$7,700 - $10,826

2012 Kia Optima Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Kia Optima was new.


Performance: 8.0

The 2012 Kia Optima is one of the better-performing cars in the class. It’s not a snooze to drive and its base four-cylinder engine is lively. Step up to the turbocharged four-cylinder and reviewers say you’ll get six-cylinder power with four-cylinder fuel economy. The Optima’s handling is capable, and most say it leans on the sporty side of the spectrum.

  • "The car showed all the attributes of a first-rate mass-market midsize sedan, but perhaps not as much handling athleticism when pushed as the styling would suggest." -- Road and Track
  • "As good as all this packaging is, it would be for naught if the Optima didn’t or couldn’t step up to the plate. In this regard, it did not disappoint." -- Left Lane News

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Kia Optima has two four-cylinder engines. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower. The more powerful engine is an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four that makes 274 horsepower, and is good for those looking for V6-like power. Power is sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission, which is available only on the base model, or six-speed automatic with overdrive. Reviewers say the automatic is smooth, but some reviewers disliked the car’s tendency to upshift by itself when in manual mode.

What test drivers like about the Optima’s acceleration is that even its base engine is powerful. Most affordable midsize cars have four-cylinder engines that are underpowered, like the Mazda6 and Mitsubishi Galant. The turbo four is even more fun to drive, and reviewers like its power and good fuel economy. The EPA estimates that Optimas with the base engine will get 24/35 mpg city/highway with either transmission. Kia Optima cars with the turbocharged four-cylinder should get 22/34 mpg.

  • "We found the pickup impressive, and we enjoyed rowing our own with the six-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic function." -- Left Lane News (2.4-liter engine)
  • "The 2.4-liter engine feels decently peppy in most driving situations. After a modest delay from a stop, the turbocharged engine accelerates much like a V6. On all, the automatic transmission is generally smooth, alert, and reasonably quick to downshift for more power." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The engine lacks the low-end oomph to come out of a corner in a high gear and accelerate uphill, but the transmission kicks down soon enough to get you back up to speed. On the highway, the car moves competently: Squeeze the accelerator two-thirds of the way down, give the automatic a beat to fetch 4th gear, and the Optima turns 60 mph into 80 mph with surprising vigor." -- Cars.com (2.4-liter engine)
  • "Though the 200-hp four-cylinder provided adequate power, we were disappointed that while in manual mode, the automatic transmission voluntarily upshifted at the top of the rpm range. This annoying detail made us yearn for the SX option: With the manual transmission and more horsepower at just a minimal fuel-economy penalty, we'll have a hard time passing it up." -- Popular Mechanics

Handling and Braking

Reviews are divided on the 2012 Kia Optima’s handling. While most reviewers agree that it is competent on the road, they disagree on how sporty it is and how far drivers can push it. If performance is your priority, some reviewers say the Optima is a good choice, but others disagree. They complain of some understeer and a somewhat stiff ride. Make sure you take it on an extended test drive to make sure it’s up to your standards. The Optima’s strong brakes receive positive comments.

  • "Optima is among the sportier-feeling mainstream midsize sedans; it's reasonably poised and nimble in quick changes of direction. The steering feels well balanced, and the brakes deliver smooth, linear stopping power." -- Consumer Guide
  • "As with every other front-driver in this segment, understeer remains the Optima's marching orders, but if anything, handling feels a bit keener than the Sonata, which itself has heretofore had a claim on the best-handling car in its class." -- Autoblog
  • "The Optima offered a good balance between a soft ride on straight runs and fairly buttoned-down cornering control.” -- Popular Mechanics
  • "Hitting the right notes with the mid-sized-sedan buyer is also evident in the way the Optima rides and handles. Contrary to what the auto enthusiast press would have you believe, the mid-size sedan driver is more concerned about quiet and a comfortable ride than about crisp handling, and we discovered that Kia engineers tuned the Optima's suspension with that bias in mind." -- Kelley Blue Book

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