Review: 2013 Kia Optima SXL

2013 Kia Optima SXL front

Sometime in the late 1990’s I started seeing “Suzy”, a very cute, petite, and very smart girl. Suzy owned a Honda Civic hatchback (EC) which I probably liked more than I liked her. One day, as we were walking through our college campus parking lot toward where she parked her car, she says to me “I got a new car on Saturday! I traded-in the Civic, my brother picked it out for me”.

These are thoughts that immediately ran through my head: Whaaaaa? Wait… And you didn’t consult me? And you just traded in my beloved Civic? How could you? I loved that car! What’s going to happen to it now?

Being fairly smart and having learned a thing or two (literally) about women by that age, I did not say any of that. I said “oh, really, cool, congrats, what did you get?”

“This” she said.

There, in front of me, was a black Kia Sephia. It wasn’t an ugly car as much it was a generic car. There was absolutely nothing special about it; nothing inviting, nothing warm, nothing original, and nothing descriptive. It was just there, a car, completely bland, so much unlike its new owner. And that was pretty much the beginning of the end of my little relationship with Suzy.

2013 Kia Optima SXL rear

Over the last decade, or so, Kia has completely turned itself from being a maker of generic entry-level cars to a brand that sells quality cars designed with style. With its corporate partner, Hyundai, Kia has been on a growth spurt similar to that of Honda several decades back. They have even developed a successful racing team!

Introduced at the 2010 New York Auto Show, the third generation Optima got everyone’s attention. This was a car which looked really good and offered features which were available only on so-called luxury cars. With a spacious interior, an increasing reputation for good quality and a reasonable price, the Optima became an instant winner. 

2013 Kia Optima SXL engine

This fully loaded Optima SXL was my first experience with the car that put Kia on the radar of many buyers. The spacious midsize sedan is pleasant to the eye both inside and out. It looks good on paper, too: a choice of two 200hp+ engines, over 30mpg on the highway, and a starting price of under $22,000 (which can top $34,000 as it did on my fully loaded test car).

The car drives well enough. There’s a bit of turbo lag followed by a bit too much torque steer. The suspension is smooth on bumpy roads and predictable when pushed. Brakes work well, too. Overall there is nothing exemplary about its chassis dynamics, just as there is nothing faulty.

2013 Kia Optima SXL dash

Inside, the front seats are comfortable but the headrest constantly hits you on the back of your head. All passengers have plenty of room, too. The dash is logically laid out and all controls are easy to use. Again, there is nothing groundbreaking here, just as there is nothing to dislike.

What is different about the Optima, however, is the availability of features which are typically reserved for cars costing twice as much. These features include:

  • Heated AND ventilated front seats.
  • Heated rear seats.
  • Illuminated door sills.
  • Panoramic sunroof.
  • Leather, everywhere.
  • Power folding mirrors.
  • Back-up camera.
  • Smart keyless entry and push-button ignition.
  • Fancy audio system with streaming this and blueteeth that.
  • Xenon HID headlights, Audi-like LED running lights, and LED taillights.
  • Red calipers – not sure if that’s a luxury feature.
  • Chrome wheels – ditto.

2013 Kia Optima SXL details

While none of these features are standard on the base model cars, they are available on higher trim vehicles. Kia representatives say that those features pull in a lot of the buyers, but I think those buyers are expecting to get a Honda but are surprised to get an Acura instead. Many people who buy entry-level BMWs or Audis buy the badge and not the features that are available on those cars, and that’s where Kia cannot compete.

The mid-size sedan market segment is full of dull, boring, cars. Optima’s styling is a welcome departure from the rest of market and it, along with the available high-end features, is what sets it apart from its competition. Having just Googled Suzy, I noticed that she has received her Ph.D. and looks better than ever, which immediately made me draw parallels* to how far Kia has come since the Sephia of the 1990’s.


*Yes, I may need help, but that’s a separate issue.

[Images copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski]

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36 responses to “Review: 2013 Kia Optima SXL”

  1. JayP2112 Avatar

    I stopped dating a woman because she couldn't drive a stick.
    And another one for making fun of Steely Dan.
    I have issues.
    I see the Optima everywhere and with the motorsport program, I'd give them some credit.
    <img src="; width="400">
    I wouldn't buy an Optima but the small cars are looking good too. If they made a turbo'd RWD coupe, I'd consider it.

    1. Alff Avatar

      No issues in my book. Took in two Dan shows with my future spouse, just to be sure. She can't drive a stick, though. I'm afraid the learning process would grenade the Alfa's finicky gearbox.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        It's not worth teaching anyone how to drive stick, it'll just destroy your clutch and your patience. This is why driving schools were invented!

        1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

          It's worth teaching someone if you have a car you don't really care about which has a strong clutch and easy parts availability. I taught a friend on my old 244, several hundred miles after a new clutch, and he picked it up fine. I let him drive the car that replaced it, a Saab with an iffy clutch, and he made a bit more of a hash of it. Oh well; I learned on a New Beetle (funky clutch, funky gearbox, funky driving position…) but got good on my beater 850 wagon, which worked.

    2. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

      I lost interest in a girl I'd been pursuing when she referred to Steely Dan as "he".

      1. JayP2112 Avatar

        Good one.

      2. Alff Avatar

        Maybe she understood the meaning behind the name. She might have been a keeper.

        1. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

          Somehow, though I know exactly what you're talking about and did at the time, that thought never once occurred to me.
          It's kinda disturbing.

  2. MVEilenstein Avatar

    I drove a base model Optima for about an hour when I was in Hawaii back in March. Like you, I found this one surprisingly well-equipped, especially for a rental. The autostick was nothing to write home about, but it was fun when you wanted to get around someone at a light. The car felt pretty big on narrow, crappy Honolulu streets, and the heavy pillars made bigger blind spots than I was expecting. I felt like I was sitting too low in the seat, but that could be user error.
    Still, it was a very good car for the money, and I think it's one of the best-looking of the bunch.

    1. Alff Avatar

      The Sonata I rented in S-town over the holidays felt the same way.

      1. MVEilenstein Avatar

        Again, could be my imagination. I drive an old truck, after all, so blind spots aren't really a problem.

        1. Alff Avatar

          The Sonata felt like I was sitting deep IN it. I prefer vehicles I feel like I'm sitting ON.

          1. MVEilenstein Avatar

            I think that's it. The shoulder line is much higher, too.

  3. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Nice review, but I think we all want to know more about Suzy.

    1. Alff Avatar

      I like the way she walks.

      1. MVEilenstein Avatar

        I wish she'd wake up.

        1. Paul E Avatar
          Paul E

          Not until four o'clock, when she's in trouble deep.

    2. Kamil_K Avatar

      She married a tall Polish guy… a better looking, younger, and much MUCH smarter (think Ivy Ph. D. now a Sr. VP at an investment co.) version of me.
      She was a freak… we never really dated, I never met her family. She was a lot of fun.
      Come to think of it, she doesn't work very far from where I live, as per her LinkedIn profile.

      1. TurboBrick Avatar

        Once you go Krak-ow you never go back-ow?

        1. Alff Avatar

          I went there once. It was enough.

  4. Devin Avatar

    Kia Sephia is strangely fun to say.

  5. BobWellington Avatar

    "The mid-size sedan market segment is full of dull, boring, cars."
    I would somewhat disagree. The Fusion and Mazda6 aren't boring. The Camry, Malibu, and Maxima are.
    Side note: I happened to be on Twitter this morning and I clicked on a tweet from Jeremy Clarkson. Low and behold the first person to reply was Kamil! Small world…haha.

    1. Kamil_K Avatar

      I'm a Jezza stalker.

      1. BobWellington Avatar

        I guess I am too seeing as I clicked on it. 😛

  6. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

    I really want to like the Optima because it's just sooooo good looking. It helps itself a lot by not being disappointing in other areas.
    There's probably some ex-girlfriend parallels there too.

    1. 0ToTuttiFrutti Avatar

      I agree, I often do a double take whenever I see one in traffic. Although, not when my wife is in the car.

  7. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    This is all the help you'll need.
    <img src=""&gt;

  8. Maymar Avatar

    The Optima, like most other new Hyundai-Kia products are kind of in a weird place – they look great, there's nothing inherently wrong with them, and the value is excellent. But I can't warm up to them. Part of it is just a built-in feeling of cheapness. Not to say things will break, but plenty of the touch points tell you exactly where they saved money. Also, I got to drive an Optima SX on an autocross-esque course about a month ago. It's impressively quick, but never felt like it wanted to be (in its defense, it had about 100hp on the cars it was being compared to).
    I mean, I'd comfortably recommend something like this, but I'm sure as he'll not compelled to buy one over the hyper-competent Accord.

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      I'd rather have a car that felt a bit cheap but was adequately engineered than, say, a Mk4 Jetta – an Audi that may as well have been built in a Soviet factory.

  9. mseoul Avatar

    I drove one a few weeks ago for the first time. A more basic model, with the GDI 4.
    One thing in particular was amazing to me and not noted in Kamil's extensive list above, or perhaps I missed it: the auto trans does not kick down automatically when you go full throttle while in "shift mode". This is very unusual I think, outside of the sport mode of an AMG car or some older Acuras I've driven. This was a wonderful feature I thought and actually made the manu-matic very bearable and even useful. Pretty much like a full manual for control.

    1. Kamil_K Avatar

      Good point, which I haven't confirmed, and a few reasons:
      – I live in a very densely populated area so true hooning isn't easy around here
      – This was someone else's car, Kia's in this case, and I have a habit of taking better care of other people's car than my own
      – I hate using paddle shifter unless it's a dual clutch transmission that is a sport car chassis, otherwise I just leave in auto-sport.

  10. mseoul Avatar

    Thanks for the reply.
    I was in Arizona, so lots of space although not much reason to use it: I just tried it because it is what I always hate about every so-called manu-matic, including Audi and BMW. I was very surprised when it worked as I had hoped. Shocked really. It was someone else's car, so I did not abuse it but I went full throttle in 3rd gear from a very low speed, then tried 4th. It did not kick down either time and those are two of the most worthwhile gears to have it in like that anyway. BTW, I was able to hit two real Polish delis and a German bread bakery within 30 min. in Phoenix. As I was visiting from Asia, that was highly necessary speed work. The slick trans did not really help much though on speed, I must admit.

  11. Synchromesh Avatar

    The car does look good but I just don't feel it'll last near as long as a similarly priced Lexus/Acura. Something tells me that while initial Korean quality might be pretty good now, 200K without major issues is just unlikely to happen. Every slightly older Korean car I've been in just reeked of cheapness and while the face may have changed the insides are still the same I bet.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      My mother-in-law recently traded in her '04 Magentis (Canuck market Optima) with 250k kms (~150k miles) on a new leftover '12 Rondo. Sort of the occasional brake job and replacing the gas cap once, it was pretty trouble free. For that matter, within my family, there are currently 6 Hyundais and Kias. I feel no love for any of them, but they're all perfectly fine appliances, and hardly unreliable.
      Then again, 200k on just about any new car isn't difficult.

  12. mseoul Avatar

    The post 2008 cars are different I'd say, especially the Euro models, most of which don't make it to the US. There was one a few years ago, based on the Euro i30 wagon. I the US I think it was called an Elantra Touring. Now they have the Hyundai Elantra "GT" model that looks like a Euro or domestic Korean market i30 but is de-contented with a beam ream axle and who knows what else. I can't vouch for the interior materials quality in the US car but the other market versions are nice. The Polish or German speakers here can look at the respective language versions of Auto, Motor, Sport for relevant info. The Aussie and UK press covers these "Euro" models too. Same as with VW, it seems that Hyundai-Kia has decided that the US and China markets deserve the same cars and quality, so its a pity for US hoons.

  13. Dave Avatar

    Mr. Jeff Glucky, it sounds as if you do not own, have driven or even have read any reviews concerning the Kia SXL mid-sized sedan. I own a 2013 SXL and am wondering where you are getting the torque steer and turbo lag information; it most certainly is not from driving one? I had a 2009 Lancer Ralliart AWD and you want to talk about turbo lag; that thing would scare the heck out of you when it kicked in.
    People, this car has the same sized engine as my Lancer did, both being 2.0 liter engines. My performance Lancer Ralliart had 237 HP and the KIA has 274 HP. My Lancer was faster but it had the AWD last generation EVO tranny with the EVO X engine. Even with that said, there is NO comparison and this car is no slouch. If you were to drive this car and you were NOT told it was a turbo charged engine, I would wager you would think it was a V6. The power is so linear all the way up to red line; there is no rush and this car is so responsive with its 6 speed tranny. Okay, torque steer?? Well, hammer this car from a dead stop and at about 20 MPH your tires will break loose and the car is going completely straight and you ARE NOT fighting the steering wheel. As a matter of fact, I am completely blown away that there is virtually NO torque steer. It is blatantly obvious this guy has not driven a Kia SX Limited. I did much research on this car and then drove one and was completely and utterly impressed with the solid and luxurious feel of this car. The brakes are outstanding – night and day difference from my Lancer Ralliart. I have had this car for months now and I am still impressed by this car's price, quality and the attention to detail that was infused into the design of this car. Here is a tiny example. At night as you approach your car, with the key fob in your pocket, the interior lights turn on just by being around 10 feet away. I walked passed my car to my SUV one night and this scared the heck out of me when the lights came on, LOL. I would like part time AWD with this car honestly however, Kia has the front wheel drive down to a science. Go waste your money on on an Audi A4 with 211 horse power that is about 10-15 thousand more that cannot even compete with the options, quality and style that this car has. I bought my Kia for $32,000 and no one can get any car like this that is even close. Go buy a Ford Fusion with all the bells and whistles and you will be in the $40,000+ territory. I love this car! Don't take it from Jeff or me for that matter. Go drive one and you will be amazed that these cars are not costing considerably more. The only affiliation with Kia is the fact that I own one!
    Sorry Jeff, you are way off the mark brother.

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