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2011 Kia Optima EX Review and Road Test - Amazing

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2011 Kia Optima-Amazing

Make Me Smarter Link: Compare 2011 Kia Optima Trim Levels

The 2011 Kia Optima is one of the most amazing cars we’ve reviewed this year .

Another Fine Korean Sedan
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

In our driveway this week is one of the most amazing cars we’ve reviewed this year, distinguished by style, content and price. The new Kia Optima, front-wheel drive, mid-size, 5-passenger sedan is perhaps the most car you can get for the money in its class.

The 2011 Kia Optima is indeed all new. The platform was developed for both the Optima and its fraternal sibling Hyundai Sonata, another unusually well-designed and content-rich Korean sedan. In order to save weight and resources to put into other elements of the car, the platform will only accommodate a four-cylinder engine even though the platform is a bit larger than its predecessor.

Our first reaction was surprise that a V6 would not be available. But the three powertrain options for the car leave little, if anything, to want – the basic direct-injected 2.4-liter, a 276-horsepower turbo and a hybrid. With the help of their own ambitious steel R&D facility, the use of high-strength steel became an essential element of the new design as well, adding structural rigidity without adding weight.

The basic engine is a remarkably fuel-efficient 2.4-liter “Theta II” four-cylinder engine with direct injection and all the electronic and materials advancements found in the most forward-looking engines today. That smooth, quick four makes a good 200 horsepower and feels more than adequate for the job of getting down the road expeditiously. It comes standard with a six-speed manual in the entry-level Optima but an amazingly smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is standard in the other versions.

The EPA estimates fuel economy to be in the neighborhood of 24-mpg in the city and 34 on the highway with this 3,200-pound car. Think about that - a nearly full-size sedan with decent four-cylinder power that makes mid-30s on the highway, and has style and panache that puts it ahead of just about everything else in its class. It takes regular fuel and has an 18.5-gallon fuel tank. So, our cruising range would be around 500 miles.

Optima’s interior is a knock out as well. Voted one of the best interiors by Wards it has the look of a more premium car. Very nice materials fit beautifully together in a modern design that does not bow to convention. Rather, the cockpit surrounds the driver with unusually attractive shapes and details housing easily managed controls and data readouts. Space is utilized efficiently but aesthetics are not impaired. Ambient lighting, double stitching, two-tone seats, an available double sunroof contribute to a feeling that you are in a much more expensive car.

Conventional MacPherson strut suspension up front and multi-link in the rear comprise the fully independent suspension. The tuning is rather firm and sporty for a main-stream sedan, but I think the Kia folks are trying to break out of the main-stream image without breaking out of mainstream pricing. Steering feedback is good but not as good as some. Overall handling is first rate.

The new Optima has recently earned the coveted 5-Star rating for crashworthiness from the NHTSA.

Interior volume is an impressive 117.6 cubic-feet. That’s sort of on the large end of mid-size sedans and the lower end of full-size cars. Trunk volume is 15.4 cubic-feet. The rear seat folds 60/40 for more utility. Though I see some reviewers thought the seats weren’t as comfortable as they would like, I found them plenty comfortable. I didn’t spend any time in the rear seat, of course, so I wouldn’t offer an opinion on that. But it sure looked comfortable and roomy back there.

Our EX version (second of four trim levels) shows a base price of just $22,495. For that we get an impressive list of features like: the 200-horsepower engine, a six-speed “Sportmatic” automatic transmission with manual mode, electric power steering, 17-inch alloy wheels with low-profile (55-series) all-weather tires, plenty of airbags and full compliment of chassis controls (ABS, TCS, ESC, down-hill assist, etc.), dual-zone HVAC, 6-speaker audio with MP3, USB, Bluetooth and Sirius, Leather seating and trim, power driver’s seat, auto dimming rear view mirror, front door ambient lighting, cruise control, cooling glove box, dual exhaust with chrome tips and tire pressure monitoring. Our test car has the Technology Package (navigation system with backup camera and Sirius Traffic and Infinity 8-speaker audio system) and the Premium Package (panoramic sunroof, power front passenger seat, driver seat memory, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats and heated steering wheel. The total price of our tester, with the $695 destination charge, is $27,440.

This one, I would say, is a bargain – as are the other iterations of the Optima. Base price on the entry level LX with six-speed manual transmission is just $18,995, and the 2-liter Turbo (my choice, indeed) is just $24,495.

Warranty covers the Optima bumper to bumper for five years or 60,000 miles and the drivetrain for ten years or 100,000 miles. A five-year/60,000 mile roadside assistance plan is also included.

So, when I get asked (as I do a few times a week) what’s my favorite car of those I’ve reviewed recently, I always say, “That’s waaaay to big a question.” If we narrow it down to the best mainstream sedan under $30,000, I’d say it’s the Optima.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved