Friday, May 16, 2014

Meguiar's PlastX Makes Your Hazy Headlights Crystal Clear

For a while I have been unhappy about the appearance of my 2004 Infiniti G35's headlights. They developed what looked like a layer of substance that made them hazy. They always looked a little fogged-up and no amount of washing or application of the windshield cleaner with RainX (I know, RainX was not supposed to help) would do anything to restore the clear look of the headlights. Which was annoying, since the car's overall appearance was so much better than the headlight clarity.

I apply car wax to my vehicle and even clayed it a few times. I use tire shine products, wheel cleaning products, leather cleaners and conditioners as well as plastic protectants (dashboard). Most of the products I use are made by Meguiar's (with the exception being the clay bar by Mothers). So I decided to give Meguiar's PalstX a try.

In Use

I bought a bottle online for $7.50 shipped, it is now even less here: Meguiar's PlastX . Once it arrived, I put a small amount onto a Meguiar's yellow wax applicator (bought previously for the purpose of waxing) and rubbed it into the headlights' surface for a few minutes, wiping it off with a towel afterwards. The result was nothing short of amazing.

The hazy headlights that refused to be cleaned by other means became very clear. They look almost new and literally feel squeaky-clean. Now the hazy headlights don't mar the overall look of my vehicle and if or when they get hazy again, the PlastiX bottle is still almost full.

The applicator was easy to wash after the use. And unlike the headlight restoration kits, the PlastX is inexpensive and easy to use.

Pros: Works well to makes hazy headlights clear, easy to apply
Cons: Price (under $7); toothpaste might also work and costs much less

Bottom Line

I am extremely pleased with this product and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to restore clarity and shine to hazy headlights. And I hear that it works very well for convertible top's windows too. An excellent product and low effort to apply as well!

Sherwood BDP-5003 Blu-Ray and DVD Player with 1080p Over HDMI

Note: this review was written in 2009 and updated in 2014.
I have been using Blockbuster Online (for those who don't know, it is similar to Netflix) to get my high-resolution movies in HD DVD format ever since I got the Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player. Even though HD DVD lost the format war to Blu-Ray, some HD DVD movies were (and are) still available. But eventually I wanted to switch to Blu-Ray and was waiting for players to come down in price. Then, I got a Sherwood BDP-5003 Blue-Ray player online for $65 shipped (price mistake, but honored by the site, American TV).

What Is Sherwood BDP-5003

The Sherwood BDP-5003 is a Blu-Ray (Profile 1.1) and DVD player with HDMI 1.3 and up to 1080p output. In addition to BluRay, it plays DVD-Video, Audio CD, MP3, DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW, CD-R/W. The player can scale/upconvert regular DVDs up to 1080p over its HDMI out as well.

The BDP5003 can output lossless audio from Dolby and DTS through its HDMI out. The player has both optical (Toslink) and coaxial digital audio outs as well as analog stereo audio out. It can downmix audio to two channels if needed. It also has a component video out, S-Video and composite view outs.

It supports DTS, DTS-HD, DTS-ES, Dolby TruHD, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Digital audio formats. The player weighs 7 lbs 11 oz.

First Impressions

After the player arrived, I was surprised at how small the manual was. Fortunately, I didn't have to read it all. The player also comes with the remote control, analog audio and composite video RCA cables, AAA batteries for the remote.

I connected the BDP5003 to my Panasonic SA- XR57 receiver with an HDMI cable I had. The non-detachable power cord was connected to the surge protector. The receiver is connected to my Hitachi P50H401 50-inch plasma TV with an HDMI cable. The speakers are Athena AS-F1 towers in front left and right positions, Athena C.5 in center and Athena S.5 as left/right surrounds. The subwoofer is Athena AS-P400.

I also downloaded the latest firmware updated from the Sherwood's web site and burned it onto a DVD+RW disc. It you do it, make sure you unzip the files and copy not the BDP5003 folder to the disc, but copy the files (actually a file and a subfolder) from the BDP5003 folder to the root of the disc. I followed instructions on the website did the former at first, as a result of which the player refused to update its firmware. Only when I copied the files/subfolders directly to the root of the DVD+RW disc did the update proceed. It took about 2.5 minutes.

When in use, the player has a backlit BluRay logo and rings around its control buttons on the front panel. Kind-of cool, but I wish there was a way to dim the brightness thereof. The front panel also has a disc tray (sturdy), a mechanical power button (probably good for power consumption when off) and an informative display.

The player itself is hefty enough to create a feel of solid construction. And unlike some older Blu-Ray and HD DVD player, there is no fan on the back panel. The front panel buttons and the rear panel jacks are all clearly marked.

In Use

I played with the menus first. The menus look good, are easy to understand, feature fast navigation (which I cannot say about my TV's menus) and provide basic adjustment functionality. I wish there was more tweakability however. I couldn't find the way to adjust sharpness or contrast, but I guess I can adjust that on my TV. I set the output to 1080i since, even though my TV can accept 1080p signal, my receiver is designed for up to 1080i.

I got a couple of Blu-Ray discs to test the player. They were "W." and "You Don't Mess with the Zohan". I started with the latter. The disc loaded in slightly over 20 seconds. The movie was, expectedly, stupid. The playback was excellent with great color, sharpness and sound. The player froze right after Zohan faked his demise and before the chapter where he arrives to New York. This was the only place where it froze and there were no hiccups on either of both discs. And once it froze, I could simply skip to the next chapter and continue watching. This is in stark contrast to the Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player, which, once frozen, has to have its disc completely restarted to attempt to resume the playback.

The movie "W." also produced excellent video quality and sound. While playing these two movies, I discovered that the player responded pretty fast to commands (faster than the Toshiba A3) and had a nice progress indicator, accessible by hitting the "up" or "down" menu control buttons on the remote. While looking at the progress indicator, you can use the colored remote buttons to sep/erase bookmarks and do other navigational tasks. Too bad the player still doesn't remember where you stopped watching last time.

Remote Control

The player's remote control is good-looking, light and has a good, but not perfect button layout. Major buttons are easy to find, but some others will take getting used to. The "ok" button in the middle of the menu control buttons lights up as a confirmation every time you push any button.

The remote even has volume control buttons that control volume without having to program the remote for your TV or receiver. It adjusts the volume as output from the player, at least through the HDMI out.

Image Quality

The image quality when playing BluRay discs was excellent and film-like. Subjectively, I feel that Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player produced marginally better picture, but most likely it is just subjective. What it definitely did better, albeit only slightly, was upconversion of standard DVDs. Sherwood upconversion is pretty good and by no means objectionable, but Toshiba is one of the best scalers and Sherwood's looked slightly flat by comparison. I personally don't care since I still have the Toshiba HD-A3 as well as the Pioneer Elite DV-48AV. I did, however, have to upgrade from a 2-input passive HDMI switch to a 3-input auto-sensing HDMI switch.


The player produced excellent sound quality (output through HDMI as PCM since my receiver doesn't decode most advanced HD audio formats). It refused to play DVD-Audio discs, as was expected. I wish it did though, but this is what I have my Pioneer Elite DV-48AV for. And having both coaxial and optical digital outs is a plus for those who intend to use a digital audio connection (I use HDMI and therefore don't care).

Updated 07/2010

The player still worked perfectly well, but I bought a new one: Insignia NS-WBRDVD Blu-ray Player With WiFi, Netflix, Ethernet, MKV and USB, primarily because it has WiFi built-in, Netflix streaming and MKV playback.

Updated 2014

I since bought the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Blu-ray player.

Pros: Price, performance, responsiveness, features, good remote, solid build quality
Cons: I wish it had DVD-Audio playback and USB

Bottom Line

I am very happy with my purchase and expect to watch a lot more high-def material in future. Despite not being a well-known brand, Sherwood produced a surprisingly good Blu-Ray player and I recommend this model to anyone looking for an inexpensive Blu-Ray and DVD player.

2007 Infiniti G35 Sedan Journey Is A Fast Solid Car

I got a chance to drive a 2007 Infiniti G35 Journey, when my 2004 Infiniti G35 Sedan was at the dealership's service department to have its oil/filter changed and coolant replaced. The 2007 model was a significant improvement over the 2006 and prior G35s.

Still, there are areas that could be improved upon. I will go over the car's features and performance as well as the improvements over the last year's model/models and the ownership/maintenance experience with 2004 model, which is relevant to both 2004 and 2007 models.

About the 2007 Infiniti G35

The 2007 Infiniti G35 Sedan is a rear-wheel drive car with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, which produces 306 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque (with either a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission). The power in the model I got (Journey) is routed through the 5-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels. Also available are an All-Wheel Drive (AWD) version (G35x) as well as a rear wheel drive model with a 6-speed manual transmission (G35S, where "S" stands for Sport).

The engine is an improvement over the VQ35DE of the 2003-2006 models, including the rev-up version of thereof, which was installed on 6-speed 2005-2006 models and featured more power through the use of variable exhaust timing in addition to the standard variable intake timing. Some rev-up engines sadly developed appetite for motor oil (excessive oil consumption problems), although this is not a subject of this review.

The newer engine, used in the 2007 (and 2008 G35s) is called VQ35HR. It is more rigid, features better cooling, longer connecting rods for less friction/lateral forces, iridium-tipped spark plugs, dual intakes with individual throttles and dual exhaust. The 306 hp (SAE) is achieved with no regard to ram air effect that, according to Infiniti, adds extra 3 hp at 60 mph. So you actually get 309 hp at 60 mph and more when you go faster.

The car features 52/48 weight distribution front to rear and has aluminum suspension components. The standard-issue G35 has zero-lift front aerodynamics and feels very stable at high speeds. It also features LED stoplights, which illuminate faster and last longer than conventional lights.

The front features HID bi-xenon headlights. The brakes have electronic force distribution, ABS, vehicle dynamic control and brake assist. The G35 has front, side and head-curtain airbags as well as active head restraints (they move forward in rear-end collisions helping to prevent whiplash).

You can get more information elsewhere, but I just have to say that I believe that the G35 is a great bargain: the interior space of a BMW 530 with more power for the price of the stripped BMW 328. Of course, there are other variables involved, even aside from the BMW's legendary handling and BMW free maintenance. And then there is the twin-turbo 335i with over 300 hp and lots of torque.

The car I drove was a 2007 Infiniti G35 Sedan Journey with a sunroof. All Journey models include Dual-Zone Automatic Temperature Control, All G35 models include tons of features, including Power Windows, locks, Intelligent Key with keyless entry and pushbutton ignition, etc.


When new, the 2007 Infiniti G35 was slightly over $30K in real-world prices. The base G35 is very well equipped. The Journey adds dual-zone climate control and replaces the CD player with a 6-CD changer for less than $1K. G35x has four-wheel drive and the G35S is available in manual or auto form (auto has magnesium paddle shifters), with bigger wheels, better tires, sport seats, etc.

Fully-loaded G35S with premium package, navigation, rear-view camera and 4-wheel steering could still be bought for under $40K (street price). And, of course, now the price for a used 2007 G35 is much lower.

Improvements Over the 2006 Models 

When I drove the 2007 G35, I noticed improvements immediately. The exterior looks much more sporty and stylish and more modern. The interior features significantly better materials and easier-to-use controls, including the screen. The buttons and controls seem to have better feel.

The gauges and displays don't seem to suffer from backlight as much as they do in my 2004 model. The strange orange backlight is gone and is replaced by more conventional red/blue/white illumination scheme.

The steering wheel has better leather cover with seams that no longer under your fingers.

The seats have better shape and seemingly slightly better leather. The armrests on doors and center are soft and leather (or leatherette) covered.

I like the intelligent key feature. You do not have to remove the key from your pocket, just push the button to unlock the car and push the button in the dash to start the engine.

The car seems to be quieter in the engine noise at low revs and the noise under full throttle is more refined.

The particular car I am driving has Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires as opposed to my car's Bridgestone Turanza EL42 (which I gladly replaced with Yokohama YK520 before they wore out, so terrible they were). The steering feels more precise.

The interior uses real aluminum trim and, unlike 2003-2006 models I have driven, this particular car has no rattles. One thing I would love to see in the G35 is cooled seats (or at least a cooled driver seat). This would make life in Southern California (or other southern states) much more enjoyable. Maybe the 2010 G37 will have this feature.


On the Journey model, the brakes are a little disappointing. They are squishy, whereas I enjoyed 2003-2004-style grabby brake pads more. The brakes have been redesigned for 2005 to deal with excessive wear and I have not liked them since, not in this 2007 model either.

I have read a lot of complaints about 2003 and 2004 models brakes that would wear out rather quickly, sometimes supposedly by 10,000 miles. My 2004 model wore them out in 15K (and I don't tailgate, even in heavy traffic and use lower gears going downhill in the mountains), but Infiniti recognized the problem and offered free brake service for 2003 and 2004 models up to 3 years or 36,000 miles. To avoid these issues, the newer model have longer-lasting pad with less initial bite. I dislike them. And they still squeal occasionally, especially in cold weather.

Engine Compartment 

I like to do some of the maintenance myself. The older models were a PITA in this respect: engine lid used a prop rod, the oil dipstick has more bends and twists than a politician's answer to a direct question, the air filter replacement required removal of the air intake pipe.

The 2007 G35 is much better. The hood uses gas-filled struts, the dipstick is in front and easy to use, the dual air filters are replaceable in 2 minutes. And the engine cover no longer looks like a Batman's chest plate.

The new engine pulls very well. The old VQ35DE would seem to run out of breath as it approached the redline, probably due to the restrictive single intake and exhaust. The WOT sound was quite mechanical, a bit unrefined but I like it.

The new one does not run out of breath and keeps pulling in linear fashion up to redline, all while making awesome sounds - refined yet powerful.


The car is roomy inside and I find the seat very comfortable, due in part to the adjustable lumbar support. There is plenty of leg room up front and in the back seat. The wheel tilts together with the instrument cluster. The Premium Package gives you the power tilting/telescoping and the wheel automatically moves up when the door is open to ease getting out.

The car has a dual automatic climate control, which is easy to use.

The audio control buttons on the steering wheel make it easy to control the CD playback or radio without even looking. The steering wheel is convenient and has buttons for cruise control as well as for audio control functions. The back seat does not fold, but has a pass-through with an arm rest for the back passengers, which doubles as the cup holders.

Intelligent Key 

The Intelligent Key itself looks like an egg-shaped remote control. It has buttons to lock/unlock doors, lock the trunk or sound panic alarm.

You can lock/unlock the car or unlock the trunk by pushing buttons on the remote. Alternatively, you can unlock the trunk by pushing a body-colored button on the rear of the car, left of the trunklid while having the IK in your pocket. In the same manner you can lock/unlock the front doors by pushing a small black button on the outside door handle (the car will beep).

I have discovered the small annoyance here. If the car is locked and you push this button on the passenger side first, the passenger door unlocks (but not the driver's door). If you then push the button on the driver's side, instead of unlocking it, all locks will become locked.


The standard 17-inch aluminum wheels look nice and are fitted with 225mm V-rated Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires (the sports package equipped cars get W-rated tires in 225mm front, 245mm rears on 18-inch wheels).

The outside power heated mirrors can be folded. I love the new exterior styling, but it makes rearward visibility from the driver's seat somewhat worse than before. And I wouldn't say that it was done to make the rear window look better. It is smaller, but that does not make it look better. So, no improvement over the previous model here.


The trunk is relatively roomy and has a cargo net. The opening is quite large and the trunk lid has gas-filled struts. The trunk can be opened from the cabin or by pressing a button on the remote. The trunk lid has a handle on the inside to close the lid without having to touch the outside (possibly dirty) surface, as well as the glowing-in-the-dark release handle.


My 2004 G35 handles really well, but the tires (Bridgestone Turanza EL42) were disappointing and it doesn't handle as a BMW 3 series I drove in BMW performance driving school.

The 2007 model with Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires seems to handle better (maybe due to the tires and better steering) but I keep the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) on, even though there is an off switch because the car still can lift-throttle-oversteers.

The new G35 does feel solid and more planted than the older models. It also (in non-sport trim) has reasonably compliant suspension. And it corners and brakes quite flat. But it still feels a bit heavy and the brakes require too much effort, which inspires no confidence.


As described above, the brakes are now less sensitive and easier to modulate and are supposed to last longer.


The 5-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and does not hesitate to downshift. The shifts seem to be even smoother on 2007 model than on 2005, perhaps the engine now matches the revs better/faster. The G35's transmission works well enough in the full auto mode. Plus, the car is available with the 6-speed manual transmission.

The manual shifting is available as well. You choose the gear, not the range of gears. The car even shifts to 1st gear once you come to a stop. The shifting is pretty fast and the car matches revs almost instantaneously - a feature that was handy in the mountains.

Another benefit of the updated transmission is the car provides more engine braking and it, together with the better engine, improves fuel economy. I averaged 25 MPG whereas in my 2004 G35 I can never get over 23 MPG, even in all-freeway driving.


Unlike BMW, Mercedes, Volvo or Audi, which provide you with free scheduled maintenance for 3-4 years, you have to pay for your maintenance with Infiniti. BMW and Mercedes cars have flexible service system which tells you when to change the oil (on average 15,000 miles).

The G35 has 3 service schedules, with driving in ideal conditions requiring oil changes every 7,500 miles. Two other schedules - preferred (for people who are paranoid or have OCD) and severe (for all others) - require oil changes every 3,750 miles.

The manual explicitly states that Infiniti recommends mineral-based oils. Based on experience with my 2004 models, the maintenance costs at the dealership are pretty high. Although I pay $50-60 for oil changes, I paid $130 for 7.5K mile service, which includes only oil change, tire rotation and a couple of inspections. This is not counting the annual (or 15K miles, whichever comes first) in-cabin air filter replacement that dealerships normally want about $100 for.

Worse, I was quoted almost $500 for 15K maintenance, which includes an oil change, tire rotation and some inspections. After I asked to have service elements itemized, the service advisor agreed to perform the 15K service for $170. Still a rip-off, but at least I got a loner car.

Do It Yourself (DIY) 

I do some maintenance items myself. Replacing the in-cabin microfilter normally costs $80-120, but you can do it yourself for about $30 (price of the filter). You have to remove the glove box , but it is not very difficult. The same filter as for 2003-2006 models fits 2007-2008 G335 as well. You can buy them online, even at for under $20 (particulate filter) or $30 (activated charcoal).

Some items require less maintenance than in other cars. The new iridium-tipped spark plugs will last 105K miles (or 7 years, whichever comes first). The engine uses long-lasting timing chain rather than timing belt, which would need replacement every 60-100 K.

The dual engine air filters are now easy to replace, as opposed to previous models' single filter that took almost half an hour to replace.

One gripe I have is - why can't Infiniti develop a system similar to Honda's Maintenance Minder? Even GM has oil life monitors that tell you when to change oil based on how you drive. I have to stick with 3,750-mile interval instead (I like to employ Wide Open Throttle technique sometimes). This is probably the shortest oil change interval of all manufacturers, which is not good for me or the planet.

Even Lexus does not ask you to change oil as often, let alone Volvo or Audi even with their turbocharged engines. Newer synthetic oils can easily last over 5K miles, while prolonging the engine life (through generally lower viscosity at starting temperatures), even in the engines like the G35's that are known to be harsh on oil. Perhaps partly due to not having roller cam followers.

I used to replace oil (mineral oil) in my 2004 G35 every 3,750 miles and the oil filter every 3,750 or 7,500 miles during the warranty period. Then I switched to once a year oil changes with good synthetic oils like Shell Rotella T Synthetic 5W40 HDEO (works out to 8,500 miles). I only recommend this approach if you do your research and confirm it would work for you using used oil analysis. The new engine is obviously somewhat different from the old one, so different oils might work better. So far, from what I read, it appears it is easier on oil than the VQ35DE.


The manual recommends Premium 91-octane, but permits operation on Regular 87 if you have to. But I am sure you don't. Buying a 30K+ car with over 300 hp only to try to save a few bucks at a price of performance is just silly.

The fuel tank holds 20 gallons. I averaged 25 mpg, which is better than what I ever achieved in my 2004 G35.


The car was crash-tested and got the best (GOOD) rating in the frontal crash test. The previous generation of G35 had the lowest driver fatality rate among sedans and second only to one minivan (I forget which one). The G35 had 11 fatalities for each 1 million vehicle-miles, same as the BMW 7-series. For comparison, Volvo S40 was somewhere in 40-60 range, Honda Accord and VW Passat in 30-40, similar to Volvo S60, BMW 3 and 5 and Mercedes C and E.

Not Good 

There is nothing terrible with the new G35, it is just not as much improvement as I expected. The new handsome look inside and out is appreciable at a first sight, but it is still no Lexus or Acura.

There are reports of easy chipping of the front chrome grille. The sunroof on the car I drove has a piece of plastic you have to pop into place occasionally. The leather is no match for Lexus or Acura hides. The dash uses plastic that looks better than the old G35, but still no match for the above two.

The pushbutton start is a cool feature, but the button itself looks pretty cheap. The button Lexus uses looks much better. The trip computer buttons were sticking as I was using them. Perhaps Infiniti should have spent a couple extra bucks in these areas.

Strangely, the tire roar seems to be somewhat worse than in the previous generation. The steering is better in both feel and precision, but steering assist changes very drastically and I almost hit a curb when turning while slowing down because of the way the steering wheel obtains a life of its own when you enter roads with different grip under left and right sides of the car.

The value content, which has always been the G35's strong characteristic is higher than ever. The other players from Acura, Lexus, BWM, Audi or Mercedes are pricier. And new BMW and Mercedes models do not inspire me from the interior or exterior design perspective.

But there are things that seem to have been missed. Why do I still have to change oil every 3,750 miles? Why my mother's Honda Accord has a flexible oil life (and overall maintenance) monitor while being 50% of the price of the G35? Why do I have to pay extra for Premium package to get the ability to open all 4 windows remotely, whereas the cheapest base Honda Accord VP (that's Value Package, folks), purchased for $16.2K provides this feature?

Could Infiniti spend a few extra bucks on better materials and wheel arch insulation? Why still 5-speed auto, whereas most others use 6-7 speeds? Why introduce VVEL on a G37 coupe and not on the G35?

Now we know the answer: the 2009 G37 has a 7-speed automatic transmission and VVEL.

And the above items are not very significant. When I remind myself about how much power the new G35 has, how little it costs, its features, its controls' ease of use, its engine sound, ease of maintenance, its beautiful exterior and much improved interior, I stop thinking about negatives.

The 2007 G35 was not a revolution. It is an evolutionary step from the 2006 G35 and a good one. A significant improvement on the previous generation with some flaws left over. Let's hope Infiniti eliminates most of them by the time I part with my 2004 G35. They are already on the right track in 2009 G37 (7-speed auto and 3.7-liter engine with VVEL).

Pros: Price, features, acceleration, braking and overall handling, seats, safety, expected durability
Cons: Tire noise, some lack of refinement, interior materials still could be better

Bottom Line 

The 2007 G35 is better than the 2006 G35 and I highly recommend it, especially for the price. Just make sure you are OK with less than good fuel economy and check the car for rattles and if it is not too noisy for you before buying.

Monday, May 12, 2014

46 MPG commuting to work in 2014 Honda Accord

Today, I got an indicated 46 MPG on a 54-mile drive to work. This includes starting the car with cold engine, maneuvering in the garage and driving up one level, driving on city streets for 2 miles, 50 miles of driving on the freeway at 55-62 mph (using the cruise control), then 2 miles of driving on a highway.

The car is a 2014 Honda Accord EX-L with a 4-cylinder engine and an CVT transmission. I did not use the ECON mode, but neither did I have to use the air conditioning. The car only has 4.5K miles on the odometer, so the fuel economy should improve even more later.

Consumer Reports at some point measured 49 MPG in the similar 4-cylinder Accord going at a steady 55-mph speed. This is a hybrid-like figure from a car that is not as boring as a Toyota Prius, and is much faster and safer and to boot.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

2004 KIA Optima - A Decent, But Boring Car

Basing your opinion on rental cars might be dangerous. Rental cars are not broken-in properly, are abused and fed the cheapest gasoline. I recall renting a Mitsubishi Galant that behaved and subjectively felt much worse than my own Galant.

However I was pleasantly surprised when I drove a rental 2004 Kia Optima LX for three days. The car I drove had a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission in beige color with 19,900 miles on its odometer. I drove the car in Oregon, mostly between Portland and Astoria (small town by the coast). I put a few hundred miles on the car and drove it in a highway/city mix.

I also got a change to drive it as fast as was safe in the mountains when the major highway on the way from Astoria to Portland was closed and I had to try to get back to Portland on time to make my flight. I made the flight only by virtue of the flight being delayed 1.5 hours.

About the KIA Optima LX 2.4
The Kia Optima LX 2.4 Auto is a midsize sedan with a 138-hp 2.4-liter inline-4 engine, 4-speed auto transmission and front-wheel drive configuration.The car has a host of features and an excellent warranty.


There is sufficient room both in front and in back. The box under the arm rest is smaller than in some other midsize cars, but still seems capacious enough. The trunk fits two travel suitcases easily and the rear seatbacks fold in 60/40 split fashion. I was able to fit both suitcases in the trunk and the opening is good enough to simplify taking them out or putting them in.

Standard Equipment

The list of Optima's standard equipment is long and even more impressive for the price. The car has cruise control, air conditioning, side airbags with head extensions, CD player, power mirrors, windows and locks, remote keyless entry, and other features.


The car is equipped with front and side air bags (with head extensions). The car is equipped with 15-inch steel wheels with 205/60R15 tires and has disc brakes in both front and rear. The braking seemed well controlled and the brakes were effective.

The headlights seemed not bright enough, at least not as bright as the headlights employed in 2004 Volvo S40 or the Infiniti G35. The car (at least in this trim level) doesn't have fog lights. If you get this car, I suggest you get better headlight bulbs (PIAA or similar). Or perhaps even upgrade to HID using one of the HID kits available for all kinds of cars.

The seat belts in front have pre-tensioners and the rear seat has three 3-point belts and headrests.

Still, even with side airbags, Kia Optima and its corporate cousin 2004 Hyundai Sonata got "Poor" side impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and got "Acceptable" rating overall. The car got 4 stars in both frontal and side impact testing from NHTSA, which is not bad.

The car originally carried impressive warranty: 60-month/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty with 5-year/100,000-mile rust protection warranty.

The only disappointing aspect of this car is ergonomics. The driver's seat has no lumbar support whatsoever and the upper seatback area with its headrest seem to protrude forward, making your lower back bend backward like a bow. Tilting the seatback backward would help, but then you are either too far from the steering wheel or too close to the pedals.

The Optima has sun visors that are flimsy and require quite a bit of force to separate from the plastic clips they are attached to in the closed position. The cruise control button is located below the instruments on the left of the steering wheel. You have to look down at the green light on the button itself to see if the cruise control is on or not.

The Optima's trunk lid requires a lot of force to open or close. It needs to receive acceleration at the bottom of the travel, otherwise it will not close shut. It is that heavily dumped, and I can't see why.

Otherwise, the rest of ergonomics is good. The controls are easy to use and the air conditioning is controlled by easy-to-use knobs and buttons. The air conditioning was powerful enough for Oregon, but I have not had a chance to test it in Southern California.

The driving experience was not all positive. Overall, it seems that the manufacturer tried to replicate Toyot Camry, at least in some aspects. Some people like it, but I wouldn't say I do. The Optima's steering is over-assisted. It is very easy to turn the steering wheel and the wheel lacks the road feel. The steering feels artificial (which is similar to Camry). The car handles well for its size, however. I had to drive pretty fast on some twisty roads in Oregon (to try to avoid missing the flight) and the car behaved satisfactory.

The braking is well-controlled and the brake pedal is easy to modulate. The tires were adequate for a midsize FWD sedan. Of course, had I have to drive the Optima on a daily basis, I would have replaced the tires with something more responsive.

The 2.4-liter engine in Optima produces 138 hp and, connected to its front wheels though a 4-speed automatic transmission, produces mediocre acceleration and tractor-like sounds. I think Volkswagen Polo 3-cylinder turbo-diesel I drove in Germany sounded better and less diesel-like. Now, I have to repeat that the car was a rental and perhaps some of the rough engine sound might be due to improper care. But with less than 20K on the odometer, probably it wasn't.

Overall, in normal driving, the engine power was adequate. But going uphill at 55 mph with cruise control engaged required two downshifts to sustain the speed (that's downshifting to 2nd gear) and passing required careful planning.

The transmission has a manual shifting gate, which works well, especially on downhill grades. In that "manu-matic" mode, the car downshifts automatically if you are slowing down, preventing you from stalling. I wouldn't use the manual mode for anything else, other than downshifting on downgrades, because there are only 4 gears to play with and the shifts are somewhat slow.

The 2.4-liter engine, although it lacks refinement, produced decent fuel economy resulting in 330 miles consuming only 3/4 of the fuel in the tank. Of course, most of the miles were highway miles. In any case, if you consider buying the Optima, I suggest that you check if the engine power and sound are acceptable to you and perhaps consider a V-6 option.

The overall noise level while driving seemed to be only slightly higher than in the 1999-2003 Mitsubishi Galant. There was a slight whistling sound around the front door area and the engine is noisier, especially under full-throttle (I must repeat myself, it sounds somewhat like a diesel engine). I wish it was a turbo-diesel engine. Since it already sounds like one, might as well save us some oil and provide better torque.

Pros: Price, outward visibility, features, warranty, controls, MPG
Cons: Seat comfort, noise, tractor-like engine sounds, oveboosted steering that lacks road feel

Bottom Line

The 2004 Kia Optima is a decent car with good price and feature content and excellent warranty. But make sure that you can get comfortable in the driver's seat first. And check if the noise level and mediocre headlights are adequate for you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The ECON button in the 9th generation Honda Accord is useless

Before I got the 2014 Honda Accord EX-L, I though the ECON button that it has would be useful in getting better fuel economy. The specifics of its action are vague. It is supposed to optimize the air conditioning system and the throttle response, among possibly other things, to provide better fuel economy.

With the ECON on, the throttle response is annoyingly sluggish, the cruise control is slow in maintaining speed on inclines and the air conditioning doesn't chill the air as quick as it would otherwise. Overall, this is a very annoying experience. Why spend over $20K on a car with all the cool features you want and the 180+ hp engine only to be annoyed at a lack of perceived power when you try to accelerate? Why sweat in a car that does have A/C?

After driving with the ECON on for over 3 thousand miles, I turned it off. In addition to an instant relief in regards to the throttle response, the fuel economy actually didn't get any worse. I still got 40.1 MPG over 54 miles driving to work today, at up to 72 mph speeds.


The ECON mode and button in the 9th generation Honda Accord is worse than useless.