Which family sedan offers the most, for the least?
8th Place – Kia Optima EX
Something had to come last in this comparison, and unfortunately for Kia, it was the Optima. Amazing how quickly things change. Three years ago the Optima was the fresh faced, all-new vehicle shaking things up in this segment and now it is one of the oldest. It is still a great looking vehicle, second only to the beauty queen Mazda6.
It was also the most heavily equipped vehicle in the test loaded with features like dual sunroofs, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and cooled front seats. Kia has been finding success with a formula of building attractive vehicles loaded with class defying options, all at a low entry price. In this test though, at over $29,000, plus thousands in accessories, the Optima was not a bargain.
LOTS OF POWER, LOTS OF GAS
Powering the Optima is a 2.4 L four-cylinder that generates 200 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, which makes it the most powerful car in the set. The abundance of power is felt both in straight line acceleration and poor fuel consumption. Aside from the meaty powerband, the rest of the mechanics, like the transmission and suspension, are neither praise worthy nor offensive. Well, except for the steering; it is truly terrible. People ask what I consider poor steering feel – one example is when I can feel road imperfections and vibrations through my feet on the pedals, but not a thing through my hands on the wheel. I get this is not a sports car, but a little confidence and knowledge that the front wheels are doing what I am asking of them would be nice.
See Also: 2011 Kia Optima Review
Inside the Optima is nicely detailed with a driver focused dashboard and attractively styled steering wheel. Front headroom is lacking for anyone over 6 feet tall, but the seat is accommodating enough. Ride comfort and noise, vibration, harshness (NVH) are average at best and the rear seats are properly contoured, but tight on space. Of course we need to make obligatory mention of Kia’s wonderful 5-year all-inclusive warranty.
Mid-pack price, poor fuel economy and mediocre mechanics are enough to relegate the Optima to last. This Kia still is a good car, but the problem is, the competition has caught up. Coming eighth place amongst this crowd is nothing to be ashamed of; but eighth is still eighth.
- PRICE AS TESTED: $29,115 (+ Accessories)
- ENGINE: 2.4L 4-cylinder, 200 hp, 186 lb-ft
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
- OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 25.3 MPG
- TRUNK CAPACITY: 15.4 cu-ft
6th Place (Tie) – Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium
Tying the Toyota Camry for sixth is the Subaru Legacy. The Legacy has long been the no nonsense, pleated Khakis of the mid-size sedan market. Whereas Kia nails aspects like style, content and materials, but drops the ball on the mechanical bits, Subaru is the complete opposite. Mechanically the Legacy is great, but everything else is just plain old. Lacking any sort of style inside and out, the Legacy’s purpose is to get you from point A to point B even during a Sharknado.
See Also: 2013 Subaru Legacy Review
Fitting then, is the fact Subaru gave us the least equipped car of our test; a mid-trim Premium model instead of the fully loaded Limited which would have lined up better with the rest of the entries here. Lacking in our test Legacy was leather, a sunroof, navigation or a display touch screen, although they are all available on that upper level Limited version. And it wasn’t just the lack of features that were a let down inside the Legacy. As News Editor Luke Vandezande stated, the seating material looks like that of an old couch and one our videographers likened the pattern adorning the seatbacks to a set of drapes found in his parent’s kitchen during the 1980s.
Despite this, the Legacy is still comfortable inside and that boring, boxy shape provides excellent sightlines. It is also the only vehicle with trunk struts instead of cargo-space-robbing swing arms; more of Subaru’s love for practicality.
But, like an automotive equivalent to a mullet, the Legacy may be all business on the outside, but is all party behind the wheel. It is one of the more entertaining vehicles to drive here thanks mainly to nicely weighted steering and an eagerly responsive throttle. Even with the skinniest tires mounted to the smallest diameter wheels, the Legacy grips well in corners thanks to a perfectly balanced chassis; Subaru takes great pride in the Legacy’s 50/50 side-to-side weight distribution. The 173 hp boxer engine though is not refined and the CVT is as unpleasant as a rendition of the national anthem sung at a single ‘A’ baseball game.
But the Subaru’s real ace up its sleeve is, as usual, all-wheel drive (AWD). No other vehicle tested here has AWD available as an option at any trim level while Subaru equips it standard. This may not matter to some in more temperate southern cities, but for those in the snow- belt, this may be the sole reason for purchasing the car. Oh, and despite the weight and friction penalty of full-time all-wheel drive, the Legacy still finished mid-pack in fuel consumption.
- PRICE AS TESTED: $24,065
- ENGINE: 2.5L 4-cylinder, 173 hp, 174 lb-ft
- TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable automatic
- OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 28.7 MPG
- TRUNK CAPACITY: 14.7 cu-ft