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  • 2011 Kia Optima EX

    Posted on May 3rd, 2011 ninarussin

    Mid-sized sedan with a full dose of attitude

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Kia Optima

    Since mid-sized sedans comprise the majority of passenger car sales, the segment has an allure manufacturers can’t resist. But it’s also a shark pool, populated with well-established models and the buyers who are loyal to them. Of the numerous entries into the segment, few enjoy long-term popularity.

    The Kia Optima is one of the rare success stories. When Kia rolled out the newest model last September, the automaker faced an additional hurdle. Sister company Hyundai had introduced the newest Sonata, a sedan the Optima shares underpinnings with, several months earlier.
    The game changer for the 2011 Optima was styling. Designers at Kia’s new Southern California design studio had imbued the car with an irresistibly youthful demeanor.

    But if styling was the Optima’s only asset, the sedan’s fame would be short lived. Underneath its sexy skin is a substantial product which delivers on the automaker’s core values:  a safe, solid car which delivers a lot of content for the money.

    An engine for every outlook

    2011 Kia Optima

    The 2011 Optima comes in four grades: base LX, volume-leading EX, performance-oriented SX and a gasoline electric hybrid about to enter dealerships.  A naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine on the LX and EX develops 200 horsepower and 186 foot-pounds of torque.
    A turbocharged two-liter block on the SX delivers about thirty percent more horsepower and torque, while an inline 2.4-liter block for the Optima hybrid offers up to 40 mile-per-gallon highway fuel economy.

    The test car is the upscale EX, priced from $22,495, not including a $695 delivery charge. A technology package which adds navigation and a rear-view backup camera costs $2000, while a premium package adds a panoramic, driver’s seat memory, power passenger seat, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats ($2250).

    Sporty performance

    Although the naturally-aspirated engine lacks the power of the two-liter turbo, direct injection gives the powerplant excellent throttle response, which should appeal to driving enthusiasts. A six-speed automatic transmission includes manual gear selection for better control on challenging roads. Fans of manual transmissions can opt for that instead, but only on the base LX.

    I kept the transmission in fully-automatic mode driving around town, and slipped it into manual on a rural road east of Phoenix. In both cases, the gearbox transitioned smoothly between the gears.

    The manual mode enabled me to keep the engine closer to its sweet spot for better power.  Fuel economy losses were minimal. Average gas mileage for my 150-mile test drive was about 26 miles-per-gallon.

    Kia has traditionally tuned its cars for more suspension feel than Hyundai, and the new Optima is no exception. The ride is compliant without feeling mushy or floaty.

    The four-wheel independent suspension consists of a MacPherson setup in front and multi-link in the rear. Taking the sedan over some pitchy hills at speed, I was impressed with how quickly the suspension recovered, leaving me well in control of the car.

    Standard 17-inch alloy wheels and tires dress up the exterior and give the Optima a substantial footprint. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion.

    An electric power steering system is lighter and compact than traditional hydraulic devices. This one is well matched to the car, offering excellent response at all speeds. Some electric power steering systems leave the driver feeling disconnected from the wheels. This one does not. A 35.8-foot turning radius makes it easy to perform the occasional U-turn.

    Visibility around the car is good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes while driving on the highway. The optional rear backup camera eliminates blind spots in the rear corners, and makes it easier to monitor traffic while backing out of a vertical parking slot.

    Upscale Interior

    Kia Optima Interior

    While its exterior gives the new Optima sex appeal, the interior makes the sedan feel like a more expensive car than it actually is. Standard features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone temperature control, Bluetooth interface and satellite radio.

    The leather upholstery on the test car is attractive and comfortable. Standard seat heaters and ventilators keep front row passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.

    Automatic controls on the driver’s seat are easy to use and offer adequate lower back support. The memory settings for the driver’s seat are also easy the program, which is not the case for some competitive products.

    I found both the center stack screen and gauge cluster easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. An information display in the gauge cluster shows average and real-time fuel economy, range, ambient temperature, odometer and trip meter readings.

    Redundant steering wheel controls allow the driver to access the audio system, Bluetooth, information display and cruise control with a minimum of distraction. Controls on the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position. There are two, 12-volt power points, a USB and auxiliary port at the base of the center stack.

    The optional panoramic sunroof covers both rows of seating. Overhead reading lamps over both rows illuminate the interior at night.

    Legroom in the second row outboard seats is ample. A low floor tunnel allows a modest amount of room in the center position. Headroom is limited in back, due to the roof’s steep rake.

    Both rows of passengers have access to cup and bottle holders. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin.

    The trunk is long, but not especially wide or deep. A rear pass-through extends the cargo floor for skis or other long items.

    Standard safety

    The Optima comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control. Downhill descent control and hill start assist help drivers maintain directional control on steep grades. All models come with a 10 year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty and five years or up to 60,000 miles of free 24 hour roadside assistance.

    The 2011 Optima is on display at Kia dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: A stylish, affordable mid-sized sedan with a high level of standard safety and convenience features. Industry-leading warranty.

    Dislike: Lack of headroom in the second-row seats.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Kia
    Model: Optima EX
    Year: 2011
    Base price: $22,495
    As tested: $27,440
    Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 6300 rpm
    Torque: 186 lbs.-ft. @ 4250 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 24/34 mpg city/highway


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