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#194 of 203 Taste of Lexus - quick impressions
Sep 29, 2007 (3:46 pm)
Lexus hosted their annual event today in the DC area, so I thought I'd share some impressions from the drives.
RX400H: it puzzles me that this is Lexus' best selling vehicle, because it's my least favorite. It understeers like a pig, the steering is slow, the body rolls like crazy, and it just doesn't like having to go fast. It doesn't even ride as cushy as the others, and everything it does well the other Lexus models do even better.
ES350: given they had the IS, this model gets a pass. It is extremely comfy and cushy, though it too just doesn't enjoy going fast. Steering is way too slow, and body roll is actually controlled but it understeers like mad. I'd recommend this to my aunt Edna, put it that way.
IS350: now we're talking. Flat cornering, quicker steering (could still be even quicker), and the engine really scoots! Handling was neutral and body roll was controlled. They had an IS-F on display and I'd want the seats from that model, otherwise this IS was fine as is. Best drive of the day. The back seat is hopeless, but as a 2+2 if you have little kids, I say go for it.
GS: drove a couple of these models, a hybrid and the 350. To be honest, it let me down, I just expected it to be sportier. It felt big and heavy, a little lazy turning in. It's hard to tell it's RWD, because it's tuned to understeer at the limit, and the steering was numb. It has the room and a comfortable, beautiful interior, but there's just not enough sport in this sedan.
LS600H: this impressed me. For such a heavy car, it really scooted around the turns, stayed flat while cornering, and kept neutral, with no understeer, and the throttle controlling the car's behavior in corners. I think I enjoyed it more than the GS hybrid, despite it being bigger and heavier. The interior is a palace, and the massaging seat with a powered ottoman makes you feel like a king.
So, most models were about what I expected. The GS was a little disappointing, and the LS was the opposite - better than expected in terms of driving dynamics.
At the exit, it asked what model I liked the most. This is Lexus' biggest problem. None of them inspired enough passion in me that they came to mind right away.
In the end, it was between the LS600L and the IS350. The LS just isn't realistically price, so I gave the nod to the IS350. Just make sure your other vehicle is bigger.
#195 of 203 2008 Honda Accord LX
Oct 11, 2007 (7:02 pm)
When the auto mags (and sites!) review cars, they typically drive the high-zoot trims. There are exceptions to that, e.g. Edmunds.com's test a couple of years ago that pitted a low-end Accord and Camry against the low-end (but V6) Sonata. Also, C/D did a mid-sized sedan comparo not long ago in which some of the cars were low-end trims. But those are exceptions, not the rule.
So when I had the chance to drive the new Accord today, I decided to try the low-end LX sedan. I wanted to see how much goodness Honda had packed into even this most basic Accord, bereft of fancy trim, leather, alloys, power gadgets, and other doo-dads.
The test car was a silver LX automatic with grey interior. On the outside, even the base LX looks very much like higher-trim Accords, although there's some noticeable differences: 1) rather cheap-looking plastic wheel covers instead of alloys; 2) no chrome exhaust tip; 3) no chrome door handles or fog lamps as on the top-end Accords. But otherwise, it's hard to tell that this is the lowest-priced Accord, from the outside. Even this budget Accord has fat chrome trim surrounding the side windows (missing on most low-end sedans) and the same grille and taillamps as pricier Accords. The LX makes do with standard reflector headlights vs. projector lamps, but that is not very noticeable.
Inside the Accord LX, it's more clear that you went with the low end of the Accord line. There's lots of hard, grey and black plastic (although it's high-quality plastic). Driver's seat adjustments (including height and telescopic wheel) are manual--but the seat was quite comfortable, with typical Honda firmness, after I got used to the hard, forward-thrusting headrest. The audio system is basic; no XM radio or Bluetooth as on the more upscale trims. But it includes an aux input in the center console and has a large display where the nav screen would go on the top-end Accord. All the controls have the usual Honda smoothness, even on the plebeian LX.
When I started 177 hp engine, there was a rather loud whine somewhat like that of a turbine, which lasted until I put the car into gear. Other than that noise, the engine was quiet for a big I4, nearly silent at idle (although there was a tremble in the steering wheel when idling). Power delivery was more than adequate in around-town driving and a short freeway stint, even though I never used full throttle (I was trying to be nice to whomever would buy the car someday). At 60 mph, rpms were around 2100-2200. While the engine was a quiet partner, there was considerable noise when cruising on the smooth highway--mostly tire noise, but some wind noise was evident (winds were light to calm).
Edmunds.com's recent review of the Accord EX V6 said that the Accord is no sports sedan, and I have to agree. Its handling is above average for a mid-sized family car, and the Accord exhibited little body lean on a series of tight cloverleafs and right-hand turns. But it didn't feel completely secure on those cloverleafs, and side-stepped over some small bumps on those curves. On the plus side, the new Accord seems more forgiving of small bumps than the previous generation, providing a more serene ride than before. Overall I thought it has a good blend of ride and handling, easy to live with on the imperfect roads most of us drive on each day.
The back seat is roomier than before and has plenty of leg room for 6-footers (if not bigger). There's a fold-down armrest and a one-piece folding rear seat with a small lockable passthrough. The passthrough is nice, but if you're lugging something of any size, you have a choice: rear seat passengers, or cargo. The trunk is rather small (14 cubic feet) for such a big car, with a bulging floor, and has metal hinges vs. struts. But the tools are packed neatly into a plastic bin atop the spare tire, where they are easy to access.
So is this new Accord better than its predecessor? Well, it's bigger--now full-sized inside by the EPA numbers, and longer and wider than ever before. It's more powerful--the LX is at the low end at 177 hp, with the EX I4 getting 190 hp and the 3.5L V6 putting out a whopping 268 hp. It has more standard safety features, with active front headrests added, and four-wheel discs, VSA, and traction control on all trim levels now. It has more standard convenience features like wheel-mounted audio controls. And it's not much more expensive than last year's Accord, at least in LX trim. So, more car, more power, more safety, more features for not much more money--looks like another winner for Honda.
#196 of 203 2007 Honda Accord
Oct 23, 2007 (12:38 pm)
Wow, what a coincidence. I just had a rental of the outgoing model. Time for a comparison, perhaps?
A "good blend of ride and handling" sounds about right, in fact I'd say the same thing. Biased a little towards the comfort side, I'd say, on my rental. Perhaps it's the tall sidewalls of the base tires (also with plastic wheel covers).
To be honest I'm not even sure what model I had, as there is no badging. The door handles were black, rather than body color, and the mirrors were manual, not power. It definitely felt a bit stripped.
It was Accord or an old Malibu LT, and I had a Malibu last time, so I went with the Honda.
Our one large suitcase nearly filled the trunk. I hate sedans for this single reason - you just can't carry much. Had to squeeze to get a garment bag to fit next to it. Why doesn't Honda make an Accord wagon any more?
I know, I know, because they can sell the CR-V and Pilot at higher profit margins.
Inside had plenty of room, in fact I didn't see a need for the Accord to grow any more.
The Accord was quiet except road noise, which was tiresome on the 70mph speed limits around the Tampa area. Mostly tire roar in this case. Again sounds like what you wrote about the 2008 model.
Our 4 banger had decent pep from start, but was only so-so at speed. Passing at 70+mph required planning. It's probably good that they added a little power here, though I wouldn't say the old model was lacking.
Ergonomics were mostly good, though the dim lighting for the center console was a nuisance. I tried the adjustment and it went from OFF to VERY DIM, basically. Some other lit controls were also not lit well enough. At least it seemed familiar, and controls were in natural places.
Big kudos to the smooth auto transmission, with nearly imperceptible shifts, smooth as butter. I guess the 5 ratios really help here, and RPMs don't drop as much with each gear. Calling this a slushbox is insulting, it's more like a smoothiebox.
The brakes were the exact opposite - very touchy. One little tap and BAM it stops the car. I had to adjust my pedal use to keep the kids from getting car sickness.
I measured 27mpg for the week, not bad but not as good as I expected. We did mostly highway driving, and my V6 minivan can match and sometimes even beat that number. Perhaps it was the higher speed limits in Florida?
What else can I comment on? The steering was a bit light, but typical Honda. Seat comfort was good, though the seat itself could be mounted higher up. I'm used to taller vehicles, to be fair.
The speedo reads so high up that you're only using less than half the space there. It's silly to have a 160mph speedo when you can't go over 120, and it makes it harder to read your speed at a glance.
I did like the backlit guages, and the overall comfort and ergonomics.
If the 2008 is more of the same, then it's a fine car, too, I suppose. This is the perfect car to recommend to your Aunt, you can't go wrong. While it's missing any sort of passion, that's fine for the target market. Fact is, it makes for a great rental car - easy to live with, easy to learn, easy to drive. MPG could be better but 27mpg is nothing to complain about in the big picture.
I'd rent a 2008 model, sure, unless they had something more exciting than an old Malibu as the alternative. If a newer Malibu came with the GM 3.6l V6, though, I think I'd take that instead.
Oct 25, 2007 (11:11 am)
A quick Post Script for a couple of things I forgot to mention.
For whatever reason, my rental Accord has a pretty strong pull to the right issue. It just wanted to go right, you had to actually hold the steering a little left to keep it going straight. Could have been a simple alignment issue but it only had 5000 miles on it or so.
I've heard the PTTR acronym used in Honda circles so I wonder if that's common?
The other thing I noticed was the maintenance minder. I got a little wrench lighting up on the dash, and the odo said oil life was down to 15%.
This is simply a great idea. All cars should have this. My minivan does, and I hope all vehicles I buy from this point on have the same nifty reminder.
Right now on my older cars I fuss with self-adhesive stickers that you have to remember to check once in a while.
Maintenance minders are a great idea!
#198 of 203 2008 Honda Civic LX
Jan 12, 2008 (1:23 pm)
I got to drive a nearly-new (800 miles) Civic LX around Southeast Florida this past week, thanks to Hertz. I was a little surprised to see the blue Civic in my #1 Club slot, but they also seemed to have lots of Accords there too, so maybe they like to have Hondas at that location. I drove nearly 200 miles on suburban roads and freeways. Here's my impressions:
* Smooth drivetrain (1.8L I4, 5AT). Shifts were perceptible but not jarring. Engine noise was subdued unless I pushed hard on the accelerator, and was very quiet when cruising. Power was sufficient for a commuter car.
* Handling. The Civic handles confidently, and the ride is not too harsh as on some other crisp-handling small cars. Steering was accurate except once when I was going around a sharp left bend, I felt for a moment that the wheel was not connected to the steering rack.
* Silky controls. This is Honda's forte, and the Civic did not disappoint. Knobs turned as if lubricated, buttons clicked with precision. I found the control layout a bit hard to get used to, as there are lots of small buttons, but I don't expect that would be a problem for someone who lives with the car every day.
* Good driving position. I was able to find a comfy position using the height adjuster and telescoping steering column. The seats are firm and have some ridges, but for the extent I was in the car (no more than 45 minutes at a time) it was fine. The thick (plastic) steering wheel felt good in my hands. I appreciated the sliding center armrest, which had a soft cover and allowed me to rest my elbow while holding the wheel (not possible in most small cars).
* Wheel covers. Although the 16" wheels were steel with plastic covers, at least the covers looked good enough so I wouldn't be tempted to run right out and buy alloys, if I were to get a Civic LX.
* Noise. Tire noise (droning) was quite high, even on smooth roads. I also noticed wind noise even on calm days at relatively low speeds (~40 mph). Perhaps these inputs were more noticeable because of the quiet engine, but they are not present on some other cars in this class e.g. Elantra.
* Rear seat. "Sitting behind myself" (5'10"), I had enough knee room but foot room was tight, thus my knees were elevated and thighs not well supported. It seems the rear seat is best suited to short adults or kids. Also, there is no center armrest. Headroom is tight also--my (short) hair brushed the headliner. The seatback folds, but only in one piece--not nearly as handy as a 60/40 split seat. At least there's 3 headrests in back.
* Displays. OK, you can call me an old fuddy-duddy on this, but I don't like the high-tech displays on the Civic. First, they light up whether or not the headlights are on. So as I was leaving the airport, a driver behind me flashed me to let me know I had forgotten to turn on the headlights. Second, I find it easier to tell my speed with the flick of a glance to an analog gauge rather than reading the digital readout. Third, I had a hard time telling how much gas was in the tank. The fuel gauge is simply a white arc, with no markings, which gradually grows smaller as you drive. When I got to the security gate and the guard asked me if the tank was full, I looked at the gauge and said, "Uhm... I'm not sure." I'll take an old-fashioned gas gauge any day. I thought it was curious that Honda decided an analog tach was better than a digital one.
* Feature content. There were some features I am used to from other small cars that I missed on the Civic, e.g. remote trunk release on the key fob, lighted vanity mirrors, overhead console for sunglasses, bottle holders in the doors, and those mentioned earlier e.g. 60/40 folding rear seat.
I can see why the Civic is a big seller. It's a nimble, economical, solid, safe (top-notch IIHS crash test results, standard ABS and 6 airbags), distinctive-looking small car with a quality feel and history of reliability. I would probably not choose to buy one for my personal use, mainly because of the cramped rear accommodations, tire noise, and the "bang for your buck" factor, but it was a pleasant travel companion for my road trip and a nice change of pace from the Impsonatarollas I usually get.
#200 of 203 Re: Anyone interested? [pat]
Apr 04, 2008 (9:53 am)
Already signed up!
#201 of 203 2008 Saturn Astra XR 5-door
May 24, 2008 (3:05 pm)
Having read that the new Astra is the best small car ever sold by GM in the U.S., I decided to check it out, since I need to add another car to the family fleet this fall and would prefer a small 5-door hatchback. I originally planned to test the base XE Astra, but when I saw that the XR was only a few hundred dollars more and had sharp-looking alloys vs. barf-inducing plastic covers, I decided to try the XR.
The test car was a blue 5-door with 4-speed automatic as the only major option. Fit and finish seemed good inside and out. Doors closed with a solid "thunk" and the paint was glossy and smooth. The black interior was dressed in low-luster plastics, many of them soft to the touch. I'm not a fan of the faux silver dash trim fad, but the silver-colored center stack and trim strips on the dash did brighten up the otherwise dark interior.
I was able to find a comfortable driving position using the height-adjustable seat and telescoping steering column, but to do so required me to put the seat down near the floor and the wheel all the way out to get sufficient thigh support. (As the seat moves up, it also tilts the seat bottom forward--a common problem with manual seat height adjusters). The wheel was thick and grippy, but plastic ( a leather cover would be nice in a car that exceeds $18k). The center stack was a maze of dark grey buttons and knobs--definitely worth checking out the owner's manual. They had a smooth, quality feel however. The information screen atop the center stack looked somewhat old-tech with its amber readout, but it did sport an easy-to-read instantaneous mpg meter and temperature readout. Unfortunately, I never figured out how to change the display during the test drive. (The salesman joked about the complexity of the center stack later.)
Rear seating was mixed--enough toe and knee room when I sat behind myself (5'10"), but the seat is relatively low so thigh support was poor. Also, there was no center armrest. It would be fine for two kids or small adults, but I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time back there.
Luggage space was compromised somewhat by the sloping roofline, but it had enough room with the seats up for a family's weekly grocery shopping trip or weekend excursion, and the rear seats fold down 60/40 if more capacity is needed.
On the road, the 138 hp engine with slushbox pulled leisurely but had sufficient power for around-town driving and interstate cruising. The car's chassis seemed very solid, with small bumps transmitted only as muted "thunks". However, almost every bump caused a faint, plasticky buzz from someplace--probably the dash. It wasn't too obvious but did detract from the otherwise solid feel. The car tracked straight and cornered with assurance, with minimal body lean. I would say the car's handling was its strong suit. The turn signal was a typical European design, but not common in the U.S.: flip once for three flashes (lane change), flip harder to keep the turn signal going, and flip again to cancel the turn signal (or have it cancel after the turn). It took a little getting used to but seemed very logical (as those Germans are ).
The EPA sticker on the car said 24 city, 30 highway--not very good for a 1.8L, 138 hp I4. But on the highway, crusing around 65 mph, I was able to get the instantaneous mpg meter to read upper 30s to low 40s on level ground with a light touch on the throttle. So the little four-banger might be able to do much better than its EPA numbers with a light foot.
Safety-wise the car has six airbags, OnStar, and ABS standard. Stabilitrak (ESC) is a $495 option that was not on the test car.
Verdict: I agree with those who have called the Astra the finest small car GM has ever sold in the U.S. Its best features are a well-controlled and fairly quiet ride, precise steering, and high-quality cabin. The rear seat could be more hospitable and the control layout more intuitive, and some folks may want for more power or another cog in the automatic gearbox, but I think it's an interesting alternative to the other five-door compacts in this class such as Matrix/Vibe, Mazda3, Impreza, Rabbit, and (soon) Elantra Touring.
#202 of 203 2009 Toyota Corolla LE
Jun 14, 2008 (3:56 pm)
With gas prices over $4.00 across the U.S., fuel-efficient cars like the 2009 Corolla are being snapped up like hotcakes. That was obvious when I stopped into my local Toyota dealer to take one for a spin today. There was only one Corolla available for test-driving--a stripped LE automatic. The sales rep apologized, noting that Corollas (even used ones) were jumping off the lot as fast as they came in. Fortunately, I wanted to drive an LE automatic anyway, and lack of power windows, VSC etc. did not alter the basic driving experience.
The test car listed at just over $17,000 including destination. It had floormats and that's about it. But there's some important equipment standard, including a tilt-and-telescope wheel, six airbags, ABS, and a trip computer with both instantaneous and average mpg readouts. The telescopic wheel, new for 2009, was greatly appreciated because it allowed me to get comfortable behind the wheel--something I could never do on the 2003-8 Corolla. The added safety equipment was welcome also. VSC (Toyota's stability control) is still a hard-to-get option, according to the sales rep, but he told me the dealership is pushing for Toyota to increase the allocation of VSC-equipped cars in the future.
I drove the car through a variety of suburban streets and urban freeways. The sales rep guided me to roads with a mix of surfaces, which I appreciated. The Corolla's strong suit is a smooth, quiet ride marred only by slight tire "thrumms" and some wind noise outside the driver's window. If it is not the smoothest-riding small car, compared to the likes of Impreza and Elantra, it is very close. It has been compared by many to a "mini-Camry", and that is how it drives. The electric-assist steering seems super-lubricated, which also means it seems a bit detached from the road, but not excessively so for a family car. Some owners have complained that the Corolla seems to wander on the road. I didn't have any problem in that regard, although the car lacked the crisp handling of competitors like the Civic and Mazda3.
The control stalks work with the traditional Toyota precision and smoothness. However, other controls, including the HVAC dials and shifter, betray cost-cutting efforts, with a cheap, plastic-y feel. The shifter and its plastic trim felt flimsy. In fact, most of the interior bits looked and felt cheap, and hard. The worst offender was the hard plastic front center armrest, which makes a durable cover for the center storage bin but is an inhospitable place for elbows. Happily, there are padded spots on the doors for elbows. The dull grey cloth interior seemed thin. The back seat was uncomfortable for me when sitting "behind myself' (5'10"). My knees touched the front seat, but the main problem was that the seat is fairly low, so my thighs were unsupported. There's no rear center armrest, but two flimsy cupholders pop out of the center console. Trunk space is quite good for a small car, although it would be more usable if struts had been used for the lid instead of steel hinges that take up trunk space.
But what is the main reason Corollas are jumping off dealer lots? Because of its class-leading fuel economy numbers: 27 city, 35 highway EPA. So I decided to check out the Corolla's efficiency. Mid-way through the test drive, with the engine warmed up and right before we started the urban freeway part of the test loop (which should be optimal for fuel economy), I reset the mpg meter. About ten miles later, as we pulled into the dealer lot, I noticed the meter read 38.8 mpg. An excellent showing on a brand-new engine, above the EPA highway number. But then I got curious, and I decided to repeat that part of the test loop with my 4-year-old Elantra automatic (EPA 21/29). I got 41.0 mpg. The Corolla's FE should improve after break-in, but I expected it to fare better than it did against the old Hyundai.
That got me to think, who would be the best fit for the Corolla? A single person, couple, or young family (with 1-2 small children) who wants a smooth, quiet, reliable, basic, economical small car that has all the latest safety features available. And someone who plans on selling the car within 3-4 years, so resale value is particularly important. For those requirements, I think the Corolla is a fine choice. For others, e.g. people who need a rear seat that can accomodate adults in comfort, or would like more feature content for their dollar, I think there are better choices.
#203 of 203 2008 Kia Optima LX vs. 2009 Hyundai Sonata GLS
Jun 14, 2008 (6:22 pm)
The Optima LX and Sonata GLS are both on my shopping list, so I took advantage of an open Saturday afternoon to drive both back-to-back over the same course. Both cars were basic trims: the Optima LX with automatic, and the Sonata GLS with automatic. The Kia stickered for a bit over $18k, and the Sonata for just under $20k. But note the Optima did not include ABS or ESC, which are standard on the Sonata. They cost $600, but to get that package you also have to get a $1000 Appearance package with 17" alloys, fog lamps, and some interior upgrades. So an Optima with full safety gear costs just $5 less than the Sonata GLS. And the Kia sales rep told me that Optima LXes are hard to find with ABS/ESC.
I drove the Optima first. The driving position, aided by a height-adjustable seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel, was comfortable, with good lumbar support (not adjustable). The interior was nicely finished, with padded dash, a good-looking wheel with audio controls (leather covered with the Appearance package), simple and smooth controls and stalks, and clear gauges (blackout gauges on the Appearance package). The light grey cloth seats felt and looked good, with a nubby texture that I think would be durable and hide dirt well. There's several covered bins with damped doors, dual lighted vanity mirrors, padded door and center armrests, and other little touches that don't make you feel as if you are in a car that lists for a little over $15k after the $3000 rebate.
The back seat of the Optima had plenty of leg room for me (5'10") and the cushion is chair height, providing good thigh support. There's also a fold-down center armrest with covered cupholders. The trunk is roomy, expands via the 60/40 rear seat, and had gas struts supporting the lid.
Driving the Optima was a pleasant if not exhilarating experience. It moves out smartly with the 2.4L I4 and five-speed automatic; you can hear the engine wind but it's a muted growl. The transmission shifts unobtrusively. There's a Shiftronic manumatic feature if you want to shift for yourself (I didn't try it). The ride is fairly firm but complaint, but tire noise is evident over even small bumps. The Optima takes corners with little body lean and seems well-planted on corners--it's no sport sedan, but just fine for a mid-sized family sedan. It felt like a bit bigger, heavier, more solid Elantra SE. At 65 mph, the engine loafs along at 2000 rpm, which bodes well for fuel economy (the tester had no mpg meter). Acceleration to highway speed is adequate even at partial throttle, and at cruise the cabin is quiet except for the muted tire "thumps" over expansion joints, a little wind noise from the A pillar or mirror, and faint engine noise. Directional stability is excellent.
The Sonata was next up. There are some similarities between the two cars, as they are about the same size (the Sonata is a little bigger inside and out), and they share powertrains, although the Sonata's 2.4L I4 has been upgraded for 2009 with a bump in hp (162 to 175; the 2009 Optima will benefit from the same mods).
The Sonata's interior has been redesigned for 2009, and features a handsome dash and center stack, new gauges with blue lighting, a USB port (Optima has an aux input), XM radio, and super-sized dual cupholders. Like the Optima, the Sonata has some covered bins (including two big ones in the center stack) with damped covers. The interiors of both cars had a quality look and feel, with a slight edge to the Optima because of its richer cloth seats (Sonata had a rather dull grey cloth, which didn't look as nice or feel as durable as that in the Optima). Also, the Sonata GLS doesn't offer a telescoping wheel as does the Optima LX (Sonata SE and Limited have it). However, I was able to find a comfortable driving position in the Sonata with its height-adjustable driver's seat. The Optima was more comfy overall, mainly because the Sonata's seat back pressed into my kidneys on each side while the Optima had more even lumbar support (the Sonata didn't have the optional power seat with manual lumbar adjustment).
The back seat of the Sonata was at least as comfortable as the Optima's and had a tad more legroom. The Sonata's trunk is also a bit bigger than the Optima's, and like the Optima it expands through the 60/40 rear seat and has gas strut lid supports.
The driving feel of the Sonata is distinctly different from that of the Optima. I felt as though I were driving a much larger car--not just a bit bigger by the numbers. The car is more isolated from the road than is the Optima, and the handling a bit less crisp than the Optima's. It was not an unpleasant feel, but overall I prefer the Optima's ride and handling--maybe because I happen to prefer smaller cars. Although the Sonata's suspension was quiet and tire noise was muted, there was a rattle in the dash and another somewhere else in the interior that I heard over any bump. They detracted from the driving experience.
In the end, I prefer the Optima to the Sonata. I like the driving "feel" of the Optima better, I prefer its driving position, and I like the fact that, for the same list price as the base Sonata, I get features like 17" alloys, fog lamps, blackout gauges, trip computer, and a telescopic wheel with audio controls. Others may prefer the slightly bigger interior and trunk of the Sonata and its more isolated ride, and may like the interior design or exterior styling of the Sonata better than the Optima's. The Sonata does have a slight edge in fuel economy 22/32 EPA vs. 21/31 (that difference will disappear with the 2009 Optima I4). At current pricing, the Optima LX 5AT with ABS/ESC package and Appearance package stickers for $16,990 including destination and after the $3000 rebate. The Sonata GLS 5AT with no options stickers for $18,495 after the $1500 rebate (deduct $500 more for Hyundai owners, which I am). Interestingly, the Optima also has a higher profit margin than the Sonata. My choice would be to take the Optima and the extra $1000+.