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2011 Kia Optima Turbo Review and Road Test - Family Sedan With Street Legal Steroids

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2011 Kia Optima Turbo

Compare Specs, Prices and Options - 2011 Kia Optima Models

New Car Review: 2011 Kia Optima Turbo

by Marty Bernstein, Senior Editor at Large
The Auto Channel

New car introductions are usually held in areas that are usually hilly, some are mountainous, a few have rugged and rough patches, while others have some dangerous turns, but Florida? It’s as flat as a pancake. Okay to test mid-life crisis convertibles, mini-vans for the Orlando crowd, even small SUVs for the outdoorsy, but who ever thought of Florida as a venue for testing a family sedan, even one with turbo? Out of the realm of possibility, right? No. You’re wrong.

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Welcome to the turbo charged family sedan on legal steroids, the 2011 Kia Optima Turbo.

And just to prove the Florida location was particularly good, not just because of the sunny, warm weather, Kia’s smart thinking management let us drive as normal people do on the usually smooth I95 Interstate, A1A highway and local roads of Florida from our hotel in downtown Miami directly to the Florida International Raceway where we could drive the family sedan. A raceway? No way. Yes, way! You’re kidding. Right? Wrong. A family sedan on a race track with auto writers and journalists. Are they crazy?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just in case some readers have not seen or read or heard anything about the Kia Optima’s allow me to give you a few points of reference.

Exterior Design
This great looking sedan with a coupe like presence has its design roots in Kia’s Germany and the U.S. design studios. A unique combination that works. It’s sleek, smooth and aerodynamic lines give it a streamlined coupe shape accented with a bold grill, a distinctive chrome side body arc and flared wheel arches. The headlights wrap around the front while the tail lights extend to the rear fenders. Dual exhaust are a nice touch too.

Interior Amenities

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This is a driver's car. The seats have an ergonomic design that not only feels good, it looks very, very cool. The driver’s seat is 6-way adjustable and has power lumbar support which is nice too. Setting the turbo apart from the other Optima models are paddle shifters for active driving by those who are passionate about their cars. Easy to read gauges and a forward looking dashboard add style and functionality.

Impressive Power
The 2.0-liter GDI turbocharged engine in the test car I drove was the inline 4-cylinder that delivers a powerful 274 horsepower that can become a charging animal with 269 lbs of torque when you want it! This is Kia's first turbocharger application, utilizing a unique twin-scroll design which offers improved combustion efficiency, more available low-end power, and reduced turbo-lag. The Optima's turbocharged engine offers consumer-friendly fuel economy at 22 city/34 highway mpg with a standard 6-speed transmission. More in driving sections.

Street & Interstate Legal Driving
Leaving our hotel in downtown Miami at the end of rush hour provided a taste of city driving in a city of wacky drivers who crowd you from the rear, veer suddenly, switch lanes without regard to traffic, laws or use signals. The steering and handling quick and responsive, almost anticipating the dodge and weaves needed. Out on I95 the very wide interstate going toward our destination the traffic and road noise from the three or four lanes of vehicles packed solid at speeds from 60 to 90 was exceptionally quiet. From the Interstate we turned to the famously slow but scenic A1A that winds its way from Ft. Lauderdale to Palm Beach along the Intercoastal canal dotted with yachts of all sizes parked in front of very expensive mansions. The speed limit is 35 and enforced rigorously. The Optima was at as home here as it was on I95. Then with a momentary diversion we arrived at our destination.

Driving at the Palm Beach International Raceway

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Pulling into the grounds of PBIR I looked to my right and saw part of the track, but did not see the usual line-up of special cars, race tire racks and other specifics usually found at racetracks. OMG, we going to drive these family sedans! No special set-ups, no race tires, regular suspension, standard brakes, okay they passed out balaclavas and safety helmets but it was just you and the Kia Optima Turbo on a racetrack. Before driving there was an orientation on track layout – this is a 2.034-mile, 11-turn w/6 banked turns and a 6/10 of a mile straightaway lovely, smooth and wide raceway. The driving suggestion was, “Have fun and be careful!”

Walking to the track a short distance away, the balaclava and helmet adjusted and on, I slipped into the front seat of an Optima, still a bit wary as to how it would drive, handle and accelerate in extreme settings like this. With a hand signal from the starter I began moving up the entry to the track to a nice right hand turn of 45 or so that was easy and smooth then accelerating to a twisty bit of track with right and left handers for several yards, then a series of three 90 turns the last wide and swooping to the long straight that ended in a long right hander curve to the pits or back on the course. Now in all candor I’m not one of those auto writers who thinks they can be an F1, Indy or NASCAR driver, I’m a guy who likes to drive fast and with more than a modicum of safety. My top speed on the straight was approaching 100 mph, prior to that it ranged between 45 and 75 mph, but those higher speeds only after I’d driven the track a couple of times to be more comfortable and was able to use the paddle shifters more adroitly. The Optima was responsive and agile as it handled exceptionally well with some body sway as I drove the curves faster and faster. There was not much engine or road noise either. That duly noted every inch of my several drives on the track was great fun in a great handling and driving car! But how does this relate to those who will never have this unique driving opportunity? I along with the other auto writers on the trip – some much harder and faster drivers than I – universally agreed this was putting the Optima to the ultimate test. If we felt calm and confident in the ability of the Optima to take this much driving punishment – smok’n hot brakes after every trip – it will take anything most drivers will demand of it.

Bottom Line
If the family sedan is your vehicle of need and choice but there’s a lingering need for a driving edge and fun and okay, a bit of swagger at what this car will do, then the 2011 Kia Optima Turbo SX may be the car for you. Check it out a Kia dealer. Well loaded, the street legal Turbo is $25,595 but the base price of the standard LX Optima is only $18,995 and while it lacks the speed it too is a very good value.

Optima specifications:
Every 2011 Optima will come equipped with numerous standard features and available options.

The 2011 Kia Optima LX includes:

  • dual exhaust with chrome tip,
  • solar glass,
  • outside mirror turn signal indicators
  • 16-inch steel wheels fitted with
  • 205/65R16 tires.

Upgrading to the EX offers:

  • two engine choices, a fuel efficient 2.4-liter or 2.0-liter GDI turbocharged engine
  • standard fog lights,
  • heated outside mirrors,
  • exterior chrome door handles along with
  • 17-inch alloy wheels with
  • P215/55/R17 tires,
  • a unique front grille design.

Moving up to the athletic 2011 Kia Optima SX2 adds:

  • Powerful 2.0-liter GDI turbocharged engine,
  • HID headlights with auto leveling,
  • LED rear combination lights,
  • unique front grille design,
  • rear lip spoiler,
  • sculpted side sills
  • aero wiper blades,
  • black front brake calipers and
  • 18-inch black machined finish alloy wheels furnished with
  • P225/45R18 tires, achieving a true performance look.