If you were one of the 150 million Super Bowl viewers, you saw a commercial of time-traveling thieves stealing the all-new Kia Optima sedan. The commercial was humorous and yet somewhat true to the reaction I have had driving this car around for a week. People have not tried to steal it but they have stolen a closer look at this attractive exterior with sporty lines and sleek front and rear fascias.
Kia is banking on this sedan giving them a competitive standing in the global sedan market. From my seat in a 2011 Optima EX GDI, they have made a pretty solid case in this well-crafted car.
My Optima EX GDI 2.4 liter engine is just one of 3 powertrain choices being offered in the all-new Optima (and Hyundai Sonata) for 2011. The Hybrid introduction at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show solidified Kia’s long-range plan to improve fuel mileage and offer new levels of performance to their flagship sedan. Unlike Hyundai’s Genesis and Equus, Kia Optima has included all the luxury bells and whistles in this mid-size sedan- a package with lots of standard stuff at a reasonable price.
Where else can one buy a car for under $28,000 and get a heated steering wheel with audio, cruise, and Bluetooth controls, heated and cooled leather seats, and voice controlled navigation?
Kia developed the 2.4 liter I-4 cylinder gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine to bring better mileage to an engine that develops a healthy 200 horsepower @ 6300 rpm. Power was more than enough for Southern California driving.
The turbocharged 2.0 liter GDI engine generates an even larger 274 horsepower. With a short road trip to Redlands, California, we averaged 31.3 mpg. EPA figures put highway mileage at 34 mpg and city driving at 24 mpg. We have averaged 27.8 mpg in all around daily drives. What’s more, the power is always smooth from the driver’s seat.
This car passed trucks without breathing hard. The Turbo GDI will produce a more potent 269 pound-feet of peak torque 1,800 and 4,500 rpm, this first attempt at turbo power from Kia. This unique twin-scroll design is to improve combustion efficiency, get low-end power, and reduce turbo-lag.
Technically, Kia used a divided manifold which allows exhaust gas from separate cylinders to travel into the turbocharger's turbine, avoiding possible interference. Most have confirmed that there is no real turbo-lag as compared to more traditional single-scroll turbocharger systems. Matched to the new 6-speed transmission, front-wheel traction is not sporty but always smooth and consistent.
The rear view is a little limited and drivers have to use the back-up camera more than I would prefer. The front seat passenger sits low and shorter people feel like they are “sitting in a hole.” The roofline is also low for limited rear seat head room. However, the rest of the interior is beautifully put together and most of the materials are first class with leather, leatherette, and soft rubber compounds.
The dash layout reminds me of the best of Saab interiors from years gone by. It is driver-oriented with sweeping center controls. Kia has also designed for Optima for easy use with driver-friendly controls and a simpler audio system than most sedans in this segment.
The lack of noise and vibration is obvious while the new solid platform absorbs lots of bumps and bad pavement. Optima has an overall width of 72.1 inches and wheelbase of 110 inches that soaks up freeway pavement.
MacPherson struts are used in the front with a multi-link layout in the rear- both with coil springs and front anti-roll bars across the model lineup. High-tensile-strength steel helps the four-wheel independent suspension to move freely and yet corner fairly flat on the twisty roads. The 5.3 inches of ground clearance makes steep driveways a concern but this enhanced aerodynamics and makes the sedan almost immune to the wind.
The Optima LX with the 2.4 liter GDI I-4 and 6-speed manual starts at $18,995. The Optima EX with the 2.4 liter GDI and 6-speed automatic starts at $22,495, while ours with navigation and the EX Premium package came to $26,745.
EX trim (with Premium Package) includes a panoramic sunroof, four-way power driver's seat with driver's seat memory, heated rear seats, and wood interior trim. The EX Technology Package adds the navigation system with back-up camera and eight-speaker Infinity premium audio system.
The Optima EX 2.0 liter Turbo starts at $24,495 (no manual trans offered) and the top-model SX 2.0 liter Turbo-GDI I-4 starts at $25,995. This is great value for the dollar and aims right at Honda Accord, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. Kia’s Optima is the best they have built to date and promises a brighter future for this huge Korean corporation.