Optimally, I like to keep as much cash in my pocket as possible without compromising safety and comfort. I keep a delicate balance between the luxuries I desire and the fluff I’m willing to pay for. I’ll always gladly investigate any realistic cost-cutting measure that could amount to a small fortune (needed to keep my two children fed, clothed, schooled, entertained … and the list goes on). So, I wonder: How will the Kia Optima measure up in the automotive hierarchy? Will I expose the court jester masquerading as a member of the royal family, or a virtuous knight fighting for the greater good?

I quickly learned that the Optima lives up to its tag line: “The power to surprise.” I noted the exterior’s sleek lines, and the coat of Cashmere Beige paint complemented the car nicely. Once inside, I admired the tastefully designed dash and driver controls. I stowed my sunnys in the overhead sunglass console and managed to house my 1-liter water bottle in one of the two front cupholders (amazing, considering I could barely get said Nalgene into the cupholder of the gas-guzzling behemoth I tested a few weeks earlier). I also made use of a clever 7-inch-wide by 5.5-inch-deep compartment in the dash that was perfect for the book I was toting. I’m continuously baffled by how few cars make resourceful use of the dash regarding additional storage space. I for one prefer to keep my indispensable planner or the occasional book (which I delude myself into thinking I will actually read) in a space other than the center console, which in my case is usually littered with cheese stick wrappers, loose raisins, soggy cheesy bunnies and other too-gross-to-mention kid-accompanying nastiness.

As I explored the Optima further, I was surprised to come across much of the frill that used to be reserved for higher-end vehicles. I enjoyed the five-setting seat heaters, the automatic headlight feature and the lovely moonroof. I was able to get good and comfy thanks to the eight-way power driver’s seat and the automatic pedal adjustment. Furthermore, I discovered sun visor extensions, an auto-dimming mirror and three HomeLink buttons (for garage door, lighting options etc.). My test car even came with Sport Mode, a feature that I, a multitasking mom, have no use for, but for those who desire that occasional manual transmission feel, it might be a good selling point.

When packing for a weekend outing, I was pleased to find I could actually stow a great deal of stuff in the Optima’s trunk (including our loyal companion, the full-size stroller). If I required additional cargo space, there’s also a 60/40-split folding rear seat. While tinkering around in the back, the bright yellow trunk release button caught my eye as by far the most clearly labeled release I’ve seen so far – and anything that can potentially minimize a disaster is a safety bonus.

I did uncover a few of the Optima’s shortcomings when I attempted to adjust the manual steering-wheel column. The lever is somewhat cumbersome to release, and while fiddling with the column the backs of my fingers brushed against the steering-wheel buttons. I couldn’t help but note that the plastic seems cheaply molded. Oh, and on the subject of cheap, I found the door handles to be of the blue-light-special variety, and the gearshift shares the same look. Lastly, while shifting lanes and glancing at the rather tiny side mirrors, I found myself wishing for greater surface area.

I wasn’t expecting a regal-mobile when getting into the Optima, but I walked away feeling that, within a tight budget, the Kia is an optimal choice. It’s exciting to witness the shake-up of cars that used to be considered inferior, as they now surface with much of the glitter comparable cars offer, but at a fraction of the cost.

*For more information on the Kia Optima and its safety features, visit www.cars.com.

LET’S TALK NUMBERS

LATCH Connectors: 2

Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some