They were so generous at the counter. Whenever I arrive at the rental counter I always play lets make a deal with the person behind it. They offered me a 2012 Mustang GT. A very generous offer! Why, oh why, did I not take a 2012 Mustang GT and instead went with the Kia Optima? It was a generous offer indeed, if it wasn't 28 degrees and snowing, and had not the plane wiggled and skidded down the first 1000 feet of runway with the pilot braking very hard at the end of the run when he finally got the wheels on some wet tarmac instead of greasy and ice covered runway.Thanks for nothing.EXTERIORYes looks are subjective but I think the Kia is better looking, more aggressive in appearance than its Hyundai Sonata brother. The key differences are in the front and rear clips, especially the front, where the Kia is a big more squared off, a big more snout looking, and a lot more aggressive. The sheet metal from the A to the C pillars and between appear darn close to each other, and that more squared off look carries to the rear haunches of the Kia. Paint quality seemed good on my 8,700 mile 2012 rental -- but only time will tell and I'll be interested in renting another one later in the year to see how it does.INTERIORIf you're wondering where the white gauges and red switches and digital displays of Pontiac went - they went to Kia. Large white dials with red needles for speed, tach, fuel and temp. A round digital driver information center sits smack dab in the middle of the dashboard. The stereo display and other controls bathed in a soft red light.One of the first problems I found on the interior was that instrument lighting did not match the rest of the dash. Just like Pontiac. Turn the dimmer down so you're not blinded by the cluster, and the stereo, HVAC controls and center DIC are too faint to see.The seat is very firm and offers a variety of adjustments. Lumbar was power but all other adjustments were manual (odd). The lever to adjust seat rake was completely hidden. I even stopped on the side of the road, fumbling, and grabbing, trying to find something to adjust the rake. I later discovered it buried at the base on the left hand side of the seat.The sound system was equipped with satellite radio and 1/8" input along with USB integration. It would not sync with my Zune or Iphone 4S. I seem to have remember reading that you need a special cable you can only get from Kia/Hyundai. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.There has been much complaining lately to high belt lines on cars to achieve required side impact crash ratings. The belt line on the Optima is crazy high. I'm 6' tall (shrunk an inch the doctors tell me, damn gravity) and the belt line sat at my shoulder. You have no sense of sitting on the floor yet the cabin feels somehow confined.Rear visibility is non-existent. If you buy a Kia Optima you need a backup assist at the minimum, splurge for the camera is my recommendation. The small window, high rear end and smaller mirrors made driving in reverse, errrrr, interesting.Controls were convoluted. Took me quite a while to figure out the trip computer. The steering wheel controls lacked some key functionality. I had to pull over to figure out how to adjust the windshield wipers intermittent speed setting. The Kia needs work here.ON THE ROADEquipped with a 200 HP 2.4L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, the six speed automatic came with manual shift mode, and a selection for eco or regular. I did a lot of my driving in eco and found that the Optima would hold off on downshifting. Acceleration was rubbery as you oozed away from traffic lights and the round DIC had a series of lights going around the outer ring to let you know how hard you're flogging the Kia.The six speed automatic in Eco mode took a very long time to downshift and only after major insistence that it do it. In normal mode behavior was definitely better. The cabin was on the noisy side, with a fair amount of wind noise escaping into the cab while traveling, but acceptable for the class.I never really got to push handling, I would not call the Kia Optima tossable (the turbo could be very different) but very nice basic transportation with a good ride and overall good dynamics.CONCLUSIONDefinitely does not live up to the hype. I would put interior plastics on par with or just a notch below 2008 Pontiac G8 GT grade. I'm sure it is a step up, and there was little complaint about the G8 GT and its interior; but the Kia does have a lot of harder, grainy black plastic.B-/B
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