POWER AND FUEL-ECONOMY ARE UP TO PAR

That description might have you thinking the Optima has all sorts of power. True, the upgraded 2.4-liter four-cylinder gets added power for ’09 with 175hp and 169 ft-lbs of torque, but it’s no monster. It is, however, right on par with standard four-cylinder engines in the Camry, Accord, Malibu and Fusion.

If more power is what you are after, we suggest you look elsewhere. Kia does offer a V-6 but at 2.7-liters and 190hp it is down significantly from larger engines offered by the competition that make in excess of 250hp.

Another gripe about the driving experience is the throttle pedal, which doesn’t really allow any modulation – it is either on or off.

On the plus side, the ride is smooth and quiet and is well-suited to long drives. The mirrors are, however, tiny – even if they are heated.

The Optima’s Steptronic five-speed automatic transmission gets the job done and Kia’s commitment to building a genuine competitor is obvious from the fact that they included the Steptronic shift-it-yourself option – even though no one really ever uses those things.

A neat feature on the Optima is the Eco Drive function that is accessible through the information display (which shows things like fuel range and fuel-economy) on the dash. By setting this function the transmission shifts earlier to stay in a higher gear. Not only does this improve fuel economy (the four-cylinder Optima is rated at 22/32 mpg city/highway) it actually improved the driving experience, as the standard transmission program seems to hold on to gears for too long.

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