Used Car Reviews

Used Vehicle Review: Kia Optima, 2011-2014

Vehicle Type



Kia’s taken the wraps off of a heavily-revised version of their popular Optima for model-year 2015, effectively moving the recent full generation of the stylish four-door into used vehicle territory. Launched in 2011 with stand-out looks that truly set it apart in its segment, this value-based sedan was set on showing off the brand’s styling capabilities.

Competing with comparables like the Camry, Malibu, Fusion, Accord, mazda6, Altima and others, Optima was available with a plethora of trim grades and packages to fine-tune it towards a wide range of needs. Go for a top-line model, and you’ll get a panoramic sunroof, climate controlled seats, a heated steering wheel, premium audio system with multimedia hub, push-button start, xenon lights, navigation, automatic everything and plenty more. The promise of world-class equipment and styling without the world-class pricetag is what the Optima is all about.


For used shoppers, note that the LX models are lower-end, while EX, EX Luxury, and SX Turbo fill in the ladder from basic to loaded. Most models in the used market will pack a 2.4L GDI four-cylinder engine with 200 hp and a six-speed automatic. A six-speed manual was available in basic Optima LX models, and the available SX Turbo, which punched output to 274 horses with a 2.0L turbo GDI engine, came only with the automatic. All units were front-wheel drive.

Note that an Optima Hybrid model was available, though essentially non-existent reliability data on account of relatively low sales volumes mean we’ll cover this special version in a different story at a later date.

What Owners Like

Owners rate Optima’s overall value highly, with most reporting tremendous satisfaction with the feature content to price ratio. Styling, and the panoramic roof, were also highly rated- as is performance from turbocharged models. Though rear-seat headroom is at a bit of a premium, the rear seats are otherwise spacious and comfortable. Good ride quality rounds out the package.

What Owners Dislike

Complaints include a dull and boring engine sound, especially from the turbocharged powerplant, slow-to-react paddle shifters and rear-seat headroom. Some owners wish for a touch more snap from the standard engine, too.

Here are some owner reviews.

Common Issues

As the Optima you’re considering has likely appealed to you with a generous list of fancy features, start a test-drive confirming that they all function properly. Navigation, chilled seats, the heated steering wheel, Bluetooth, the panoramic sunroof, and all steering-wheel mounted controls should all be run through their paces.

Though the durability of a vehicle’s finish is largely a function of maintenance, care, climate and the environment in which the unit is driven, some owners have reported peeling or fading paint earlier than expected, so scrutinize the condition of the paint, especially at the front edge of the hood and bumper, and call excessive wear into pricing negotiations. Further, check around the inner and lower edges of the doors, hood and trunk for signs of sneaky rust. 

As it is with its corporate twin, the Hyundai Sonata, numerous owners have complained of a difficulty in keeping the Optima centered in their lane at highway speeds. Here’s some reading. The problem looks to stem from the calibration of the steering system – which is light, lazy, and has no on-centre feel. Add in the soft suspension and a little road crown or side-wind, and you may have to frequently adjust the position of the vehicle within its lane.

Some owners have had the dealership reprogram the steering system to be stiffer as a fix. Note that a bad alignment, typically evidenced by uneven wear across the treads of the tires, could also result in vague steering feel.

Some owners also discuss switching tires, adjusting tire pressures and even just getting used to the steering feel. Here’s another bit of reading. On a test drive, be sure to spend some quality time with your Optima candidate at highway speeds to confirm that you’re ok with the steering feel and response.

Speaking of response, note any sporadic performance, surging or sluggishness from the engine at light, moderate and full throttle, which could be evidence of a bad High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP). This component provides the extreme fuel pressure required by Direct Injection engines, and may cause a trouble code to be stored in the engine computer if it’s acting up. This may or may not cause a check-engine light to illuminate, so have the ECU scanned for any hidden trouble codes to prevent headaches down the line.

In the process of checking for smooth performance from the engine, note any clumsiness, hard shifting or hesitation from the automatic transmission. Apparently, an out-of-spec transmission fluid temperature sensor can cause issues, and the problem is well documented in the owner’s community. This issue is electronic, not mechanical in nature – though it should be addressed. If you note any transmission related issues, ask your local Kia dealer’s shop to check into Technical Service Bulletin TRANS 043, which outlines the installation of a revised temperature sensor. Note that not all models were affected by the issue.

Other complaints are fairly minor. Some owners report squeaky seats, a remote keyless ignition system that can lose its memory if the battery gets too low, and a push-button ignition switch that fails to start the engine quickly. Shorter-than-expected life from the factory battery and premature wear from the cloth inserts on the leather seats round out the gripes.

As a final note, if you decide on a used Optima with remaining warranty, be sure to have any issues inspected and documented by your local dealer as they come up – whether or not they need to be addressed immediately.  If an issue worsens after the warranty expires, this can make it easier to achieve resolution.

The Verdict

A healthy Kia Optima with a thumbs-up from a dealer mechanic, or one sold as part of a certified pre-owned program at a dealer, should prove a safe bet on a car loved for styling, features and value. Most common issues are well documented and easily diagnosed and repaired, and Kia’s lengthy warranty means shoppers should have no problems finding a model with remaining coverage.

Just one recall.

Crash Test Scores

IIHS: Top Safety Pick
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars