The Truth About Cars » Optima http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 26 Oct 2014 12:06:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Optima http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Piston Slap: MT 6-speed Hyundai Sonata…Coda? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/piston-slap-mt-6-speed-hyundai-sonata-coda/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/piston-slap-mt-6-speed-hyundai-sonata-coda/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:04:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=933514   TTAC commentator Arthur Dailey writes: Sajeev, Over 40+ years of driving, I have traditionally changed cars every 2 years and never kept one for longer than 5 years or 150,000km. However I made my most recent car purchase with the intention of keeping it for 8 years or 200,000km. With the belief that in modern […]

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Sonata-Manual-Transmission

This just happened. (photo courtesy: autojunction.in)

TTAC commentator Arthur Dailey writes:

Sajeev,

Over 40+ years of driving, I have traditionally changed cars every 2 years and never kept one for longer than 5 years or 150,000km. However I made my most recent car purchase with the intention of keeping it for 8 years or 200,000km.

With the belief that in modern autos perhaps the most expensive item to repair is the transmission (owning 4 Caravans in the preceding 15 years reinforced this), following the truism that “it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow”, and being admittedly George Costanza like in my spending habits I ordered a vehicle with a manual transmission. Yes, a manual Hyundai Sonata.

Nobody at the dealership had ever seen one. They even had problems confirming that it came with a traditional hand brake (it does but in return you don’t get heated seats). But find one they did. Unfortunately after taking possession and performing some routine cleaning, I found that the filters were rather dirty for a new car. Checking the manufacturer’s plate I found that it had been made 14 months previously and therefore had been sitting on the lot for nearly that long , exposed to the elements for at least one full winter.

So my questions:

  • Will sitting out on a dealer’s lot for 13+ months reduce the longevity of some parts?
  • Was I correct in assuming that a manual transmission will both last longer and cost less to maintain than an automatic or was I ‘penny wise and pound foolish’?
  • Should I expect a modern car including a Korean one built in Alabama, to be relatively problem free as long as I follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, rust proof it annually and drive like the old fogey that I have become?

Sajeev answers:

Yes! We’re actually discussing the manual 6-speed Hyundai Sonata and its sister ship Kia Optima that I really, reeeeeeally wanted in brown with black cloth. Turns out I needed a 5MT truck more. But I digress…

Shine on you crazy diamond, enjoy your South Korean Unicorn!

Luckily, your first question was previously covered.  Assuming it’s been driven after purchase, you’ve cleared the “bad” gas and rusted brakes/flat spotted tires.  I think a good detail/cleaning of the vinyl/rubber/leather bits (both inside and outside) is all that’s needed to ensure the patient’s long term health.  Maybe do an engine oil change, if you haven’t done it already under normal maintenance. You got nothing to worry about.

Question 2: I can see why you are conditioned to fear transmission/transaxle replacement costs, but you’ve owned older Chryslers.  Own something from Germany and the fancy tv screens should absolutely terrify you. Or fixing bent rims.  Or a suspension overhaul from years of abuse causing bent rims. I’d be more terrified of any car rollin’ on twankies more than any transmission woe.  And is an automatic really more durable than a manual?

I donno, dude.  200,000km isn’t a long time by non-Chrysler-minivan standards. I’ve seen auto transmissions last 400,000km with nothing more than occasional ATF fluid swaps.  If you are easy on the clutch, you are fine. If not, you might need a clutch swap and completely destroy the value proposition mentioned. Don’t be that guy! 

Question 3: Problems with the Sonata and Optima have been sparse, just look at the TSBs generated.  Undercoat/rust proof, follow the owner’s manual, don’t abuse the gearbox (good luck finding a replacement in North America) and you’ll be fine.

And you might love the 6-speed Hyundai Sonata so much that you’ll keep it well beyond 200,000kms.  You “old fogeys” (your term) need to understand that most modern vehicles last longer than cars from decades past.  Rust proof this one well and I’m confident you’ll agree.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: See the USA in your K-I-A? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-see-the-usa-in-your-k-i-a/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-see-the-usa-in-your-k-i-a/#comments Mon, 11 Nov 2013 12:50:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=647330 Phil writes: Hello Sajeev, I have a question related to maintenance on a 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo. It currently has 45k miles, and I have owned it for only 4 months (had 20k when I took ownership of it). As you can see, it is driven a whole lot, almost exclusively on the great […]

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Phil writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I have a question related to maintenance on a 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo. It currently has 45k miles, and I have owned it for only 4 months (had 20k when I took ownership of it). As you can see, it is driven a whole lot, almost exclusively on the great interstates of the Southeastern US of A. I average 5-6k per month. I am an outside sales rep. and drive from SC to MS and everywhere in between weekly.

My question is this:

Should I follow standard maintenance routines, such as every 5k oil changes and manufacturer’s recommended filter, plug and fluid changes; or can I extend these intervals. If so, how much can these intervals be safely extended? I plan to keep the car for about 3 years or 200k miles if it continues to run as well as it has. Are there any tips to keep the car in top shape mechanically?

Sajeev answers:

The gray area in these situations might as well be the entire discussion: Black and White analysis goes out the window! Some salient points, no matter the vehicle:

  • You can kinda, sorta judge oil condition yourself because worn out oil has a different look (not golden), feel in your fingertips (sinks into your fingerprints) and smell (like a BBQ gone bad).
  • Turbocharged cars demand more from their motor oil.
  • Turbocharged cars with marginal oiling systems (and cooling?) break oil down faster than similar systems. (see VW/Audi engine sludging)
  • Many wear items are indifferent to the frequency of driving and driving conditions (highway, vs. city) so you cannot significantly deviate from their service intervals.

In the case of a Turbocharged FWD family sedan with limited real estate for intercoolers/oil coolers/etc, I default to the worst case scenario: a sludge magnet like an older Audi.  Stick with 5k oil changes, unless you spend the money for an oil analysis to see exactly how (or at what rate) your driving style breaks down oil. Switching to a full synthetic extends the life of the motor and possibly the service cycle…but I ain’t committin’ to nothin‘ without an oil analysis.

What about other non-engine oil items?  Filters, coolant, spark plugs, should be replaced at the same intervals, unless you switch to a K&N air filter…which actually makes sense in your case! The only wildcard for me is the transmission fluid: one person putting that kinda time on the Interstate drastically alleviates stress on your ATF.  If three years is all you need, you may never need to change the transmission fluid.  BUT…since we aren’t in the business of abusing cars here…assuming there’s no dipstick to check, odds are servicing every 100k-150k is more than adequate.

I hope you enjoy this machine, as the Optima Turbo is on my short list of super cool machines for the average person.  I’d love to own one someday, but perhaps you should visit Steve Lang in ATL when you are ready to sell. He’ll make you the best deal when it’s “Hammer Time.”

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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You Can Buy The Millionth U.S. Built Kia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/you-can-buy-the-millionth-u-s-built-kia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/you-can-buy-the-millionth-u-s-built-kia/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 12:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495170 Ever since Isaac Singer figured that he could make more money making sewing machines for the European market in a factory near Glasgow rather than export them from his Elizabeth, New Jersey plant, manufacturing companies have built products where they’ve sold them. Last Thursday a pearl white 2014 Sorento SXL trundled off an assembly line […]

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Ever since Isaac Singer figured that he could make more money making sewing machines for the European market in a factory near Glasgow rather than export them from his Elizabeth, New Jersey plant, manufacturing companies have built products where they’ve sold them.

Last Thursday a pearl white 2014 Sorento SXL trundled off an assembly line in West Point, Georgia. It was the millionth Kia that the Korean company has assembled in the United States, all accomplished in less than four years. Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG) started building Sorento crossovers in late 2009, and added production of the mid-size Optima sedan after a $100 million expansion of the billion dollar West Point facility in 2012.  Surprisingly, the landmark Sorento will not be headed to a Kia museum somewhere. It will be allocated to one of Kia’s 765 or so U.S. dealers for regular retail sale, so if you’re a Kia enthusiast who wants a piece of Kia history, you’ll have a chance to buy it. I’m not sure how you would locate the lucky dealer, though. Total capacity of the KMMG factory is now 360,000 vehicles, so as long as the company’s North American sales continue to be strong, they should produce the next million U.S. built Kia even faster than the first.

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Review: 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-optima-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2012-kia-optima-hybrid/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2011 23:27:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410666 I’m a product of the 1970s, and as a result I was just the right age to remember when Kia came on the scene in 1992 (available for sale 2 years later), the first Kias were cheap to buy but fairly cheaply made as well prompting the running joke was that Kia meant: “Korean, Inexpensive, […]

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I’m a product of the 1970s, and as a result I was just the right age to remember when Kia came on the scene in 1992 (available for sale 2 years later), the first Kias were cheap to buy but fairly cheaply made as well prompting the running joke was that Kia meant: “Korean, Inexpensive, and Awful.” Fast forward to 2011; Kia/Hyundai products are on an impressive roll, sporting competitive looks and competitive features without the sting of a large price tag. Could the new Optima Hybrid be the frugal shopper’s green alternative to the mainstream Camry and Fusion or even the Lexus HS250h? Let’s find out.

From the outside, the new Optima is by far the looker of the mid-size hybrid segment. The Fusion hybrid is handsome but plain-Jane, the Camry has never stuck me as attractive with its oddly droopy beak and the new 2013 Camry’s exterior strikes me as “beige re-imagined”. Similarly, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (the Optima’s close cousin) just doesn’t get my juices flowing, looking in my mind like it is trying to be too Japanese rather than something unique. Similarly the HS250h is dreadfully boring and feels more like a Corolla with leather than a “real” Lexus. The Optima on the other hand checks all the right boxes for me from the aggressive front grille and headlamps to the kinky C-pillar. Opinions varied wildly, but I have to say Kia’s hybrid alloy wheel option set an unexplainable fire in my loins.  Right about now is the point where you either agree with me or not as styling is a subjective business and indeed my better half despised the wheels as much as I loved them. Go figure. Unlike Michael who reviewed the Optima EX back in January, I don’t find the front overhang to be too much of a styling faux pax, but then again, I don’t mind the usual FWD proportions either. Like EPA numbers with hybrids, your styling mileage may vary.

On the inside, the Optima appears to be what a modern Saab might look like (if they hadn’t been bought by General Motors and lost their way). The hybrid’s cabin and option list is essentially the same as the Optima EX with the driver-focused center console, dual-zone climate control, large air vents and infotainment systems positioned high on the dash. While the major components are shared with the Hyundai Sonata, the overall look is fairly distinct. Our tester came with the optional “leatherette” stitched trim around the instrument panel, replacing the base model’s shiny plastic dash components with faux cow. The look makes the Optima’s dash fairly upscale in comparison with the Camry and Fusion competition.

While the button array on the dash was found to be distracting to some, I found this to be a relatively minor complaint and as I’m a gadget person at heart I acclimated fairly quickly. While the button layout is not as logical as I would like, by the end of the week I was successfully stabbing buttons in the dark without an issue. Standard equipment has lately been a Kia hallmark and the Optima Hybrid is no different; power mirrors, fog lamps, iPod/USB integration, touch screen radio, steering wheel audio and phone controls, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, one-touch power windows, air conditioned glove box, trip computer, auto-dimming rear view mirror and power driver’s seat are among the long list of standard features on the Optima Hybrid. To keep prices at that low Kia level the hybrid sports only one option: the $5,000 “premium package”. While sticker shock applies with any package this pricey, but the package contents are worth it in my book. Five-large gets you the panoramic sunroof, navigation system, backup camera, up-level Infinity sound system, HID headlamps, 17-inch wheels, power passenger seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, snazzier trim bits, auto dimming rear-view-mirror, and the holy grail: the heated steering wheel. Seriously, who at Kia comes up with these things? They need a raise. I have a special love for the heated wheel and you can take away all my squishy dash bits if you just give me auto climate control, cooled seats and a heated wheel I’m a happy man.

Standard tech has recently become a Kia hallmark and the Optima Hybrid is no different. USB and iPod integration is standard, as is Bluetooth connectivity. The Optima Hybrid is the first Kia to come with the new UVO infotainment system by Microsoft. Comparisons to Ford SYNC are inevitable and warranted. The UVO stacks up well overall but seems to lack the polish of SYNC. Still, if you want to voice command specific tracks from your iPod, SYNC and UVO are basically your only options. Stepping up to the premium package gets the shopper Kia’s large screen navigation system and eight speaker Infinity audio system. Unfortunately the up-level package does not come with UVO which means you need to control your Apple device via the on-screen menu rather than by voice. Bummer. The navigation software is quite responsive, fairly intuitive and thankfully allows a passenger to enter a destination while the car is in motion. The premium package integrates the climate control into the large display as well as the crisp hybrid status displays. Someone needs to explain the “earth” page to me however because it seems to indicate that the earth is resting on some large roller bearings with a hybrid drivetrain making the world-go-round. No I say, it’s the legion of tiny fairies that make my globe spin!

Under the hood the Optima Hybrid beats a 2.XL four-cylinder engine, essentially the same “Theta-II” engine in the majority of Hyundai/Kia models but retuned to run on a modified Atkinson cycle. In hybrid form the engine turns out 168HP at 6,600 RPM and 154 lb-ft at 4,250 RPM. Much like the Infiniti M35h we reviewed recently, Kia removed the torque converter replacing it with a pancake motor and a set of clutch packs. The electric motor adds 40HP from 1,400-6,000 RPM and 150 lb-ft of torque from 0 to 1,400 RPM, which, like the M35h, combines with the engine’s figure in a more linear fashion than do the Prius or Fusion’s CVT motor/generator setup with a combined power output of 206HP at 6,000 RPM and 195-lb-ft of torque at 4,250 RPM. The clutch packs enable the Optima to operate under electric-only, gasoline-only, or both. Starting the engine is handled by a new starter/generator that replaces both the alternator and starter on the regular Theta II engines. Once the engine has started and has rev matched the transmission’s input shaft, the clutch packs locks up and you’re off.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Located behind the rear seats, the lithium-polymer battery pack is a technological step above the majority of hybrids including the Prius and Camry. The 1.4kWh, 270V pack’s high power density (compared to Ni-MH) is more of a necessity in the Optima however, as the platform is not a bespoke hybrid like the Prius. As a result, the trunk’s space is reduced from a middle-of-the-road 15.5 cu-ft to a smallish 9.9cu-ft. Kia was able to maintain the trunk pass-through for hauling longer items. Still, the 9.9 cu-ft is a step below the 11.8 provided in the Ford Fusion, 10.6 in the Camry Hybrid and 12.1 in the Lexus HS250. If a class trailing cargo capacity stings, the Optima makes up for it with 4-inches more front legroom than Camry, admittedly this comes at the expense of 4-inchec of legroom in the rear. Pick your poison.

Out on the road the Optima delivers a firm, quiet ride. Due to the lower cd of .25 vs the regular Optima’s .28 combined with the frequent all-electric locomotion, noise is particularly muted in the hybrid model. Speaking of all-electronic driving, rather unlike the Camry Hybrid, the Optima spends a considerable amount of time in electric-only mode, for better or worse. With the cruise control set to 65 MPH on a level highway, the Kia will run electric only until the battery is partially depleted, then start the engine and charge the battery while running on the engine, then once charged, it will shut down the engine and run on electric power again. This is decidedly different than the other mid-size hybrids on the market which run their gasoline engine constantly at highway speeds. The 6-speed automatic transmission is up-shift happy as are most sedans with a leaning towards frugality. If you prefer a smooth CVT experience the other hybrids will be your cup of tea, if shifts are more your thing, the Optima delivers in spades. When the road gets twisty the low-rolling resistance tires certainly tone down the excitement, but no more than they do in the Fusion which is probably still the “sportiest” mid-size hybrid on the market thanks no doubt to the wider 225-width rubber.

Of course Hybrids are all bout fuel economy and the Optima is no different delivering a respectable EPA score of 35/40/37 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) which places it behind the Fusion’s 41/36/39 MPG score and the (2012) Camry’s 43/39/41 but ahead of the HS250h’s 35/34/35. If highway cruising describes the majority of the miles on your future hybrid, the Optima is the natural choice as it delivers the highest highway numbers in the bunch, four MPGs more than Fusion. Of course, the glaring problem here is that a seeming bevy of new cars will match the Optima Hybrid’s 40MPG on the highway including the Cruze Eco, Fiesta, Focus and Elantra. You may have noticed I’m ignoring the Sonata Hybrid. That’s because in my mind choosing between the Optima and its kissing-cousin is more like deciding between the blue car and the red car as they differ mainly in style not substance. During our week with the Optima we easily averaged 40.4 MPG on the freeway and 32 MPG in heavy stop-and-go traffic, impressive numbers on the surface, but our week-long average fell to 35.5 MPG which is notably short of the EPA combined figure.

The Optima’s biggest feature, like most Kias, is its price tag. At $26,500 the Optima is significantly cheaper than the $28,600 Fusion or the $36,330 Lexus HS250h. Toyota has obviously decided the Optima is encroaching on their turf and the 2012 Camry Hybrid is now the cheapest in the bunch at $25,900.

So what should the greenie really buy? Is the new Camry Hybrid really the better car for the bargain hunter? No, the answer is: a turbo Optima of course. With EPA 22/34 MPG and 274HP/269lb-ft on tap for $29,600 it’s hard for the piston head to make the hybrid leap. Still, if a hybrid is in your future I would argue the Optima is the better value than the competition when you add in the $5,000 option pack. How is a $31,500 hybrid the better value? It still undercuts the loaded competition and delivers features like ventilated seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and panorama roof not available on the other hybrids. If you want a smooth driving hybrid sedan under 30K, buy the Ford. If you want a great car under $30K, skip the Hybrid and just buy a turbo Optima, if you are seeking a premium hybrid sedan, give the fully-loaded Optima Hybrid a long look before you swing by the Lincoln or Lexus dealer.

 

Kia provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Statistics as tested

0-30: 2.96 Seconds

0-60: 8.31 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.27 Seconds @ 88.4 MPH

Fuel Economy: 35.6 MPG over 489 miles

 

IMG_4059 IMG_4061 IMG_4063 IMG_4064 IMG_4066 IMG_4068 IMG_4069 Front 1 IMG_4072 IMG_4074 Trunk 1 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid IMG_4153 IMG_4154 IMG_4155 IMG_4157 IMG_4160 Engine + Motor = Spinning Earth IMG_4162 IMG_4163 IMG_4164 IMG_4165 IMG_4166 IMG_4168 Kia's inner Saab? IMG_4174 Interior 1 IMG_4179 IMG_4180 IMG_4182 IMG_4183 IMG_4184 IMG_4185 IMG_4187 IMG_4188 IMG_4189 IMG_4192 IMG_4195 IMG_4197 IMG_4199 IMG_4201 IMG_4202 IMG_4205 IMG_4206 IMG_4208 IMG_4209 IMG_4210 IMG_4212 IMG_4214 Engine Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2011 Kia Optima EX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/review-2011-kia-optima-ex/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/review-2011-kia-optima-ex/#comments Wed, 19 Jan 2011 20:53:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=381109 Offering everything from the Accent subcompact to the Equus large luxury sedan, Hyundai covers a lot of territory. With gas, turbo, and hybrid engines, and basic, sporty, and luxury trims, the Sonata stakes out much of the midrange sedan segment. Which leaves Kia and its new Optima midsize sedan…where? Mercury to Hyundai’s Ford? Not if […]

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Offering everything from the Accent subcompact to the Equus large luxury sedan, Hyundai covers a lot of territory. With gas, turbo, and hybrid engines, and basic, sporty, and luxury trims, the Sonata stakes out much of the midrange sedan segment. Which leaves Kia and its new Optima midsize sedan…where? Mercury to Hyundai’s Ford? Not if Kia and chief design officer Peter Schreyer (of Audi TT fame) can help it.

For better or worse, the new 2011 Kia Optima looks nothing like the Hyundai Sonata, or anything else in the segment. While the Sonata is hardly vanilla, the Optima’s design is bolder. As with the Sonata, chrome is employed in a new way. In the Sonata, a chrome strip extends forward from the base of the side windows to the headlight. In the Optima, one starts at the base of the A-pillar, runs along the top of the side windows, continues across a dramatically kinked C-pillar (itself unusually split between the rear door and the body), then runs down the side of the rear window, terminating at its base. The way this strip visually splits the C-pillar is unique. (For a more conventional alternative, see the 2004-2008 Nissan Maxima, where a strip that runs along the ditch molding then down the side of the rear window isn’t visible from the side of the car.) Sometimes I really like Schreyer’s innovation, sometimes it seems contrived, busy, and even jarring. Paint color plays a role: the strip stands out much more on deep colors like the dark cherry of the tested car. On a white car, like first Optima I saw in the metal, it looks more elegant.

Less open to debate: the new Optima’s monstrous front overhang. The headlights that extend a full foot-and-a-half into the fender can’t conceal it; the eye can only be fooled so much. This monstrosity is puzzling. Without the need to fit a V6—only fours are offered—the nose could have been and should have been much more compact. Perhaps to mirror the headlights, the tail lights extend deeply into the rear fender. Even with this odd touch the visual mass of the rear fender makes the 17-inch alloys appear undersized. The 16s on the base trim must look puny.

With so many unusual details successfully vying for attention, the longer you look at the Optima the harder it becomes to perceive a cohesive whole. The primary goal was likely to make the Optima stand out, and this has been accomplished. It won’t be mistaken for a Sonata, or anything else. It’s just not beautiful. Schreyer clearly had to work with the proportions Hyundai gave him, not the ones he wanted. If only the front axle could be shifted forward four inches…

My impressions of the Optima’s dramatically different, nicely finished interior similarly started high, then declined with familiarity. Driver-centered instrument panels are so rare these days, especially in sedans. Even BMW watered down its iconic IP design years ago. So it was refreshing to encounter inside the Optima an instrument panel that emphatically angles everything towards the driver. On top of this, many details, such as the air vents, faux-stitched trim ringing the IP, and the upholstery pattern of the seats, lend the interior a sporty, upscale, vaguely European ambiance. A prevalence of soft-touch surfaces backs up the visual impression.

After a week, though, there’s simply too much going on, with many details poorly designed or unresolved. For example: why is the area around the start button black while the corresponding area to the left of the steering wheel is tan? And why are the switches to the seat heaters vertically arranged to the right of the shifter, where the driver can’t see them? The ergonomic issues don’t end with these switches. Though the buttons on the center stack initially appear thoughtfully arranged, even after a week I had to spend far too much time with my eyes off the road hunting for the one I wanted. One unwelcome departure from the norm: a two-button operation to tune the audio system. After using a rocker switch to go from station to station, you must hit a separate “enter” button to actually select one. Station surfing isn’t practical. For that, you’ll want to use the audio display on the touchscreen—except that the touchscreen is a little too far away. Finally, my middle-aged eyes had trouble reading the red graphics at night.

The front seats initially appear those of a sport sedan, but they’re firm without a purpose as the side bolsters are too far apart to provide lateral support. Rear seat legroom is plentiful, but the cushion is a little too low to the floor—a common shortcoming among sedans with stylishly arched rooflines. The trunk is large, and can be further expanded by folding the rear seat, but cannot be unlocked without either first hitting the keyless entry button on a front door handle or hitting a button on the fob. Why doesn’t the keyless access work with the trunk?

This being a Kia, you do get a lot of features for the $27,440 MSRP (EX with Technology and Premium Packages; for the turbo and its larger, 18-inch alloy wheels add another $2,000). The related Hyundai Sonata is aggressively priced. But load up both sibs, and the Optima lists for $775 less—and according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool includes $800 in additional features. Items on the loaded Optima that you can’t even get on the Hyundai include the panoramic sunroof (regular sunroof on the Sonata), cooled front seats, driver seat memory, power front passenger seat, and a heated steering wheel.

As in the Sonata, a 200-horsepower direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine pairs with a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic to provide brisk acceleration. A 274-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter is also available, but few drivers in this segment will have any need for its additional thrust. A manual transmission is only available with the non-turbo engine in the base trim. In “Eco” mode the automatic transmission sometimes lugs the engine, but in general it selects the appropriate gear and reacts quickly to driver inputs. Shifts aren’t the smoothest—the best these days are imperceptible—but they’re far from harsh. One unexpected lapse in refinement: the powertrain has a rough spot around 800 rpm that is very perceptible through the steering wheel every time when braking to a stop. Once at a stop with a foot firmly on the brake the bad vibes disappear. But let the car roll even the slightest bit, or have accessories on that effect a bump in idle speed, and they’re back.

Fuel economy in suburban driving varies widely based on the heaviness of one’s right foot. With a very heavy foot I observed 20 on a trip to the mall. With a very little foot I observed 33 on the return trip. Driving the car like my mother I observed mid-twenties. And on my test loop of curvy road in full hoon mode…9.6. But the last doesn’t really count, as hardly anyone will drive the Optima so aggressively in real life. In straight highway driving at a steady speed mid- and even high-thirties are possible. Hyundai is serious about boosting fuel efficiency, and Kia shares the benefits.

The Optima’s steering is heavier than the segment average, with an especially firm feel on center. This plus decidedly firm suspension tuning lend the Optima a surprisingly sporty feel in casual driving. It’s not as sporty as the most aggressively tuned front drivers—the Acura TL and Nissan Maxima—but the difference compared to the Sonata is significant. The Optima also feels lighter and smaller than the typical midsize sedan. Partly because, at just over 3,200 pounds, it is lighter. But, by the same measure, it feels less substantial. The Optima might look European, but it doesn’t feel European.

Actually push the car through a challenging set of curves, and the sporty tuning suddenly seems superficial. The steering might have less assist, but there’s still little in the way of actual feedback. The steering isn’t intuitive, necessitating overly frequent corrections. Understeer is minimal, but the car leans enough that the inside front wheel fairly easily loses traction. The firm suspension tuning doesn’t translate into exemplary composure. Though firmly sprung, it’s underdamped, and over uneven pavement the car pitches, bounds about, and sometimes even floats a bit. The best cars feel better the harder you push them. The Optima suffers from the opposite tendency. Up to 6/10s or so it feels good. Beyond that point the harder you push the Optima the less precise it feels. Back on the boulevard, the firm suspension tuning makes for a lumpy ride, though not a harsh one.

Then there’s the stability control. A few weeks ago Ronnie criticized the system in the Kia Sportage for over-reacting on snow-covered roads. The system in the Optima does the same. On ice it’s okay, but on snow it tends to drastically cut engine power and obtrusively work the brakes mid-turn. I ended up turning it off much of the time, a step I avoid taking in an unfamiliar car. The Optima’s handling is very safe and predictable, so driving on snow and ice remained easy.

Ultimately, too much of the new Kia Optima—from the styling, to the ergonomics, to the steering and suspension tuning—seems to have been rushed. In a laudable bid to distance itself from Hyundai, Kia ambitiously turned the knob up to 11 (on the tame family sedan scale), but neglected the details. The result is certainly intriguing, and to be fair it’s a good, attractively priced car that deserves a look from any enthusiast shopping for a midsize sedan. But with more time spent finessing this and that it could have been a great one. Maybe with the next refresh?

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh owns TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.

Optima_rear Optma_interior2 Optima_side Optima_rear_quarter Optima_IT2 Optima_front_quarter Optima_white_rear_quarter Optima_front Optima_rear_quarter_high Optima_overhang Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Optima_engine Optima_side_high Optima_front_quarter_high Optima_rear_seat Optima_console_ergonomics Optima_interior1 Optima_trunk Optima_interior3 Optima_IT1

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2011 Kia Optima (K5) Bonus Gallery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/2011-kia-optima-k5-bonus-gallery/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/2011-kia-optima-k5-bonus-gallery/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 00:22:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372873 Still not sure what to think of the forthcoming Kia Optima? Stare at it some more while you wait for TTAC to get its hands on a US-market version…

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Still not sure what to think of the forthcoming Kia Optima? Stare at it some more while you wait for TTAC to get its hands on a US-market version…

K5 (8) K5 (3) driving3 K5 (5) peddles road driving4 door steering wheel parking guages sunroof start_button front3_4 wheels K5 (4) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail navigation K5 (12) K5 (10) K5 (2) traillamp gear gate telescopic 2 exhaust normal radio So... much... happening... driver cups backseat2 passenger2 K5 (1) foglamp trunk vallet close K5 (6) gear close usb front3_4(3) k5_wheel k5_under cut lines driving2 vallet rear K5 (7) front3_4(4) glovebox driving a_pillar_angle K5 (11) driving1 profile cpillar beach K5 (9) scuff k5_intake buck_tooth (2) buck_tooth (3) cockpit bumper climate

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Review: 2011 Kia K5 (Optima) Korean-Spec http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-kia-k5-optima-korean-spec/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-kia-k5-optima-korean-spec/#comments Mon, 15 Nov 2010 22:02:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372816 The Korean word for ‘five’ sounds like “oh,” as in, “Oh, Snap!” or “OMG.” So in Korea, that makes Kia’s new K5 a “K.O.,” at least in name. But does Kia’s new Camccord fighter actually land a knockout on the all-important D-Segment, or is it a mere win by decision? One thing is certain: this […]

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The Korean word for ‘five’ sounds like “oh,” as in, “Oh, Snap!” or “OMG.” So in Korea, that makes Kia’s new K5 a “K.O.,” at least in name. But does Kia’s new Camccord fighter actually land a knockout on the all-important D-Segment, or is it a mere win by decision?

One thing is certain: this doesn’t look like any Optima we’ve seen before. From a distance, the K5 cuts a distinctively aggressive and appealing profile. On closer inspection however, the exterior design begins to display a certain amount of visual discord. Consider the K5 an automotive Monet: gorgeous from a distance, but more than a little muddled at close quarters.

One of the biggest visual distractions is the chrome accent that runs along the top of the side windows. When that strip passes through the rear door and trunk lid openings, it creates a cacophony of cut lines that make it look a little like Chucky from the Child’s Play movies.

A little further rearward, the design disarray continues. The Audi-inspired tail lights conspire with the trunk opening and rear bumper to create an overhang that gives the K5 an unpleasant bucktooth appearance.

The front of the car displays more design non sequitur elements. The in-vogue-for-the-moment LED positioning lights look jarring against the incandescent fog lights. The bright white light of the LEDs overpowers the yellowish light of the incandescent bulbs. Also, the positioning lights do not follow the contour of the fog lights and therefore look like an afterthought. What’s worse, lower trim level models without the positioning lights are left with a vast expanse of black plastic in their place that wouldn’t look inappropriate in a Tic Tac factory.

Speaking of lights, another element that misses its mark is the “eyebrow” light near the back of the headlamp assembly. Perhaps this piece is meant to mimic the gorgeous light treatment on the K7 (Cadenza), but on the K5 it looks disjointed and incomplete.The final piece of the K5’s exterior design puzzle is the faux air intake on the fender. On some models it illuminates, which does help to give it some visual appeal, but on most models it’s as superfluous as Krusty the Clown’s third nipple.

The K5’s interior recalls an apartment I recently considered buying. Promotional literature for this apartment made much of the fact that the kitchen, living room, bathrooms and bedrooms had each been designed and decorated by a different world-class architect or designer. On paper, the idea of having a dream team of top architects and designers working on one project sounded like a good one; in reality, it failed miserably. The result was a hodgepodge of rooms with different shapes, colors, textures, and designs that looked as though each had been crafted without any consideration of the other. The finished product was completely incongruous and lacked both cohesion and coherence. The interior of the K5 seems to have suffered a similar fate. One good example is the way the dashboard meets the door panels.

It seems as though nobody considered that these two areas might someday appear together in the same space. There is a complete lack of unity or flow between the two elements, as if the doors had been designed by one person and the dashboard by another and neither person knew what the other was doing. The door panels themselves are another example of the interior’s lack of design rhythm. The speakers appear to have been added as an afterthought as they protrude tumor-like from the door, giving the whole affair a lopsided, front-heavy look . Finally, the gear selector, with its leather boot, faux-wood trim, high-gloss center point, and chrome release button, also exhibits the K5’s Frankenstein approach to interior design.

If this sounds overly-harsh, consider the K5’s own in-house competition. By comparison, the K5’s kissing cousin, the Hyundai Sonata, has an overall interior design concept that is much more cohesive; lines flow together in unbroken harmony with a sense of balance and unity. It’s a night-and-day difference from the design-by-committee look of the K5’s interior.

Sitting behind the wheel of the K5, the first thing you notice is that the steering wheel is smaller than you might expect. On the road, the wheel feels even smaller as its four spokes are crowded by no less than a dozen buttons. On the plus side, three of those buttons belong to the K5’s cruise control, a feature not commonly found on midsize cars in Korea. Across the street at the Hyundai dealership, both the Sonata and Grandeur (Azera) are green with envy as cruise control is unavailable on either.

Another nice trick hiding up the K5’s sleeve is its heated steering wheel. Hiding is the appropriate word here however, as the switch is completely obscured by the steering wheel and is nearly impossible to locate and just as hard to activate. It’s worth noting however, that this feature is unavailable on other cars in this class (at least in Korea), so kudos to the K5 for having it.

Speaking of heat, both the front and rear seats are heated with special antibacterial polymer heating elements called Heatex. Kia claims that Heatex provides more uniform heating and uses infrared waves to stimulate drivers’ and passengers’ internal organs. The car I drove included cooled front seats which delete the Heatex option in favor of conventional heating elements. This, plus the 95-degree heat the day I drove the car, meant that my internal organs didn’t have a chance to experience Heatex in action. I can report, however, that the cooled seats work quickly and effectively, despite being a little too loud for my liking. At stop lights, the constant drone of the cooling units had me wishing that they had an automatic start-stop system. In fact, I often turned them off manually while idling at red lights. However, the vertical layout of the switches seemed counterintuitive and I often ended up activating the passenger’s heated seat. I’d prefer a side-by-side switch layout.

Several first-drive reports from the Korean media have suggested that the K5’s seats are hard and uncomfortable. In the 90 minutes I spent with a KDM version, I found the seats to be comfortable but a little too flat for my liking, especially the bottom cushion. In addition, the driving position was noticeably low (lower than the Sonata) and the center console was noticeably high (higher than the Sonata) which combined to give the cockpit a cocoon-like feel. Interestingly, and somewhat uncommonly these days, Kia spent the extra nickel to include pictograms on the power seat control buttons. It’s a nice touch, but seemingly unnecessary as the only time anyone will see them is when the door is open. Front-seat legroom in the K5 is excellent as the seats offer extensive fore and aft adjustment. With the front seats in their furthest rearward position (a position they are likely never to be in, but that’s the way Kia measures legroom), the K5 has nearly three-quarters-of-an-inch more legroom than the Camry and a staggering 3.2 inches more than the Accord.

Front-seat headroom is a slightly different story, at least numerically. Interior headroom in the front is only three-quarters-of-an-inch more than in a Camry and is almost 1.5 inches less than an in an Accord. In the real world however, the interior at the front of the K5 feels roomy, perhaps due in part to the noticeably low seating position.

In the back seat, headroom is both numerically and realistically tight. At 57.3 inches, the K5’s roofline is lower than that of the Sonata (57.9), Camry (57.9), and Accord (58.1), and it feels that way! The K5 has the least rear-seat headroom of any of its three competitors; nearly a full inch less than the Accord, slightly more than half-an-inch less than the Sonata, and nearly a quarter inch less than the Camry. In addition, outward visibility while sitting in the back of the K5 is somewhat restricted because the side windows sweep upward. This upward sweep gives the exterior a fastback-esque appearance but combined with the low sloping roofline, makes the backseat feel somewhat claustrophobic. On the plus side, rear legroom is good. The K5 has nearly an inch more legroom than the Camry and about a quarter inch more than the Accord (again measured in the Kia way with the front seats positioned all the way rearward). Rear seat passengers can also enjoy their own air vents, but (strangely) only on vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. The vents are a nice touch, but they cannot be opened and closed independently of each other as on the Sonata.

Overall, the K5’s interior is comfortable, roomy, well-equipped, and quiet. Kia engineers went to great lengths to make the K5 quiet. In fact, it has more sound insulation than both the Sonata and the larger more upscale K7 (Cadenza). That being said, its interior looks and feels somewhat bargain basement, especially in the lower trim levels and lacks design coherence and continuity across all levels.

Under the hood, the K5 uses the same 2.4-liter GDI engine as the Sonata. However, a keen eye will notice a few subtle differences in the engine bay. First, the K5 uses just a single gas strut fixed to the inside of the front wheel arch, whereas the Sonata uses two struts mounted to the outside. Cost savings for Kia and weight savings for the K5, perhaps?Also, the K5’s air intake is wider, lower, and better integrated than that of the Sonata’s.

Finally, the area near the firewall also differs between the K5 and the Sonata. The Kia has more insulation and a larger differently-shaped cowling near the windshield wipers, both of which are designed to reduce noise in the cabin.

Undoubtedly the K5 will be a hit for Kia, and it should be. It’s a quiet, well-equipped, affordable, and generally speaking, an attractive automobile. Unfortunately, it lacks the refinement necessary to compete against the likes of the Accord, Camry, and even its stablemate the Sonata. Had the K5 been given more of a sporting mission to match its extroverted exterior, it would make a stronger case for itself. Instead, the driving impression is extremely close to the Sonata only with less refinement. It throws a lot of punches, some of which hit and others of which miss, but at the end of the fight, the K5 falls short of being a K.O.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 15_cut lines2 8_passenger beach 11_undercoat 22_vallet 19_headlamp 21_mirror K5 (7) 20_K7_eyebrow 13_intakes 2_gear cockpit 14_lowlight 8.1_seat 9_backseat 12_engine 4_steering wheel2 6_heated seats 10_liners 16_buck_tooth (1) 3_YF interior 1_interior 17_LED 5_heated_wheel 18_no_position 7_seat close

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Review: 2006 Kia Optima http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/review-2006-kia-optima/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/review-2006-kia-optima/#comments Fri, 26 Mar 2010 15:40:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=350458 Some vehicles hit my tightwad tendencies like a nickel split into two quarters. Take this one for example. A base, five-speed unpopular car in an attractive color going through it’s very last year of production. The last of these Optimas went for less money out the door than a mid-level Corolla or Civic thanks to […]

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Some vehicles hit my tightwad tendencies like a nickel split into two quarters. Take this one for example. A base, five-speed unpopular car in an attractive color going through it’s very last year of production. The last of these Optimas went for less money out the door than a mid-level Corolla or Civic thanks to a mid-year model change. A few of the leftover demos with a few thousand miles even went in the $12k to $13k range. That’s a Two Buck Chuck-level deal for a nearly new midsized car. However…
I have to give Kia some surprising kudos here. This particular one highlights the beginning of the end of the ‘stripper’ style for car companies. Cheap non-painted door handles? They’re not here. The gold paint is seamlessly splotched into multiple layers from stem to stern. Cheap interior? Yes, but completely similar to mid-trim Optimas. A lot of companies have since realized that cheaping out the base models puts a world of hurt on a car’s resale value. Kia was likely the first to avoid this penny wise, pound foolish practice, and I think you’ll likely see a surprising number of today’s Kia owners stay on the bandwagon because of it.

In person, the exterior of these Last Of The Mohican Optimas is really nice and non-offensive, though little changed from it’s 1990’s roots. Take a Jaguar-esque design, throw in door handles from a Diamante, keep the rear from being bangle butted, and what you end up with is a style that may truly hold up. Some might even be led to believe the Optima is more upscale than it is…. at least until they open the doors.

The Optima marks the point in Kia’s history where interior feel had evolved from Tonka to Tupperware. Everything looks and feels rubbery. But it works… in a purely Walmart goes to China sense. I can easily imagine a Turkish bazaar atmosphere within Hyundai’s headquarters as they tried to drive down cost with Kia’s suppliers while increasing the quality of this Optima to a Chrysler like level. Did I say Chrysler? Yep. Kia had more or less become the Korean Chrysler at this point with owner reviews that were far worse than anything short of a Dodge Intrepid with a 2.7L engine. But then again there was some non-linearity with that.
The last year has some surprisingly strong reviews. I really don’t know if this phenomena will hold up in time. Maybe the low production numbers helped this year. Maybe new lean production and six sigma measures were yielding great results. I don’t know. But for right now I do have to hand it to Kia/Hyundai (Kyundai?) for starting to get their act together on the Kia side of the ledger. The gaps on this Optima were worthy of… well… something. I didn’t have any leaks in the cabin, or Dixie whislting on the A-Pillar. The engine may be as coarse as sandpaper but the non-enthusiast will care about that as much as he does about Ferraris. This Optima was simply designed as a cheap-ass commuter scooter and absolutely nothing more.

The feature side looks wonderful until you start to dig deep. Side airbags…. Great! But no ABS at all? In 2006? The power windows and locks are there but I’ve never found an Optima of this vintage with four intact wheel covers. They all get detached in a way similar to a VW Jetta appendage. Part falls off, gets reattached, scuffed one time, breaks, gets thrown in the trunk.
All this talk about the Optima’s quality, but what about the drive? It’s 80% of a Camry. No other way to put it. The revs are about 15% higher. Fuel economy is about 10% worse. Seats are not nearly as comfortable on long-trips. When you’re driving about 2/10’s to 3/10’s like most Optima owners the interior is surprisingly quiet. But I would rate it’s experience as akin to a Cobalt that’s been stretched to midsized toffee. It doesn’t have the feel, quiet, and driving pleasure of anything remotely near it’s midsized competition. But as I drove it I began to think, “What is this Optima’s competition?”

I don’t think it’s the Camcord folks. Definitely not the Nissan Altima or VW Passat. I would even put the Impalas, Fusions, and Grand Prixs of this vintage on a far higher plain. To me the competition was essentially any midsized vehicle that was still stuck in a time warp. The last of the rental-car Tauruses and Malibu Classics. Perhaps a Regal or Century thrown into good measure. The competition wasn’t really that much more than a vestige of leftover parts and bloated union contracts. You can also say that the groundbreaking 1992 Toyota Camry with it’s own-row-to-hoe notchy stickshift would compete well with all these models. So what?

So I still wouldn’t buy one. Even for the cheapskate, the Optima just doesn’t have ‘it’. I can’t see an owner slavishly trying to keep a car like this alive which is what automotive frugality is all about. As soon as the car gets out of warranty and something breaks, the cost is going to scare the crap out of the owner and it will be traded-in. After that the Optimas will be used by the buy-here pay-here dealerships in a similar way as the Mitsubishis, Suzukis, and all the leftover rental fodder is currently being reused and recycled today. Most of these folks buying these cars can’t tell the difference between quality and a kumquat. But they have to have the latest model year cars even if it’s at $350+ a month for near infinite months. The irony is that those cheap cars will likely generate more cash than any new car out there. Unfortunately it will be the drivers who will pay for it all.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Kia’s Optima-sm Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-kias-optima-sm-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-kias-optima-sm-edition/#comments Sun, 14 Mar 2010 17:12:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=348933 Quick, want to guess what the single piece brings more traffic to TTAC than any other? Thanks to an early Korean-spec test (don’t worry, further tests of the US-spec model are forthcoming) and the blessings of good Google rankings, our 2011 Hyundai Sonata review has been our single biggest source of traffic over the last […]

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Quick, want to guess what the single piece brings more traffic to TTAC than any other? Thanks to an early Korean-spec test (don’t worry, further tests of the US-spec model are forthcoming) and the blessings of good Google rankings, our 2011 Hyundai Sonata review has been our single biggest source of traffic over the last several months. But getting a review out early isn’t the only reason so many folks are finding their way to TTAC by way of the Sonata: people are researching the car like crazy. Kelly Blue Book lists the Sonata as its number four most-researched vehicle, as does Edmunds.com, indicating that it’s poised to play with the perennial chart-toppers from Honda and Toyota. Meanwhile, Kia still has yet to make the jump to mainstream prominence, although its version of the Sonata  (still unfortunately named Optima) could be an important step in Korea’s bid to make inroads on the US market. Certainly its Peter Schreyer-designed lines won’t have anyone confusing the Optima with a decontented Sonata.

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Product Review: Optima Batteries http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/product-review-optima-batteries/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/product-review-optima-batteries/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2009 22:20:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=339529 Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisement: an Optima battery survives the rigors of a demolition derby, then goes into the vehicle taking it’s owner home. But is it pure advertising hyperbole or is there something to the claim? To find out I tested the Optima Red Top and Yellow top batteries in situations ranging from daily-driving […]

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Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisement: an Optima battery survives the rigors of a demolition derby, then goes into the vehicle taking it’s owner home. But is it pure advertising hyperbole or is there something to the claim? To find out I tested the Optima Red Top and Yellow top batteries in situations ranging from daily-driving to that demolition derby-in-denial, the 24 Hours of LeMons.

Geek Alert: while conventional lead-acid batteries use (fragile) lead plates suspended in vats of acid, the Optima has lead wound into a spiral tube.  Optima’s design is inherently stronger, thus more resistant to vibration, especially in off-road applications.  The design also allows a more pure grade of lead and there’s a fiberglass mat to hold the electrolyte gel against the lead. Fantastic.

In reality, it works. TTAC’s race car for the 24hrs of LeMons uses my leftover Optima “Red Top” battery, doing very well under the rigors of race use. Proof positive was our electrical nightmare: the reinforced battery tray that dislodged itself from the rusty fender. With our luck, the car’s good vibrations let battery hold down (metal) meet the positive cable. Then they became friends. Such good friends, in fact, they welded themselves together and cooked several underhood wires.  But the Optima survived the ordeal, where a normal battery would have exploded.

But why did I donate a functional Optima to the LeMons car?  Again, geek alert: my Lincoln Mark VIII (a car known for charging problems as they age) had bizarre charging characteristics after 2 years of use with a Red Top, even with significant upgrades over OEM. It worked until it’s second Houston summer made the car’s voltage fluctuate several tenths in stop/go traffic.  Fearing more problems (been there, done that), I proactively switched to a conventional battery and netted rock-solid charging after 2+ years of daily commuting. I discussed this with an Optima product guru: he suggested the problem is unique to my car.  Frankly, after many hours of wrenching, I suspect he’s right.

I had two other negative Red Top experiences, one from vehicles in storage for 6-12 months, unable to take a trickle charge afterwards.  Optima says this is a common problem, but it’s the battery charger’s fault. In their words:

If an OPTIMA is deeply discharged (below 10.5 volts) most basic chargers will not supply a charge. Also keep in mind an OPTIMA will not recharge properly if treated as a regular flooded or gel battery. To charge the battery, you can wire a second fully charged automotive battery (12+V) to the discharged AGM in parallel (+ to + and – to –). Then hook up the charger to either battery, setting the charger at 10 amps. Leave for two hours, monitoring frequently. During this process if the discharged battery gets very hot or if it is venting (hissing sound from vents) then stop this process immediately. When the discharged battery reaches 10.5 volts or more, remove the standard battery and continue charging the AGM until fully charged.

For normal charging a relatively low current, such as one or two amps can work well, but when the battery has been deeply discharged, some sulfation of the battery plates may have occurred. If you charge at 10 amps, the higher current will help to break up this sulfation. If you have an automatic charger, let it run until the charger indicates charging is complete. If you have a manual charger, you can get a rough estimate of the charging time in hours of a completely discharged battery (11.2V) by multiplying the capacity (amp hours or Ah) of the battery by 1.2. If your battery is not completely discharged the time would be less.

In most cases these steps will recover the AGM battery. It’s okay for the AGM battery to get slightly warm during the charging process. If it’s hot to the touch it means there’s a short and the process should be discontinued.

A fancier charger like a CTEC should work fine, but that’s not all: I had a (daily driven) Optima Red Top fail on the 36th month of its 36 month warranty.  The car’s charging system is in excellent condition, but the battery couldn’t start the car after sitting overnight.  While the free replacement works flawlessly for 2+ years, this was disappointing considering Optima’s premium pricing.

And there’s that: Optima Red Tops are about $150, roughly $50 more than a conventional battery with a similar warranty.  The Yellow Top, with its superior “deep cycle” capabilities often retails for an extra $20 over the Red Top.  And Optima supplied a Yellow Top for TTAC’s project car, a Cadillac Fleetwood Limo in dire need of a new battery, alternator and so much more.

Long story short: the Yellow Top worked flawlessly while diagnosing, wrenching and cranking (endlessly cranking) the Caddy’s pathetic motor. Not to mention providing hours of entertainment to passers by at the 24 Hours of LeMons, thanks to the Yellow Top’s deep reserve against the Limo’s extensive interior lighting, BOSE audio and power-hungry load-leveling suspension.  The Yellow Top is designed to handle long periods of usage, resisting failure after repeated discharges. My time with the Limo proved it. I am happy with this battery’s short-term performance: like the race car’s Red Top, this is the ideal partner for a Limo.

But what about the average car of your average TTAC reader?  Even with Optima’s clear engineering superiority, I don’t see their performance gains worth the higher asking price.  My negative experiences with the Red Top aside, this product isn’t a good value for your daily driver. Non-street legal toys and high-current applications are a different story.

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