IRVINE, Calif. -- At Kia Design Center America, a vehicle design studio on Kia's 21-acre corporate campus in Irvine, Calif., a new generational rendition of Optima, Kia's mid-size four-door sedan, reveals a bold new sheetmetal treatment.
It looks aggressive and keenly contemporary in a fluidity of lines drawn in rectangular format but with a radically raked windshield and arching canopy over the cabin with low-slung windows and side pillars muted to forge the profile of a swift and racy two-door coupe.
Note the chiseled slab panels on hood and flanks, or that angular prow projecting a polyhedral grille and wide-mouth air intake etched into the low front fascia.
The 2011 Optima represents a fresh approach to a mid-size sedan and shares with its predecessor only a name and the front-wheel-drive orientation.
It scores a new unibody structure which measures three inches longer in wheelbase (with four more inches of overall length) and an inch wider in the body than the previous Optima. With the longer wheelbase and wider track, there's more room in the five-seat cabin for passengers and more trunk space too.
These spatial modifications serve to crimp front and rear overhangs of the body and push the wheels outward toward edges of the package, creating a long and broad and stable platform.
Then Kia outfits the 2011 Optima with a pair of forceful yet fuel-efficient powertrain choices plus more sophisticated equipment for comfort, safety and navigation than you can quickly enumerate.
But here's the inimitable twist from Kia: The 2011 Optima carries surprisingly low bottom-line price tags which begin at only $18,995 for the LX 2.4 trim with manual transmission and rise through trim and powertrain options to $25,995 for a sporty SX 2.0T edition with a new turbo engine and automatic transmission.
Trim nomenclature switches with the new design to the entry-level Optima LX 2.4 price leader and upscale EX 2.4 edition with comfort gear added, or a turbo-powered EX 2.0T and the sport-tuned SX 2.0T.
For locomotion Kia presents two aluminum-block powertrain options.
Optima's base engine is a dual-cam 2.4-liter in-line-four plant with GDI (gasoline direct injection) for efficient fuel burn.
Output reaches to 200 hp at 6300 rpm, with torque running up to 186 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
Either a six-speed manual transmission or a Kia six-speed electronically controlled automatic with Sportronic hands-on shift control goes with this engine.
Through independent testing by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Optima's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine when coupled with the manual six-speed gearbox delivers fuel consumption numbers like 24 miles per gallon for city driving and as much as 35 mpg on the highway. Substitute the six-speed electronic automatic and the numbers tally to 24 mpg City and 34 mpg Highway.
Optima's optional engine -- a 2.0-liter GDI four-pack with dual overhead cams, divided manifold and turbocharger -- generates 274 hp at 6000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 4500 rpm.
With the turbo plant, the sole applicable shifter is Kia's six-speed Sportronic automatic.
The turbo tied to the automatic transaxle racks up EPA fuel economy figures of 22 mpg City and 34 mpg Highway.
Optima's unibody structure employs a MacPherson strut-type front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar and an independent multi-link design in the rear with coil springs and anti-roll bar.
Steering, through a direct rack and pinion system, draws power assistance from an electric motor. It eliminates the conventional hydraulic apparatus along with the power losses of an engine-driven pneumatic pump, and also pares excess pounds.
A disc brake goes to every wheel with 11.8-inch vented front rotors (increasing to 12.6-inch rotors with the turbo engine) and 11.2-inch solid rear rotors.
All tie by computerized links to a sophisticated anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic stability control (ESC) anti-skid device, even hill-start assist control (HAC) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Kia laces the 2011 Optima with safety equipment.
Each trim edition stocks passive safety systems like frontal air bags and seat-mounted side-impact air bags front and rear plus curtain-style air bags above outboard seats on two rows.
Optima's passenger compartment seems spacious -- but it is, encompassing more than 102 cubic feet.
Headroom amounts to 40 inches up front and 37.6 inches in back, with front-seat legroom stretching to 45.5 inches and 34.7 inches in the rear.
Layout of the cabin shows a pair of bucket seats up front flanking a floor-mounted console and a broad bench in back with two articulated seat positions but room for three.
The rear seatback splits 60/40 in sections and both sides fold forward to expand room in the trunk, which amounts to 15.4 cubic feet for cargo.
Kia installs lots of standard equipment in the entry-level Optima LX 2.4 -- analog meter cluster with trip computer, air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, a remote keyless entry system, intermittent windshield wipers, driver's seat power lumbar support, front floor-mounted console, cooling glovebox, illuminated vanity mirror, sunglasses holder, two power outlets in the front center panel and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3, satellite radio service, Bluetooth connectivity and USB interface.
Optima EX 2.4 stocks foglamps, heated exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels capped by 215/55R17 tires, a Smart Key with push-button starter, seats covered in leather upholstery, dual zone automatic climate controls and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink and compass.
Optima SX 2.0T earns a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch black machined wheels with 225/45R18 tires, HID headlamps, sculpted side sills and a rear lip spoiler, alloy pedals and paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
Equipment packages apply more gear. The Technology Package brings a navigation system with back-up camera and Sirius Traffic, plus Infinity premium audio system with subwoofer and external amplifier. The Premium Package adds a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, driver's seat memory and front passenger's seat four-way power controls.