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2011 Kia Optima EX Review, Specs, Comparisons and Rankings

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2011 Kia Optima

2011 Kia Optima Specs, Prices and Comparisons

2011 Kia Optima EX a lovely car, looks a lot like the Jag XJ (maybe better) at somewhere between half and 1/3 the price....this Optima, is not a bland transportation appliance like the Camry and Accord


2011 Kia Optima EX

There are two manufacturers that dominate the midsize sedan class, with several more trying their best to usurp the leaders. None of these are Kia. Yet Kia has had a midsize sedan for eleven years and two previous generations now in its Optima. Which has for the most part gone unnoticed.

There is a major problem in a crowded field: how to get attention in a class dominated by the best-known brands in the automotive industry.

Solution? Be different. If you can't beat them, don't join them. Meaning don't make another conservatively-styled, middle-of-the-road sedan for the largest possible market segment. Think differently, aim higher.

So the new Kia Optima shares only its name with the previous generation. It's noticeably larger in length, and less obviously in width. It's lower, and its sleek lines accentuate that. It embodies the furthest development of Kia's recent design language, with a look more like that of a European luxury car than an Asian middle-class midsize sedan.

While its looks will get it attention, what's inside is even better. There is more room for all passengers in the redesigned cabin, which reaches above its class in design. Standard appointment level is high, even in the "base model" LX, and only increases in the EX and SX.

Even better news is found under the hood, where power peacefully coexists with fuel economy thanks to direct fuel injection. The standard engine is a 2.4-liter inline four, as is the case for the chief competitors in the class. But its power rating is a bit more than the competition's, with an even 200 horsepower driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic (or a six-speed manual in the LX). That handily beats the 185 horses from the previous 2.7-liter V6, and if it's not enough, the SX comes standard with a 274-hp 2.0-liter turbo four, also available in the EX. No heavy V6? No problem.

I've just spent a week with a well-equipped naturally-aspirated 2011 Optima EX, and have had a recent opportunity for a bit of track time in an SX. Either way, this is not your generic transportation appliance. As equipped, with Technology and Premium packages, my test car was closer to an entry-luxury sedan in feel (but not price!) than a middle-class sedan, but at a solidly middle-class price. On the road it was comfortable and composed, with no lack of power -- and a pleasant 26 mpg average for the week.

Thinking midsize sedan? Dare to be different. Think Kia Optima.

APPEARANCE: The first two generations of Optima were blandness personified. I dare you to recall what one looks like. There will be no such problem with the new Optima. Its angularly chiseled but cleanly simple sedan-as-coupe lines are distinctive, and if they seem more German than Korean, that is the nationality and background of head designer Peter Schreyer. Who is also responsible for the signature tabbed grille that distinguishes all new Kias. The tabbing is reprised at the top of the windshield. The European luxury look is further enhanced with the optional panoramic sunroof, which means a blacked-out roof panel. Horizontal wraparound taillights and twin oval exhausts grace the rear.

COMFORT: As outside, Kia has benchmarked cars a class or two above for the Optima's interior design. It puts the driver in command, with brightly-lit instruments shielded from glare and center stack controls angled toward the driver (but still easily accessible to the front passenger). The console armrest and cupholders are even angled back on the driver's side, for greater comfort for taller drivers. All trim levels get at least a manually-adjustable tilt and telescope steering wheel, power outlets, a cooled glove box, a trip computer, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius satellite radio audio system, minijack and USB connection, keyless entry, and intermittent wipers. The EX has soft-touch materials for most of the tactile surfaces, with stitching in in the instrument panel and door trim as well as in the leather seating surfaces. The woodgrain trim around the window lifts is almost convincing, more so than in some more expensive entry-luxury cars. Seat comfort is very good, and with the Premium Package both front seats are both heated and cooled, and the steering wheel rim and outboard rear passenger seats are also heated - most unusual in the under-$30,000 class. The twin-pane panoramic sunroof allows a fine view of the sky or scenery from all seats. The front pane tilts or slides open, the rear is fixed, and the sunshades are power-operated. Rear passengers get plenty of leg and head room, and a low central tunnel and the car's increased width make the center position useable at least for short periods. A center armrest adds comfort when one or two people reside. A 60/40 seatback split and large trunk see to useful cargo abilities, and storage and bottle holders in all four doors add further convenience.

SAFETY: The new Optima has received "Top Safety Pick" status from the IIHS and five-star ratings in all tested categories from NHTSA. All expected safety features and then some are standard equipment across the line, including front, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags, side-impact door beams and front and rear crumple zones, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic stability control, traction control, brake assist, and hill assist.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A rigid, well-designed unibody structure provides support for, in the LX and EX, a moderately-tuned, fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension. The spring and shock rates are correctly matched, and if they feel a bit soft, the car takes a set when driven moderately enthusiastically and corners well, at least in dry weather. The Nexen tires on my test car were not the best wet-weather rubber I've ever experienced, and they also add a bit of thumpiness over small road shocks. With the money saved compared to a "real" luxury car, splurge on better rubber and still be ahead. The electric power steering has a moderate touch, and the brakes are very good. If the EX is enjoyable, a few laps around a well-known and technical road-racing course in an SX were even better. With a firmer suspension, it was a willing performer.

PERFORMANCE: 161/163 old 2.4 eco No V6? No worries. With 200 horsepower (at 6300 rpm), 186 lb-ft of torque at 4250 and plenty even right off idle matched to a six-speed automatic with "Sportmatic" manual-shift mode, the two extra cylinders won't be missed. The twincam 16-valve aluminum alloy engine uses direct fuel injection and a high (11.3:1) compression ratio for optimum efficiency to efficiently produce high power with minimal fuel consumption and emissions, on regular unleaded. Compare that to the old 2.4 four's 161 horses, or the 2.7-liter V6's 185, both with more fuel consumption, and they aren't missed at all. Further helping economy, with a minimal impact on performance, is "eco" mode. This remaps engine and transmission control electronics to improve efficiency. Unlike some such systems, it's automatically cancelled under full-throttle operation, as for an emergency acceleration situation, and in manual-shift mode, and returns on in subsequent driving if selected. So with benefits in steady, light-throttle driving and no detriment when maximum power is needed, I left in on most of the time. D works perfectly most of the time, but more control or if absolute power is needed, manual shifting is the ticket. The engine is far more than merely adequate at lower revs because of the good torque, but it does shine at higher revs.

CONCLUSIONS: Kia is carving out its own niche in the industry with cars like its Optima sedan.

2011 Kia Optima EX

Base Price			$ 22,495
Price As Tested			$ 27,440
Engine Type			DOHC aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder
				 with direct fuel injection
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			186 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		110.0 in. / 190.7 in.
Curb Weight			3223 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.1
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				215/55R17 93V Nexen CP671
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, 
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		24 / 34 / 26
0 to 60 mph				est 7.8  sec

Technology Package - includes:
  navigation system with Sirius Traffic and
  backup camera, Infinity 8-speaker audio
  system					$ 2,000
EX Premium Package - incudes:
  panoramic sunroof, power front passenger
  seat, driver's seat memory, heated and cooled
  front seats, heated outboard rear seats, 
  heated steering wheel				$ 2,250
Inland freight and handling			$   695