Review: 2013 KIA Optima SXL

KIA ratchets things up a notch with its SX Limited Photo: Duane Pemberton

What do most successful companies do to a product when it’s successful? That’s right, leave it alone and let it keep pleasing the masses. This is the formula from KIA for its 2013 Optima series – this SXL edition is really the only model in the Optima line-up that has a few changes and they are purely cosmetic.

Since its release back in 2010, the current body design of the Optima series has been turning heads and profits for KIA – it’s a gorgeous-looking sedan with great body lines that are well-stated and defined. In fact, KIA has done an admirable job of making its entire line-up of cars look great.

So what’s the hype of the SX-series? It’s the turbo-charged 2.0L 4-cylindar engine that puts out a cozy 274hp with 269 lb-ft of torque @ 1750rpm. Since its torque is available at such a low rpm, it makes for a very spirited car off the line and makes for a relatively flat torque curve. Even though it’s the smallest displacement of the available 4-cylindar engines, it does have the lowest-rated fuel economy by the EPA at: 22/34mpg because of the turbo.

The SX model already offered the top-level trim features and the “L” (limited) kicks it up a notch with the following features:

  • Nappa Leather seating surfaces
  • Red brake calipers
  • Standard 18” chrome wheels
  • Chrome side sills
  • Chromed outside mirrors
  • Rear spoiler
  • LED daytime running lights
  • Electric parking brake
  • First aid kit
  • Wood accents

While none of these upgrades yield performance upgrades, they look great – think of them as extra “bling”. Nonetheless, they do offer some well-appointed touches to the SX and do add a splash of the car feeling a bit higher-end.

Once inside, you’ll notice that KIA has done a good job of situating the dash in such a way that everything is slightly tilted towards the driver but still accessible from the passenger seat.  Overall fit and finish is good but missing features found on other cars in its price range such as a stitched leather dash and door inserts. The Nappa leather upholstery on the seats, however, is well-stated and adds a rather elegant touch – as does the well-incorporated wood trim.

One of the things that may surprise people is amount of roominess inside this car – even rear leg room is here in spades. Truck space, while not the largest I’ve seen, is more than adequate for a few suitcases, a Costco trip or a few sets of golf clubs. If you do need to fit more “junk in the trunk”, the rear seats do collapse.

I’ve always liked KIA’s navigation system and was glad to see it as standard equipment in the SXL – it’s easy to use, has quick response times to your input and is coupled with what just might be the best-sounding audio system in any car of its class.

The multi-channel Infinity sound system features an 8-inch subwoofer mounted on the rear deck and it packs quite a punch but not at the sacrifice of tonal clarity and distortion. Sound quality remains mostly in tact – even at louder volumes.  It’s rare to have a stock system deliver such a commanding response over the entire frequency spectrum like this one does.

Of course all of these goodies would be for naught if the performance and handling of the car wasn’t up to snuff and I’m happy to report that – for the most part – it is. Overall right quality is very good with a suspension that does a good job of balancing firmness with a good ride. I found it has acceptable body roll in hard corners – certainly good enough for a car in this class. On longer trips, the seats provided very good support and I never felt “tired out” – a very comfortable car for sure.

With how well balanced this car is between handling, ride, features and power – it’s hard to find fault in it. However, I believe the biggest hurdle for KIA will be its asking price of around $35,000, because at that price, they may have a hard time winning people over. Even though it has an industry-leading 10yr/100,000 mile warranty and has garnered high acclaim, folks will still think “it’s a KIA”. Only a drive could win them over and that’s what I’d suggest anyone do if they are in the market for a great sedan.

KIAs website:

Priced from $34,500



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Duane Pemberton

Duane Pemberton is a food and wine writer who is also the owner of Pemberton is also a well read automobile reviewer and critic, all of which incorporates into his travel, wine and food reviews.

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