Rental Review: 2013 Kia Optima EX

This week, I had a business trip to St. Louis and wasn’t able to ride with my boss as I usually do, so got the chance to book a rental instead, so I could save the 500 miles on Lucy. I booked a full-size rental through Enterprise and hoped to have the chance to drive a 2013+ Ford Fusion.

No such luck, as they had none available, but then I spotted this silver Kia Optima:

2013 Kia Optima EX
Love the look of this thing.

Since it was first revealed, I’ve loved the look of this car. Just about every time I see one on the road, I’ve continued to like it and said to myself that, if I was in the market for a sedan, it’d be near the top of my list. Purely on looks, I think it’s right behind the Ford Fusion as the best-looking car in the D-segment (other competitors include the Camry, Accord, Malibu, Altima, 200, Sonota). But I had no idea how it drove and had never really been behind the wheel of any Kia for an extended period, so here’s my thoughts, in bullet point form because that’s how I almost always organize my thoughts on anything.

Pros:

  • Style: like I said, this is a damn good looking car and I think it changes pre-concieved notions about what a Kia is. From the aggressive front end to the nicely styled back end with good-looking dual exhaust tips, to the little touches like the vents behind the front wheels (which can frequently look tacky) and the wrap-around headlights/taillights, it’s nicely done.
  • Interior style & comfort: though I was driving a pretty basic EX (the LX is the most basic model), I didn’t feel too slighted by the interior. More hard plastics than I would like but, again, it’s a lower-end model. The cloth seats, though a bit dirty from 30,000 miles of rental car usage, had great bolstering and support (more than my Mustang, which is kind of sad) and a perfect headrest to be useful for somebody my height. The backseat is big, with plenty of headroom and I have no doubt four 6′ tall guys could ride in this car without an issue, or two adults with rear-facing child seats behind them, for that matter.
  • Interior tools/technology: love the two storage pods in the dashboard (see the below pic – right in front of the shifter and in-between the radio and climate controls) perfect for devices, wallets, chapstick, etc. and the four cupholders in front, as well as the roomy center console. That lower storage area also includes two 12V outlets and the USB plug-in. The steering wheel controls were nicely done as well, with a mix of buttons and toggle switches. The voice command system worked ok, though it didn’t react as quickly or find people’s names in my phonebook as quickly as the Microsoft Sync system in my Mustang does. I also didn’t like that I couldn’t advance tracks using the steering wheel buttons when streaming music through Bluetooth, as I can do with Sync. Those are minor complaints though. It seems to be pretty equal to Sync and it even sounds like Ford and Kia share voice talent.
  • Quiet: even in windy conditions on the highway going 75 MPH, the car is quiet and comfy – great road-trip car.
  • Mileage: It’s rated at 35 highway/24 city. I definitely didn’t get anywhere near that but think I averaged around 27-30. Not out of this world but I was driving 75-77 MPG most of the trip with strong winds and the A/C running so I’m good with that mileage.
  • Powertrain: Going from Lucy’s 412 HP V8 to a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder with 200 HP wasn’t as big a disparity as I expected. The engine and transmission are matched together pretty well and the car accelerates better than I’d expect a car of this class and price point to. The 6-speed “Sportmatic” transmission shifts gears quickly, though can be a bit jerky on downshifts. It’s set up to upshift when pushing forward and downshift when pulled back, which is backwards from how I like it (and how Mazda and Porsche do it). All in all, a very nice powertrain though.
  • Quality: this car was getting close to the end of its rental car life, with 30,000 miles on the clock, but there were zero squeaks, rattles or anything that seemed broken on this rental, which is impressive. The worst thing I can say is that the seats were pretty dirty and that’s not Kia’s fault – Enterprise could very likely have done a lousy job cleaning them.
2013 Kia Optima EX interior
Love the steering wheel and shifter design, especially.

 

Cons

  • Some cheap details: I realize it’s not the loaded model but there were a couple things that let me down about the car. The steering wheel, though nicely shaped and with good tech integration, is plastic all the way around. The parking brake is a foot-activated one, which I realize saves some room on the center console but it feels cheap. A button-activated one would be nicer, though I don’t know what that would add in cost. Finally, having only a driver’s window auto-down function feels really cheap. This 2013 Optima brochure says it should have auto up+down for both front windows, but my rental did not.
  • Torque steer: even under modest acceleration, the car pulls to the left frequently and to the right some, which I’m attributing to torque steer, as it wouldn’t do it while cruising so I’m pretty sure it’s not an alignment or tire wear issue.
  • Lack of a manual transmission: I’m in the minority here and I realize the take rate would be 5% or so, but Ford still sells a manual Fusion and I’d love to have the option on the Optima.

Summary

Another thing I like about the Optima is the long options list. From the base model in the mid-20’s to a loaded SX model at $35,000+, you can get a really nice family car for cheap, or a loaded, almost luxury car for what’s still a strong value. That loaded model comes with options like a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, paddle shifters, a cooling glove box, and more. Which makes a car like the Buick LaCrosse or Lincoln MKZ for thousands more not such a good value, perhaps. This car feels like a lot for the money, comes with a fantastic warranty and, from what I can tell, the quality is on par with its competition too. My opinion has been validated – if I was in the market, I’d definitely be looking long & hard at the Kia Optima.

(Note: My company paid for the rental and I have had zero interaction with anybody at Kia or Enterprise)

Aggressive without being over the top. Nicely done, Kia styling chief Peter Schreyer.
Aggressive without being over the top. Nicely done, Kia styling chief Peter Schreyer.

 

 

 

My Favorite Car Spot in Years – Dodge’s “Uncle” Spot

For at least a decade, my single favorite TV spot ever has been the Volkswagen “shopping cart” ad from their iconic “Drivers Wanted” campaign. Arnold Worldwide did a fabulous job with that campaign.

It’s still my favorite but, recently, Dodge ran a spot for the Challenger/Charger that I love almost as much. For anybody who knows me or follows me on Twitter, especially at Super Bowl time, I’m no Mopar fanboy. Here’s the spot:

It’s fun. It fits perfectly with Dodge’s slightly cocky, irreverent sense of humor and with those two cars, especially the Charger. Instead of the safe choice of an Avalon, Taurus, LaCrosse or Impala, go with the brash, rear-wheel drive, (available with a) honkin’ V8 choice.

My uncle is the one that ignited my passion for cars after a fast ride in a 1997 Mustang Cobra convertible at age 15 (“if you tell your mother (my sister) how fast we go, I’ll kill you”), so the “crazy uncle” part of this one makes it even more fun and personal for me. Love it.

Nice work Chrysler/Dodge team – see, I’m not always negative about you guys ;) If anybody who reads this knows what agency did the spot, I’d love to give them a shout out too, being an agency guy myself.

2011 Ford Mustang GT – the 60,000 mile review

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 945 days (a little over 2.5 years) since I fulfilled a dream I’d had since age 14. That dream was to own a Ford Mustang and I fulfilled that dream on September 2, 2011. Appropriately, I started that day by hearing a fantastic presentation by Ford’s social media maestro, Scott Monty, at a Social Media Club of Kansas City event at Union Station. Just after lunch, I flew out of KCI up to Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Int’l Airport where I met two guys from B&B Ford to pick up my dream car.

I’ve already posted a long entry about that day so I’ll leave it there. However, having driven Lucy a ton and being almost to 60,000 miles, I figured it was time to do a review from an ownership perspective. So, here we go:

The Pros

  • You’re part of something: by that, I mean you’re joining a massive group of enthusiasts, as the Mustang is probably the world’s most-loved car. Because of that, there’s awesome clubs like the Mustang Club of Greater Kansas City and shows, events, cruises, etc. going on every weekend all over the country. If you truly love cars and didn’t just buy a Mustang for the style, being part of a community like the Mustang one is a fun perk. I’ve been in three St. Patrick’s Day parades with this thing and the smiles, the kids screaming “rev the engine” and the envious looks from some are such fun. Or little moments like a five-year-old kid walking by the car holding hands with his Dad and hearing him ask “Daddy, can I have a Mustang like that someday?” You will never have that happen in your Accord or Camry.
Pretty cool to see this many kids crowded around my car - makes you remember what it was like to be in their shoes.
Pretty cool to see this many kids crowded around my car – makes you remember what it was like to be in their shoes.
  • The Attention: when you own a Mustang, it’s hard to be shy. No, it’s not like owning an exotic but for a car that’s as affordable as a Mustang, there’s nothing like it. So many people have stories to share about their experience with a Mustang in their youth, or questions to ask like “how’s that five liter run??” It’s fun to feel special even though you’re driving something that frequently costs less than the car the person you’re talking to is driving.
  • The Style: I still find myself looking back at Lucy as I walk away. I get compliments constantly. And even though the completely redesigned 2015 Mustang is coming soon, I don’t think my car will look dated too quickly, which you definitely couldn’t say about the ’87-’93 or ’94-98 cars when their replacements came along.
  • The Power: having 412 horsepower at your disposal in a daily-driven car that runs on 87 octane and gets good mileage was nothing but a fantasy 20 years ago but it’s reality with this car.
  • The Transmission/Shifter/Pedals: for anyone that drove a pre-2005 Mustang, this shifter and pedal setup is a revelation. Short, direct throws. Pedals set up well for heel & toeing. The only negative is that the stock shifter works terribly in cold weather, even after the TSB Ford issued to try and fix the problem. I want a MGW shifter but just haven’t saved the money to do it yet.
  • The Mileage: no, you don’t buy a Mustang for its practicality, but mileage doesn’t have to be the reason you don’t. My previous car, a 2003 Mazda6s, got 22 MPG average over the 90,000 miles I owned it. Not great, but pretty normal for a V6 4-door sedan from that era. In almost 50,000 miles of driving this car, I’m averaging 21.7 MPG. And I have 200 more horsepower and two more cylinders under the hood than I had in that Mazda. On the highway, it’ll do 25-28 MPG.
  • The Noise: it was ok stock, but when I added a Borla S-Type axle-back system to it, wow. Start at 3:09 of the clip below:


The great thing about the Borlas is that they’re loud when you want them to be, but on the highway cruising, they’re no louder than the stock mufflers and there is zero drone. None. Not a bit. That’s why they cost twice as much as some other aftermarket systems and that’s why they’re worth every penny.

  • The Comfort: I’ve daily driven this car since I bought it. I’ve driven it from Kansas City to Silverthorne, Colorado in a single day, comfortably. No, it doesn’t ride like a Lexus and yes, I have minor quibbles I’ll mention later but, overall, it’s a great car to drive every day.
  • The Cargo Room: for what it is, the Mustang has a pretty darn big trunk. With the fold-down rear seats, you can take home 8′ stuff from the hardware store if you need to. Yeah, the trunk opening is a bit small but that’s the tradeoff for the styling.
  • The Tech: I purposely found a car without the dual climate control, built-in navigation touchscreen version of this car. Didn’t want it. The most advanced tech this car has is electric power steering, heated seats, auto up & down windows, stability/traction control and the base Sync system, which I love. Yeah, I’m a bit bummed Ford hasn’t upgraded it one bit even though they keep promising to, but it works great with my iPhone via Bluetooth and my iPod via USB connection. And that’s all I need.
  • The Winter Driving: yes, I’m complimenting a Mustang on its performance in the snow…with the caveat that I have a set of dedicated winter tires (Bridgestone Blizzaks). For anybody that lives in an area with regular snowfall, they’re a great investment to make. With those tires and the traction/stability control, I’ve driven through three winters now without a problem. Handling and braking are excellent on snow and, as long as you’re gentle with the go pedal, acceleration is not an issue either.
2014-02-10 14.23.45.jpg
Yes, this car does just fine in the white stuff.

The Cons

    • The Solid Rear Axle: lots of Mustang guys are lamenting the fact that Ford is finally dumping the outdated solid rear axle (SRA) for the 2015 car. For non-gearheads, the only non-pickup truck you can still buy with a SRA is the Mustang. That’s it and there’s a reason for that; it’s an outdated technology kept alive in this car to save a few bucks and placate the tiny percentage of owners that drag race their cars. Not a drive in my car goes by that I don’t notice the SRA in a negative way. Whether the noise it makes going over bumps or the way your head gets jarred from side to side, it’s noticeable.
    • No telescoping steering wheel: my 2003 Mazda6 had it. My wife’s 2008 Mazda3 has it. For a car that cost $37,000 new to not have one is a bit ridiculous, in 2011. It would make the comfort level perfect for me.
    • Little Problems: here’s what’s gone wrong with my car so far. It’s not a ton but I wouldn’t call it bulletproof either.

19,967 miles: Check Engine Light (P0446) came on – Vapor Wire Circuit at Cannister Vent Solenoid corroded in two pieces. Replaced pigtail at the cannister vent. ($0)
25,014 miles: squealing noise from under the hood happened. Water pump replaced along with thermostat seal and clamp. ($0)
43,457 miles: Air bag light was on – Found B0028:13 in RCM hard fault. PP Test G found high resistance in airbag 4.780HM (passenger seat side airbag). Replaced RF seat side airbag and RF seat trim. ($0 cost but would have been $800+ if out of warranty)
51,653 miles: inconsistent starting problem diagnosed with two fixes – replacement of original battery and PCM programming update (TSB 11-3-32) ($350)
Unrepaired yet but broken since last fall: driver side power seat track in need of replacing. ($750 quoted cost)
Unrepaired as of yet: one of the blend door actuators in the dash is going bad. (Will fix myself for <$50>)
Unrepaired as of yet: Ford has had a ton of problems with lower control arms on these cars, to the point where they’ve created new part #’s for replacements three times so far, I think. I’m fairly certain the squeaking under braking I get from them means I’ve got bad ones too, but since I’m out of warranty, I’m avoiding that $800 repair as long as possible.

  • Cheap Details: one of the reasons this car is affordable is that savings have to be found somewhere. In this car, a lot of that is in interior trim. The stock floormats barely qualify as carpet. The carpet doesn’t go up high enough on the passenger footwell. The trunk carpet’s fit borders on laughable. It’s a $37,000 car with a hood prop. Minor things and not a big deal, but still.
  • Lack of Interior Storage: one thing I loved about my Mazda6 was the interior storage. The doors could hold bottles. The dashboard had a door that opened up to hold a ton of stuff at the top. The glovebox was big. The Mustang has a small center console that holds a lot but beyond that, there’s a small glovebox and that’s it. The storage in the doors is useless beyond holding trash and the cupholders work but only if you don’t need to shift the manual transmission much.

Final Thoughts

My boss asked me the other day if I still love this car like I thought I would and the answer is unequivocally yes. Every time I drive it, I smile. When I get it on an open road with the windows down and hear the motor roaring, I giggle like a little kid still. When I drive down the street, I still feel a little special. The few cons I listed above are so incredibly outweighed by the pros that they’re hardly worth quibbling over.

At some point, my wife and I are going to have kids. Yes, I’ll be able to fit a rear-facing child seat in on the passenger side, but it’ll be almost impossible for someone to sit in that front passenger seat. Forward-facing seats will be ok but still, it ain’t a family car. I’m already dreading that day and just hoping I’m financially able to keep the Mustang when I buy the Ford Flex I’m already eyeing for family duties.

I love my Mustang. It was worth the wait.

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Here’s that fun history part of it. This is my car next to my cousin-in-law’s 1967 Mustang GT – siblings separated by 44 years of history, but still with the same soul.
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Below the 12th Street bridge in KC
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Track touring at Road America – heading through turn 6 with a 911 and an Exige on my tail!
My uncle and I with our fast red cars - 2011 Mustang GT and 2001 Ferrari 360 Modena
My uncle and I with our fast red cars – 2011 Mustang GT and 2001 Ferrari 360 Modena – waiting to cross the Wisconsin River via the Merrimac Ferry.
Credit for this shot goes to Digo Rajbhandari (digoraj AT gmail.com)
In the midst of a Sports Car Club of America road rally. Credit for this shot goes to Digo Rajbhandari

Opinions and anecdotes on mostly cars+racing, plus some marketing here & there