The steering wheel is one of the main points of interaction between driver and vehicle. In the Kia Optima, the style, features, and quality of the steering wheel all impact the driving experience. Understanding the ins and outs of your Optima’s steering system leads to better confidence and control behind the wheel.
From placement to buttons to material options, steering wheels vary across Optima trims and model years. Here’s a comprehensive look at what the Optima steering wheel offers and how to make the most of it.
Table of Contents
- Steering Wheel Styles and Design
- Steering Wheel Size and Placement
- Materials and Feel
- Heated Steering Wheel
- Steering Wheel Buttons and Controls
- Manual vs. Power Steering
- Optima Sport Steering Modes
- Customizing Your Optima’s Steering Wheel
- Signs of Worn Steering System Parts
- Protecting Your Optima’s Steering Wheel
Steering Wheel Styles and Design
Kia Optima steering wheels follow modern trends with clean, elegant designs themed around the rest of the interior. Here are the most common styles:
Most Optimas utilize a straightforward three-spoke steering wheel. The symmetrical spokes radiate out from the centered manufacturer emblem. This provides an uncluttered look and good hand clearance.
Sportier Optima models often get a flat-bottom wheel, similar to race car designs. The bottom section is cut off flat rather than rounded for easier entry and exit. This style has a performance vibe.
3. Paddle Shifters
Vehicles with dual-clutch transmissions add metal paddle shifters behind the front spokes. These allow manual gear changing without moving your hands from the wheel.
4. Thicker Grips
Premium trims upgrade to thicker contoured grips at the 9 and 3 hand positions. This cushioning adds comfort during prolonged driving.
Regardless of variations, all versions aim for an elegant and premium feel with real stitching and minimal distracting elements.
Steering Wheel Size and Placement
Finding the optimal steering wheel position makes driving easier and safer. The Optima’s wheel uses standard industry measurements for spacing:
- Diameter – Most measure 14.4 to 14.8 inches across, allowing easy grip for most hand sizes. Sport models may use slightly smaller diameters.
- Rim Thickness – Ranges between 2.75 and 3 inches. Thicker portions enhance grip while thinner areas increase sensitivity.
- Distance from Dash – Optimas position the wheel about 25 inches out from the dashboard, close enough for good leverage but not cramped.
- Telescoping Range – The steering column offers 4-6 inches of telescoping range so drivers of different heights can fine tune position.
- Tilt Angle – Tilt up/down action spans around 60 degrees to find your ideal angle.
Take time to adjust the telescoping and tilt mechanisms until you find ideal steering wheel placement tailored to your physique and seating posture. This personalization boosts comfort and control.
Materials and Feel
Optima steering wheels prioritize quality materials and construction for good looks and durability:
1. Leather Wrapping
Upscale Optima variants wrap the entire wheel in premium perforated leather for softness and grip. Contrast stitching adds visual flair.
2. Plastic Molding
Lower trims use rigid molded polyurethane instead of leather. While not as premium, the plastic still provides decent grip and resists wear over time.
3. Padding and Density
Extra foam padding beneath the exterior increases comfort, especially on leather wheels. Kia tunes the firmness to balance responsiveness and shock absorption.
4. Real Metal Accents
Details like the manufacturer emblems and paddle shifters use real brushed aluminum for authenticity, rather than plastic fakes.
In top EX and SX variants, everything comes together for an exceptionally upscale steering wheel worthy of a premium luxury sedan.
Heated Steering Wheel
Driving in cold winter temperatures can quickly sap the heat from your Optima’s steering wheel, making it icy and uncomfortable to grip. That’s why higher trims offer the convenience of a heated steering wheel.
This feature uses conductive wiring threaded beneath the leather or plastic material. A touch of a button sends electricity through the wires, gently warming up the wheel to the temperature of your choice.
The heating helps retain grip and comfort, while minimizing the distraction of cold hands in freezing conditions. Most models turn off automatically after 30 minutes.
Heated wheels provide a nice boost in winter driving enjoyment. But the feature is generally only found in top EX trims and above.
Steering Wheel Buttons and Controls
Like most modern cars, Kia Optimas integrate various secondary controls into the steering wheel for convenience:
1. Audio Controls
Thumb buttons on the rear of the upper spokes let you adjust volume, change stations/tracks, and mute without removing your hands from the wheel.
2. Cruise Control
Dedicated cruise buttons reside on the left spoke. They allow easy speed setting and adjustment to maintain a steady cruising pace.
3. Driver Info Interface
Paddles behind the upper spokes navigate through screens showing trip data, efficiency stats, navigation guides, driver assist settings, and more.
4. Voice Control
A voice activation button on the wheel activates the Optima’s smart driving assistant and voice recognition features for hands-free help.
5. Phone Controls
Make and receive calls easily with built-in phone buttons. EX trims add steering wheel call screening to decide whether to accept calls or send them to voicemail.
Well-placed secondary controls improve driving concentration. Just be sure to learn the button locations to operate them by feel without glancing away from the road.
Manual vs. Power Steering
All modern Kia Optimas utilize power steering systems for easier low-speed maneuvering and parking. But understanding manual steering gives insight into how the wheel interacts mechanically with the tires:
With basic manual steering, the wheel shaft connects physically to the steering gear. Turning the wheel rotates the gear to push steering linkage rods that pivot the front tires left or right. The tires’ natural camber then pulls them and the vehicle in that direction.
Power systems add hydraulic or electric assist motors to the steering gear or column. Sensors detect the force applied to the wheel and activate the motor to multiply that force.
This extra power boost makes it much easier to turn the heavy front tires at low speeds. But the natural wheel feedback still shines through at higher speeds.
Pay attention to the effort needed to turn the wheel in different scenarios. It reveals insights into speed, road conditions, and steering system operation.
Optima Sport Steering Modes
Performance-minded turbocharged Optima SX and GT-Line variants include selectable sport steering modes:
1. Comfort Mode
The default mode optimizes for easy steering at low speeds and straight line stability on highways. The electric motor provides higher levels of power assist for light effort.
2. Sport Mode
A touch of the drive mode button reduces power steering assist significantly, letting more road feel and resistance come through. The wheel feels more directly connected for engaging handling.
3. Smart Mode
This setting automatically toggles between comfort and sport steering assist depending on driving behavior. Gentle cruising activates comfort steering while aggressive cornering induces sportier feedback.
Toggle between modes to see which you prefer for different driving scenarios. Comfort shines for parking lots and traffic while Sport excels on curvy back roads.
Customizing Your Optima’s Steering Wheel
The factory steering wheel may not suit everyone’s size, grip style, or aesthetic preferences. Fortunately, replacements and custom upgrades are available:
- Larger or smaller aftermarket wheels better fit smaller or larger hands. Just ensure full functionality is retained.
- Luxury leather and real wood upgrades take interior opulence to the next level.
- Racing-inspired designs like flat-bottoms, perforated leather, and accent stitching enhance the performance feel.
- Heated wheels can be added to lower trims that didn’t come equipped.
Consult a knowledgeable parts supplier to explore steering wheel replacement options. Proper installation ensures full mechanical operation and retention of controls.
Signs of Worn Steering System Parts
While robustly built, constant use can eventually lead to worn steering components. Be on the lookout for these warning signs:
- Excess Play – If the Optima’s wheel feels loose or sloppy when turning slightly, tie rods or other links may be worn.
- Pulling in One Direction – Uneven or cupped tires can cause pulling. But so can loose ball joints or failing power assist motors.
- Odd Noises – Clunks, whines or hums from the wheel area while turning signal problems in the steering column, intermediate shaft, or power steering pump.
- Reduced Assist – If the wheel feels abnormally heavy at low speeds, power steering fluid could be low or the assist motor may be wearing out.
Don’t ignore subtle steering changes over time. Nip worn parts in the bud before bigger issues arise. An inspection by a professional mechanic can pinpoint problems.
Protecting Your Optima’s Steering Wheel
Use these tips to keep your Optima’s steering wheel looking and feeling like new:
- Wipe down leather wheels frequently with a gentle leather conditioner to prevent drying and cracking over time.
- Don’t hang keychains or other objects from the wheel which can lead to scratches and divots.
- Use driving gloves with leather wheels to reduce hand soil and skin oils which degrade materials.
- Avoid direct UV exposure which fades and deteriorates leather. Use a sunshade on hot days.
- Hand wash plastic wheels gently with soap and water to get rid of grime buildup. Avoid harsh chemical cleaners.
- Replace worn or peeling leather rather than trying to repair it yourself. Professionals can salvage even serious damage.
- If accidentally scraped or punctured, have scratches and gouges repaired immediately to prevent further splitting.
With attentive care and maintenance, your Optima’s steering wheel can stay looking and operating like new for the long haul.
The Optima steering wheel may not seem like the most exciting component. But mastering its adjustments and features leads to greater comfort and control behind the wheel. Know the warning signs of worn parts and care for the wheel properly to retain a premium driving experience over the miles.