2011 Kia OptimaPosted on September 25th, 2010
Stylish midsized sedan for value-conscious buyers
By Nina Russin
The original Optima was part of a product initiative, moving Kia beyond the compact segment into the automotive mainstream. The second Optima expanded on this formula by adding safety and convenience features, while maintaining Kia’s value-pricing strategy.
Since the 2006 model rolled out, Kia has made major investments in the US market, including new a corporate headquarters and design center in Orange County, California. Having a design team on American soil gave the automaker a strategic advantage in developing the third-generation model.
Although the new Optima is built in Korea, styling took place in Kia‘s California and Frankfurt, Germany studios. The new studios created a better pipeline between the manufacturer and its target market, and streamlined the vetting process between concept and production.
As a result, the 2011 Optima that rolls into dealerships this November is Kia‘s most appealing sedan to date. Value-conscious buyers will find features such as a two-panel panoramic moonroof unusual for a model with pricing that starts under $20,000.
Kia’s new UVO infotainment system developed jointly with Microsoft rivals systems in high-luxury cars. Available heated and cooled front seats, navigation with real-time traffic updates, satellite and HD radio make the Optima seem like a much more expensive car than it actually is.
Engineers were as conscientious about safety as comfort, with standard front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, four-channel antilock braking, traction and electronic stability control. Hill start assist applies the brakes when the vehicle accelerates on a steep grade, to prevent the car from rolling backwards.
Two fuel-efficient engines
The 2.4-liter four cylinder engine on the base LX and mid-grade EX models yields 35 mile-per-gallon fuel economy on the highway without sacrificing performance. The engine produces 186 foot-pounds of torque, for surprisingly good acceleration in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range.
Performance enthusiasts can upgrade to a 2-liter turbocharged engine on the upscale SX grade, producing 274 horsepower and 269 foot-pounds of torque. The base LX model is available with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. EX and SX grades come with the automatic transmission only.
An ECO button on the steering column allows drivers with the automatic transmission to enhance real-world fuel economy by seven percent. Software changes shift points and throttle position to improve gas mileage.
All cars come with a four-wheel independent suspension consisting of a MacPherson strut setup in front and multilink configuration in the rear. Anti-roll bars keep the chassis flat in the corners. A sport suspension is the SX is tuned for more aggressive performance.
Buyers can choose from four wheels: 16-inch rims on the base model, and 17 inch wheels on the EX. There are two available 18-inch wheel and tire packages for buyers who want a style and performance upgrade.
Test drive in Southern California
Kia recently invited journalists to drive the 2011 Optima from its corporate headquarters in Orange County east to the town of Temecula, California. The 200-mile drive included segments on LA-area freeways, two-lane canyon roads and surface streets in smaller towns to the east.
The test car is the mid-level EX. While Kia has said that pricing for the base LX model will begin in the low $19,000s, the automaker is waiting to announce specific pricing closer to roll-out.
The test car comes with the direct-injected 2.4-liter gasoline engine and six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection. The standard audio system is MP3 and iPod compatible, and includes HD and satellite radio with a complimentary subscription.
A premium package on the test car adds the panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats and driver’s seat memory. A technology package adds navigation with a rear backup camera, and a 560-watt Infinity audio system.
Designers made the new car longer, wider and lower, adding significant legroom to the second-row. The Optima’s low floor tunnel enables three adults to fit comfortably in back.
The new face of Kia
Kia’s new California design center replaces a facility shared with sister company, Hyundai. The new studio gives Kia’s forty-member design team autonomy it didn’t have in the past.
Up front, a bow-shaped grille connects two large wrap-around headlamps. The blacked-out front fascia and fog lamps beneath give the car a sportier stance.
Designers emphasized the sedan’s coupe-like profile with a narrow greenhouse and high beltline. A wide rear pillar balances out the Optima’s long hood, leading the eye to a narrow rear decklid. Dual chrome exhausts come standard on all grades, dressing up the exterior.
The optional panoramic sunroof looks black from the outside, resembling styling on sporty two-plus-twos.
Refined fit and finish
As somebody who’s witnessed Kia’s evolution over the past fifteen years, I’m still amazed by the high levels of fit and finish the automaker is achieving in its newest models. What applied to the new Sorento and Sportage also applies to the Optima. The sedan is as well-built as anything it competes against.
Body seams are small and even. Use of high-strength steel in the body makes it rigid and responsive. Noise intrusion to the interior from the road, engine bay or wind is minimal.
Direct injection gives the 2.4-liter engine excellent throttle response, since the gasoline enters the engine cylinders directly rather than passing through the valves. The six-speed automatic transmission transitions smoothly between the gears. The Optima accelerates up winding hills through the California canyons without hard downshifts.
The base engine has plenty of power to merge into high-speed traffic and pass slower vehicles on the highway. The electric power steering system is well tuned for the car, performing very much like a hydraulic system.
The suspension is firm without being uncomfortable. Standard 17-inch wheels on the test car provide large enough contact patches to maintain traction on challenging roads.
Visibility to the front and sides is good. Over-the-shoulder visibility is acceptable, though the B-pillars somewhat obstruct the driver’s view to the left. Thick C-pillars create large blind spots in the back. I would recommend the optional rearview camera for buyers who need to parallel park on a regular basis.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion.
While the Optima is not a sports car, convenience features throughout the interior pamper the driver. Redundant controls on the standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel minimize distraction.
The center stack is tilted slightly towards the driver, though controls are easy to reach from the passenger seat. A large monitor screen displays audio settings, navigation maps and images from the rearview camera.
Power adjustments on the front seats are easy to use. I found both the driver’s and front passenger seats comfortable for drives several hours in duration.
Dual-zone climate controls, heated and cooled front seats keep riders in the front row comfortable in temperature extremes.
Bottle holders in the front doors and cupholders in the center console are big enough to hold 20-ounce water bottles.
Two, 12-volt power points at the base of the center stack recharge portable electronic devices. An iPod adapter connects the portable music player to the audio system, displaying selections on the central monitor.
Overhead lamps over both rows of seating illuminate the interior at night.
The rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for loading in larger items.
Hybrid model in 2012
Kia will announce details for an Optima gasoline/electric hybrid at the 2010 LA Auto show in November. The hybrid model rolls out some time next year.
Kia continues to offer its ten year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty on all new cars. The Optima also comes with five years of complimentary roadside assistance as part of its bumper-to-bumper warranty.
Likes: An attractive mid-sized sedan with styling, comfort and convenience features that set it apart from the pack.
Dislike: Limited visibility to the left side and rear due to thick B and C pillars.
Model: Optima EX
Base price: N/A
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 186 lbs.-ft. @ 4250 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 24/34 mpg city/highway
2 responses to “2011 Kia Optima”
Great review Nina thanks. I am curious if you got to try the UVO?
Saw a demonstration of it during the lunch break for the ride-and-drive. It’s a very cool system- also offered in the new Sportage.
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