Yesterday I made the trek out to our Mazda store in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin and thought it would be a great time for an extended road test and blog post highlighting one of the models we sell. In most cases I make the trip out to Chippewa Falls alone, but in this case I was joined by three colleagues, Brian, Kristen and Ali. Needless to say we needed a car that would provide a comfortable ride and adequate space for the four of us on our 220 mile journey. I was also hoping to avoid awkward road trip games so it was important that our car had a bevy of tech gadgets that could keep everyone entertained and muffle any spontaneous singalongs in the back seat. In the end we settled on a Kia Optima SX Turbo and I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

By way of democratic vote I was nominated driver and can now add Corporate Chauffeur to my job description. Despite a few objections to my driving style (see photo of Brian shrieking below) I think it was a good choice.

 

 

You see, I was actually looking forward to driving the Kia Optima and seeing seeing what the car offered beyond it’s great looks. For anyone who has seen the new Kia Optima you have to admit that it is a good looking car, in fact the entire 2012 Kia lineup is marked by great styling, but I was really interested in the whole package. A car cannot get by on looks alone and after just a few miles in the car my impressions were positive.

Overall ergonomics are quite good with a multi-function steering wheel that puts a number of controls right at your fingertips, including shift paddles, controls for the cruise control, telephone and audio system.  These controls came in handy when Brian selected the Sirius satellite radio techno channel, BPA, and tested the Infiniti audio system. I was quickly able to adjust the volume to more tolerable levels.

 

 

The integrated telephone bluetooth made phone calls easy and allowed us to have a couple of impromptu conference calls. This car was equipped with the premium package, which included the aforementioned audio system, as well a rear backup camera, navigation system, panoramic sunroof and push button ignition.  Short of the photo op below I can’t say I really used the navigation system, but I am sure it would have come in handy for Brian and Kristen who both hail from New Jersey. Neither Brian nor Kristen have spent any time in Wisconsin and got a kick out of the regional offerings available at the gas station we stopped at on our way to Chippewa Falls. I suppose when you think of it, you don’t see to many gas stations that go above and the beyond basics like cheese curds and offer shoes, tanning, taxidermy, crystal collectables, deer lures, 96 ounce sodas and church services – all in one place!

The multi-way adjustable driver’s seat was quite comfortable, offering a good combination of support and comfort. Beyond being just heated the Optima seats are also ventilated, a nice feature that is more common on $60,000 luxury cruisers than on a $28,000 Kia sedan. Kristen and Ali, both sitting in back, indicated that there was more than enough legroom and that their seats were comfortable. In fact, there was enough room for them to repurpose the back seat as a mobile office, using their laptops to stay up to date on work.

 

 

The only complaint stemmed from a convenience feature integrated into the driver’s door. Every time I opened the door the seat moved back for easier egress, which worked out great for me, but tended to crush Ali’s legs in the back seat.

In terms of ride and performance, the Optima did it’s job flawlessly. The 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder, packing 274 horsepower, provided more than enough power to accelerate to the speed limit and beyond. Despite encountering a cross section of Wisconsin’s worst drivers and left lane hogs, I was able to maneuver out of their way with ease. The Optima is not positioned as a handling dynamo and our trip, predominately spent on I-94, did not provide many encounters to push its handling limits. Yet, it did a fine job taking on the handful of cloverleafs that we encountered providing a good combination of firmness and comfort. Steering wheel weighting felt good and the turning circle proved more than adequate when I missed a turnoff and had to pull a u-turn. The 6-speed automatic seamlessly adjusted the gearing as needed and never hunted for gears.

All in all, the Kia Optima SX Turbo worked great as our corporate commuter and I can say with confidence that the Optima is much more than just a pretty face. It’s looks are combined with sporty performance and a driver centric interior available with all the latest bells and whistles. As equipped at just a tick over $28,000 this Optima provides a ton of value and in my future travels to Chippewa Falls I’m sure that I’ll grab the keys to an Optima again.