2011 Kia Optima Review – Not Your Average Mid-Size Sedan

Friday April 8th, 2011 at 7:44 AM
Posted by: mtan

2011 Kia Optima
By Ming Tan

Pros:

  • Feature and amenity laden
  • Smooth design aesthetics
  • Peppy 2.4L 4 cylinder motor
  • Sporty handling suspension

Cons:

  • A few oddly placed function buttons
  • Narrow trunk pass through
  • Awkward blind spots
  • Light steering feel

Just what is an “average” sedan? This is an interesting question in a world dominated by Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet. Is average boring? Is it plainly functional? Or should even an average car stimulate your senses and make you want to take a detour just to spend a little more time in it?

The marketing hype surrounding Kia’s new Optima, which culminated in an eye-popping Super Bowl commercial involving alien abduction and Mayan sacrifice, has absolutely peaked my interest. Having owned both Hondas and Toyotas in the past, I know what an average sedan feels like. I want to feel something different. Not often do thoughts of mid-sized sedans evoke passion and verve, but why shouldn’t they?

2011 Kia Optima

Driving Impressions

Our test car featured Kia’s own 2.4 liter Gas Direct Injection (GDI) four cylinder engine. At first glance, the Optima’s dimensions are on the larger side of the mid-size category and would seem to be more suited to a V6. But powered by this smooth motor, the car exhibited plenty of scoot for its relative heft. Coupled to a six speed automatic Sportmatic transmission, the Optima has a nice amount of pep. Pickup is strong and shifts are smooth and predictable. During both highway commutes and simple city driving, the car was never in need of more power. It managed itself well around town and cruised quietly on the highway. Given the increasing fuel prices, it was also nice to see the Optima achieve a very respectable 28 miles to the gallon over a mix of both city and highway driving.

The Sportmatic transmission has both a normal fully automatic mode as well as a “manual” option. This is not an electronic twin clutch system, but it allows you to manually control when the shifts occur. It was missing steering column mounted paddle shifters, but manual shifts can be made at the shift lever itself.  ABS is a common feature in today’s cars, but it shouldn’t be ignored. The Optima had no problem handling panic stops. While I didn’t have the opportunity to drive any extended descents, no fade was noticeable over the few limited on-road brake tests that I made.

The suspension is quite sporty and a bit firmer than I expected, but I actually like the slightly more taught ride. While it makes handling curves and twisty roads more enjoyable, most buyers might expect a slightly smoother ride. Expansion joints and larger potholes are felt with a bit more of a jolt, but windy zig-zagging was definitely more fun. Steering is a little light for my preference, but the overall weight of the car helps impart a good sense of stability. Otherwise, the ride is comfortable and retains a more playful,  sporty feel.

2011 Kia Optima

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

I was pleasantly surprised the moment I dove into the numerous features and amenities available in the Optima. Bluetooth wireless, an intuitive satellite navigation system, heated and cooled seats, dual glass roof, a cooled glove box, and the eight way power adjustable driver and four way power adjustable passenger seats are just a few of the luxury amenities on this car. In fact this car is loaded with many of the same features that made Lexus famous for their impeccable interiors.

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