KIA: The Average Car?
I was given an Optima as a loaner vehicle while my new Sportage was in for upgrades.
The '05 has a body design that should appeal well to the more traditional, conservative consumer. It does not follow the euro-design trend of similar niche cars such as the Focus. Fine for an older person like me, but my kids didn't like its low appearance and swept lines.
Inside, there is a lot of room up front, with a low dash that is easy to see over. The seats are firm and supportive, with good adjustment. Plenty of headroom so the car will suit taller drivers. Entry and egress is not difficult.
The controls are well laid out and simple. Some fiddly little radio buttons, and complicated stalks for the turn indicators/windshield wipers. I liked the one touch wipe button at the end of the stalk.
Materials are not too shabby looking for what is essentially an econbox. Kia is reasonably attentive to fit and finish, but I noticed a few bits of mis-set trim and the steering wheel had an annoying plastic pip on the rear side that needed to be pared down with a sharp blade.
Plenty of storage for everything, including an overhead eyewear holder and hidden upper console box under the armrest. The cover for the cupholders keeps the floor console looking neat and tidy. The trunk is roomy, but not for oversized items - obviously designed with only luggage and shopping in mind. I didn't notice whether the rear seats dropped down.
On the whole, this car provides a comfortable, ergonomic driving position. The car feels solidly build and the steering is predictable. I didn't throw it around hard, but then it's a family econobox, not a Maserati, and I don't really expect to be able to throw it into a tight turn and experience no body lean. It rides well enough and soaks up most bumps, although noise does intrude a bit. (Very little wind noise intruded today, even though is blowing hard and raining like heck.) Overall, the handling is decent and isn't trying to be sporty.
Kias have an interesting shiftronic transmission. It is automatic, but can be switched easily into manual mode, allowing the driver to step up and down through the gears as if driving a manual. This is a handy feature when you want to drop a gear to merge on the highway - particularly with the four banger. However, the tranny is probably the weakest link in this car. In auto, it hunts and hangs during urban driving, is slow to respond to kick down, and never seems happy with the gear that it selected for itself. You'll find yourself using the shiftronic around town.
For a 4-cyl, the engine is adequate for the acceleration and passing requirements of normal driving. It won't make boy racers happy. After a V8 Jeep, the 22/30 MPG seems wondrous to me, but I gather that it is only average these days for a car in this class. At higher speeds, the engine is buzzy, and it passes through a very noticeable vibration band as the revs reach 3000rpm. I don't know if this is a fault on this tester, but it would be very annoying if it was normal behaviour for this engine. It also vibrates somewhat at idle - enough to get me into the habit of putting it in neutral.
So, an all-round average performer. As long as you don't count the price, the warranty, and the customer service. Kia really wants your business, and they will bend over backwards to make you happy. Whereas you'll never hear from Ford (even when your Focus engine blows up at 29,000 miles), Kia's customer relations people will hunt you down ruthlessly and make sure that you are satisfied.
Couple that with an excellent warranty which they actually stand behind, roadside assistance and well-trained service personnel and the car comes in at very good value for its sticker price. Which sticker price, as we all know, is a polite fiction, You can get an '05 Kia for as low as $12,500, and you get a lot of "average" car for that money.
A lot of reviewers talk about resale value. I generally drive 'em part-way into the ground (the Jeep was 7 years old, the Subaru 8). KIA certainly fits my pattern of ownership, so I don't worry too much about resale value.
I'll write up the Sportage later, when I've put a few thousand miles on it.