14,365 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Signal Dropouts

October 07, 2011

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One thing I've noticed after driving lots of cars with satellite radio over virtually the same routes is that some cars do a better job of maintaining a constant signal over these routes than others.

The Optima's performance in this respect hasn't been so hot.

The signal cut out about three or four times on the way home from work yesterday, and once more when driving the car today. I know that dropouts happen when in the vicinity of tall buildings or bridges that could block the signal, but none of these obstructions were in evidence during the cases I observed.

Are you guys aware of any other factors that influence signal dropouts? What's the reception been like in your vehicle, if you have satellite radio?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 12,967 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Transparency

October 03, 2011

Optimal relaxation.jpg

I drove the Kia Optima for a couple of days recently and as I turned in the keys, I realized that I don't have much to say about it. Nothing jumps out at me as being quirky or glitchy. There are no grounds for carping about the power or transmission, unlike some other cars in the fleet (and yes, I'm looking at you, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport). The Optima is comfortable, technologically friendly and responsive.

It serves as a good example of transparent transportation: You get in, you start it, you drive, you arrive. Some days, you want to have a commute that's all about the car and the driving experience, and I'm pretty sure the Optima can deliver that, too. This time, I wasn't in the mood. The Optima was happy to accommodate me.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ ~12,682

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Subtle Climate

September 22, 2011


Here's how Kia does the climate mode display in the 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo. I can appreciate its subtlety but is it too subtle for a quick glance while driving?

This is on the nav screen in the center dash. Bonus is that as part of the screen interface it doesn't take up any extra space. The "Mode" button is located with the rest of the climate controls.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 11,899 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Sweet, No Traffic

September 21, 2011


That's was my first thought when I looked at the map in our long-term Optima. It felt good for a half a second or so. Then I fell back into reality and realized that the traffic information system wasn't working. Note the greyed out Sirius traffic button on the left.

Turns out you have to fork over another $4/month to keep that data pouring in. Hmmm...let's see, I can listen to any number of AM stations that have traffic reports every 5 minutes or so. Or I could tune to the Sirius traffic station on the radio that continuously reports the current situation. Or, I could pay the $4 and see the carnage displayed in full color.

Then again, I could just not worry about it since I'm pretty much going to go the same way no matter what the little screen says. Guess what I decided?

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Dated

September 07, 2011


Kia chose to use the old Motorola RAZR as an icon on its Bluetooth pairing screen. Remember how slick that phone was when it came out in, what, 2003? I remember how slick I thought I was, three years later, when I landed one for $100 on a T-Mobile contract. Damn phone started disintegrating about a year later, but I managed to leg out another year or so on it, until the keypad started sticking and dialing only eights.

A horribly trivial thing to pick on, I know. But someone among the software developers should be lightly spanked for picking the RAZR to represent a universal cell phone icon in 2011. Or not. Maybe the RAZR was that iconic? Maybe it's better than a generic Nokia silhouette or a rectangle with an apple in the center? The mind wanders.

I'm still undecided on the Optima. Judged through my narrow prism of cars that will get me home in peace and double as decompression chamber, the Optima works. Nice wide powerband, good seats, lots of features, thumpy Infinity audio system. Small, but important victories.

But with a few of my colleagues, I'll pile on the steering. It just feels over-caffeinated and tense, as if all that electric assist is overflowing and welling up in the steering column. The minor inputs required to keep the steering on-center during a mostly highway commute add up. It's not exhausting by any means; it's not the 911, after all. But it's not relaxing, either.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Convenience Taken Too Far

August 30, 2011


Nothing like being stuck behind the wheel when you suddenly need to get a quote on a casket.

Thankfully, the Kia Optima's nav system is there to help out. Just hit the handy "Funeral Director" category and it'll take you straight to the closest mortuary.

I had no idea there were so many in my immediate vicinity. Guess I'm covered when it's time for the big nap.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: A Preponderance of Bass

August 17, 2011


My ridiculous iPhone case doesn't play nice with Kia/Hyundai proprietary media cables. To put it another way, their plugs won't fit into the case opening. That means I make use of streaming Bluetooth audio. On my way in this morning, one song (Jem's It's Amazing) started playing and the bass was entirely too strong. No problem, right?


You see, in every audio screen except for streaming , there's an on-screen button that is labeled "sound." That button leads you to the balance, fader, bass, mid and treble sliders. I tried lowering the bass in the "aux" screen menu but it didn't affect the Bluetooth streaming. Messing with the balance and fader, however, did have an effect.

If it were that big of a deal, I could go into the iPod menu in the device and select a different EQ setting, but that means fussing with the phone while the car is in motion. And I don't do that. I know, it's not the end of the world, but it is something I'd like to see remedied in future models.

Oh, and bonus points go to the reader who can identify where I got the title for this post (without using Google or any other search). Hint: it's one of my favorite John Hughes movies, and yes, I am stuck in the 80s this week.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Audio Review

August 06, 2011


When I first read contributor Terry Miller's review of the Infinity audio system in a 2011 Kia Optima EX, I had to make sure this was the same guy I've known and worked with almost 20 years. The one that's a hardcore aftermarket audio guy who made a name for himself in "sound-off" circles back in the day, first as a top-notch stereo installer/sound-quality competitor, then as respected car audio competition judge and later as promoter of some of the most popular and respected shows in the South.

Could he have really liked the 8-speaker premium Infinity system in the Optima EX that much? Although I obviously trust Terry's opinion and expertise enough to hire him as a regular contributor, I still approached listening to the identical setup in our long-term 2011 Optima SX Turbo with skepticism. And while our reviews differ, our opinions on the Infinity system don't.

The Setup
The Infinity audio system in our 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo consists of eight speakers powered by 550 watts. The speakers include a 4-inch midrange in the center of the dash, a two-way speaker consisting of a 1/2-inch tweeter and 4-inch midrange in each corner of the dash, a 6-inch midrange in each front door, another two-way that includes a 1/2-inch tweeter and 6-inch mid in each rear door and a 8-inch dual-voice-coil subwoofer in the center of the rear deck.

The Sound
As with every system I evaluate, I listened to 10 musical tracks that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. The music ranges from the jazz of Bluesiana Triangle to the folk of Luka Bloom to the rock of Red House Painters and rap of Outkast. I also use several non-musical tracks to further test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

In large part I agree with Terry's positive appraisal of the Optima's Infinity system, particularly that small tweaks of the tone controls could make the system sound even better. (We do all stereo evaluations with bass, treble, fader and balance controls at the center/flat setting and with any equalization turned off -- sorry 06scooby -- to level the playing field). I also found that the strong points of the Infinity system were its above-average clarity, timbre and tonal accuracy, although tonal balance was skewed due to the high-end harshness and midbass boom that's endemic among all but high-end OEM systems. But that's what tone controls are for, and these sonic anomalies could be somewhat tamed with a few knob twists -- or, in the Optima, with a few taps of the touch screen.

The 8-inch sub pumped out powerful bass while bumping to Outkast's "Ain't No Thang." But when fed the more musical (and challenging) low-frequency depth charge that kicks off Joan Armatrading's "In Your Eyes," the deep bass was too boomy. Plus, the interior was plagued by panel rattles, which always makes me want to just turn down the volume in disgust.

The soundstaging had good depth and height but was constricted width-wise to well within the car's A pillars. If there's one point where mine and Terry's opinion's diverge, it's on imaging. With both music and technical test tracks, the system failed to produce a convincing center image. Linearity, a measure of how well a system maintains sound quality at various volume levels, was good at low volume and excellent at mid volume, the latter being a rare occurrence for systems in this vehicle segment.

The Sources
The Optima SX Turbo comes standard with a single-CD head unit with AM, FM and Sirius satellite radio. An aux-in jack and USB port are at the bottom of the center stack, inconveniently located in a recessed area behind the gear shift. And to integrate an iPod with the audio system, Kia makes owners pay extra for an accessory cable that plugs into both the aux jack and USB port. But you can circumvent this by using the car's Bluetooth audio option or by plugging in a USB flash drive loaded with tunes, although with both of these functionality and features are limited compared to when an iPod is connected.

Once you buy Kia's optional proprietary cable and plug in your Apple portable, you get reasonably good access to the contents. The touch screen interface is pretty painless as automotive iPod-integration schemes go. The fast forward/reverse icons on the touch screen aren't the swiftest way to scroll through a long list of menu items, but a small icon above the FF/RW tabs shows the page you're on for a reference.

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2011 Kia Optima: -omething's -issing

July 21, 2011


This isn't a new problem, nor is it exclusive to the Optima. But when I listen to my iPod/iPhone in some cars, the first half-second or so of a song gets cut off. It bugs me, but certainly not as much as throttle tip-in or rough shifts. Our resident sound expert, Doug Newcomb can't quite pinpoint the reason, either, stating that it," may have something to do with a signal-sensing technology or something to eliminate noise."

Whatever the case, here's my open letter to car manufacturers: Please stop doing this. Thanks.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: The End of the World Never Showed Up

July 18, 2011


On Friday I promised a pic of the Kia's traffic information system during "Carmageddon" weekend here in L.A. As you can see, this is the same pic. There are two reasons why.

First and foremost, I realized that the Sirius traffic subscription was expired. Turns out, it's a separate charge from the standard radio feed. Normally I would have simply resubscribed on my own, but given how many cars we have in the fleet, we leave that to our test manager lest we have too many overlapping subscriptions.

The second reason for no pic? There was nothing to see. Imagine the shot above with every highway shown in green, that's pretty much how it was this weekend in L.A. The predicted traffic nightmare never materialized as everybody pretty much stayed home. I drove through the dreaded 405/10 interchange a half dozen times and it was a ghost town. Basically, all the hype turned it into a non-event, they even opened the freeway up earlier than expected. Of course, now the 405 is back to its usual state of constant congestion, just without all the news copters circling overhead.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: How Bad Will It Get?

July 15, 2011


This is how the Optima's traffic map looks on a pretty typical day in Los Angeles. It was early in the morning when I took this shot so most of the red was flowing in.

You may have heard that a section of the busy 405 freeway will be shut down this weekend for construction. It's the short section just above the arrow if you're curious. Various news agencies have predicted chaos. The city of Los Angeles was so afraid of the pandemonium that it solicited the help of celebrities to tweet warnings. Yes, that's how bad it could be.

I'm thinking I'll try to snap a photo of this same general area at some point this weekend and see if it's really any worse. My guess? It'll be just fine as most people don't need much of an excuse to stay away from the 405 on the weekends. We'll see.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: What a Passenger Thinks

July 06, 2011


As I mentioned in a previous post, we took the 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo up to San Luis Obispo for the holiday weekend. That's about eight hours of seat time total, not including the time it took to explore the area. In any case, here are some passenger seat impressions:

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Back-Up Camera Update

June 20, 2011

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So you probably remember last week's blog in which I pointed out the Optima's back-up camera failure, but was unable to actually capture an image of the problem. Well, guess what? I got it this weekend. A couple of times...

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Back-Up Camera Failure

June 13, 2011

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It's happened to me twice in the last two weeks. Throw the Optima in reverse and the screen which displays the view from the back-up camera goes blank. And here's the weird part: It seems to appear before I can grab my camera and snap a photo. Sometimes it's ten seconds and sometimes it's 30 seconds.

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: The Right Angle

April 29, 2011

kia optima center stack.jpg

I like it when cars feature center stacks that are angled toward the driver. It makes sense ergonomically, since the tilt of the stack makes its buttons and knobs easier to reach. This design cue also succeeds from an aesthetic standpoint since it gives the cabin a driver-focused look.

You can't see it too clearly in this photo, but the Optima's center stack is positioned so it leans toward the driver in the most helpful way. It's one thing that I really like about the car's cabin. Otherwise, the stack's layout of assorted controls is decent enough, though I wouldn't mind having a radio tuning knob in the mix.

Is the center stack in your car tilted toward the driver?

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 5,033 miles

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