Rental Car Review - Kia Optima

At times advice to posters is to rent a car and see how they like it. So, I though I’d put up some info on a rental Kia Optima from Enterprise. I just got back from 2 weeks in LA where we put 800 miles on the Optima visiting family in So. Ca. This a lot of freeway miles with heavy stop and go at times and local driving. A mix with a bias for freeway miles. I used the HOV lanes when available and would cruise at 70 mph.

The overall mpg was 30.0 on the car’s computer, which seems pretty accurate. The Optimal had 19,000 miles on it and Enterprise considers it a “Full” sized car. It was a basic model, no power seats, 4 cyc., auto trans., nice but not fancy. the seats were comfortable for long trips. While manual, you could adjust seat height if needed. There was ample leg room for rear seat riders, so it is very comfortable car for long rides with the family.

The trunk is big but the opening is small. The view to the rear is also poor for backing up due to the sloped rear window and small rear door windows. The cars styling looks great, but if you buy one a rear view camera would be a big help. I had to do a lot of backing up and it was not easy and I was really careful when backing up.

There was no “owners manual” in the glove box and it took me a long time to figure out how to reset things like the trip odometer, and average fuel mpg. With some fiddling I figured it out, but it was not intuitive. My guess is most drivers will not be able to figure these things out without some coaching from the salesperson or reading the manual. The heat controls were easy to understand, but this car did not have auto temperature control so the controls were basic; fan speed, temperature, and buttons for A/C and what outlets the air comes out.

The standard radio was no better in terms of sound quality than my old '03 Civic, and 2000 Camry. I figured even a standard radio in a new car would sound much better than my old cars, not so. If you want really high quality audio you will need to get some sort of audio upgrade package. The radio controls were pretty poor also. Since this wasn’t a car with high tech features the radio shouldn’t be confusing to use, this one was. Just to change bass, and treble you have to move through a couple of menu screens to make it happen. Not really something you do when you are on the freeway. I would rate the radio as distracting for any action beyond changing stations (if they are preset ones) and volume. Set up your bluetooth, iphone, mp3 player etc. while parked.

The motor seemed to have plenty of power, and the 6 speed auto tranny would downshift quickly when you needed acceleration as in handling on ramps in heavy traffic. The car handled fine, but I didn’t do any challenging curvy roads on this trip. The car handled some pretty big “bumps” over uneven pavement without getting too unsettled. In the HOV lanes you have little room side to side and mostly I felt confident and comfortable in the Kia that it wasn’t going to surprise me on the bumps. Braking felt strong.

Enterprise seemed to maintain the car OK. Tires were inflated, oil was at the full mark, etc. It seemed odd to me that the 2 tires on the passenger side were a different brand than the 2 one the driver’s side. Tread depth was similar, but tread design was quite different. The driver’s side were Kumho tires and I don’t think any new cars come from the factory on Kumho’s. The passenger tires were not a brand I’ve heard of so I wonder if they were OEM tires either. At 19K miles this car might have already run off the OEM tires so I wouldn’t be surprised if a buyer of a new Optimal was tire shopping at 15K miles.

As a rental I was fine with the car. As a buyer I’d be much less so. It says something to me that when I get home my old Civic with 165K miles and 5 speed stick feels like a fun drive. And my 2000 Camry XLE at 182K miles with a V6 has a much better stereo. I don’t feel I’m missing much by driving my old cars. All the ads for all the cars want me to feel depressed and that my manhood, and/or esteem with my friends and neighbors will be greatly enhanced by a new car in my driveway. In fact, my neighbors don’t care what I drive and my wife is happy; so no big new car payments for me anytime soon.

An Enterprise car lot where they sell their cars was nearby to my hotel and I took a look at the inventory. I thought the prices were fair and the cars look good and they offered a good variety of makes, models, and sizes. Most had 30 to 33K miles with a few at 15K. If I do need a newer car some day I’d take a look at the Enterprise lot.


“And my 2000 Camry XLE at 182K miles with a V6 has a much better stereo”

Your Camry is top of the line trim package, unlike the rental car, which was probably not very well equipped. I’m not surprised the Camry had the better stereo

The Kia would probably greatly benefit from some better speakers, from Crutchfield, for example. I used to routinely install better speakers on my old beater cars. Even with the factory head unit, it would make a big difference

Did the Kia at least have volume control buttons on the steering wheel . . . I would expect that on a new car. Heck, even some of our newer fleet trucks have that feature

Did the hvac head unit have rotary knobs for temperature control, air distribution, and blower control. I really don’t like head units that use those stupid push buttons for everything. I suppose slide levers are okay,

Did the radio have a volume control rotary knob, and a knob to change station. Did it have a large power button

Was the hazard switch large and easy to see?

Perhaps somebody hit the curb and damaged the right side tires? Since the brand was unfamiliar, perhaps enterprise cheaped out and had store-brand tires installed . . . ?

Why wouldn’t a Korean car have Korean tires . . . Kumho is korean, AFAIK . . . on it from the factory

My brother’s 2010 Mazda3 is the mid-level model. And it has those same manual seats, but you can adjust the height


Yes, my Camry is an XLE and does have branded factory speakers - but it is 15 years old. I agree better speakers in the Kia should be an improvement.

There are controls for radio and cruise on the steering wheel.

The hvac head in this model is in the center of dash/console, just below the radio in the expected place. the fan and temp controls are rotary style. Push buttons select the desired air outlet, A/C on and off, and rear window defogger.

There was a rotary knob on the driver’s side of the radio for volume with a push on and off incorporated. The knob on the right side was part for the mode selection set up. I guess it would change stations if rotated, not sure. There were scan, seek, and lots of other buttons on the radio head. The display screen for the radio and clock were red on black background and did not seem very bright. I happen to be red/green color blind and the displays were not easy for me to see in the day and when I dimmed the lights on the dash and speedo, the red seemed to virtually disappear. This could be fine for people with normal color vision, but not for me. The center dash cluster was illuminated in black and white and I had no problems seeing tach, speedo, and info screen.

I think the hazard switch is big enough, but does not stand out. I think it is below the hvac head. It is not in the top center of the dash.

I don’t shop much for new cars, but I see Kumho as a replacement brand tire. Perhaps they are OEM also.


I also find “red on black background” hard to make out, and I’m not red/green color blind

At least the hazard switch wasn’t small, and on top of the steering column. When you need to hit that switch quickly, it should be in an easy to see and easy to reach location. It’s usually been in a good location on my Toyotas

We got a 2015, test drove a few cars and have no complaints, other than the radio occasionally looses bluetooth connection to my wifes phone. Sound system is fine, I forget about the rear view camera, but have not found limited visibility while backing up to be an issue. The trunk is rooomy, had a standard cooler and some stuff in the trunk over the holidays and had room for a wheelchair on top. Sister in law has to use the back seat to move the wheelchair in her car. Biggest complaint only 2 keys, and cannot make more fully functional keys. I am only an occasional driver of the car.

Plenty of pep, handles well and nice for road trips. Our clock is a separate dedicated clock.

We have the 2013 Sonata which is an Optima twin. My wife thinks the radio sounds better than our 05 Camry, I think the AM on it is not so good. It could use better speakers.

The bluetooth is a great upgrade for her. Handling is definitely better than the Camry. I also like the transmission shift points better than our Camry.

Since my teen also drives the car, I splurged less than $50 and installed a rearview camera. The camera goes in the license plate light spot, so no drilling and the monitor, sits under the A pillar and I could fold it flat if I wanted to. Took 2 hours to install. No need to step up to the limited trim for just the camera.

@Barkydog – yes the clock is separate from the radio, but the clock face uses the same red on black numbers as the radio.

It is likely the Optima was assembled in West Point, Georgia, not Korea. The car may have be fitted with Kumhos from the factory, but non-Korean brands are possible for a car build a little south of Atlanta.

Some of the Kumhos are decent tires