Homestead/Key West Florida - Kia has served notice to the major players in the mid-sized car market in Canada. The company didn’t do it by taking out fancy ads or by wild media claims. They did it with the introduction of the Optima which will replace the Magentis in their lineup (in the US, the car has always been known as the Optima).
This introduction took place on the roads around Miami, Key West and on the banked oval at Homestead Motor Speedway in Florida. It seems as if the company intended to make the statement that they are willing to take on the likes of segment leaders Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen which all have rich heritages in competition.
With eight models, spread over three trim levels, Kia covers the full range of this market segment. At the entry level, the Optima LX comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, a 2.4-litre, 200-horsepower four-cylinder, a cloth interior and more airbags than a political party at election time. Move to the top of the list, and the SX comes with everything you can think of, including a 274-horsepower turbocharged four, two-level heated and cooled front seats as well as a single-level heated rear seat. Toss in a panoramic (twin panel) sunroof that is power operated for both sun shade as well as opening and closing, and you are in the lap of luxury.
The seats, regardless of being covered in cloth or leather, are quite comfortable. Up front, Kia utilizes a pair of bucket seats, while in the back, a semi-sculpted bench seat will seat three if necessary and two in comfort. Legroom and kneeroom are pretty good depending on the generosity of those in the front.
Quibbles with the interior layout center on three things. The instruments tend to disappear in bright sunlight when you wear your sunglasses. Problem number two for me is that the sunroof chews up enough headroom to make it a bit tight inside.
Issue number three is the location of the seat heater/cooling controls. Kia has chosen to mount the controls on the passenger side of the console up at the base of the dash. This causes me concern because the button cannot be seen clearly from the driver’s seat, which means that the driver may have to take his eyes off the road to work the switch. In addition, the driver has to reach around the gear shift lever to reach it.
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