By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel
When shopping for a new mid-size sedan, because there are so many formidable offerings on the market, running through the alphabet will help to sort them out. Well, stop at the letter “K”. Yes, “K” for Kia, and take a hard look at their Optima.
Completely redesigned with new sleek exterior styling for 2011, the Optima is available in three trims, LX, EX and SX, and offers a wide array of convenience and luxury as well as impressive technology. Available with three all-new and fuel-efficient engines, a 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder, a 2.0-liter GDI turbo or a 2.4-liter hybrid, pricing for the stylish and performance-oriented midsize sedanbegins at $19,200.
The Optima has received a plethora of awards and recognitions from over 10 different vehicle-rating and reviewing organizations and in my book it’s a winner, too. I spent a week driving the urban highways and byways of Chicagoland in a Snow White Pearl EX powered by the 200 HP 2.4-liter GDI 4-cylinder equipped with a long list of premium amenities and technology features. The 200HP engine coupled with the 6-speed automatic delivered very satisfactory acceleration and responsiveness. Suspension tuning and steering response yields a good element of fun-to-drive. And, the interior delivers on comfort, quality materials and convenience.
Built on a unibody frame, the front-wheel-drive Optima utilizes independent front and rear suspension systems. MacPherson struts are used in the front with a multi-link layout in the rear and are both joined with coil springs and front anti-roll bars that provide responsive handling and manage Chicago’s potholes very well.
Optima’s lightweight design uses high-tensile-strength steel to enhance structural strength while also achieving high torsional stiffness. Why is this important? It benefits handling, ride quality and refinement. Good noise vibration and harshness (NVH) qualities are also apparent.
Offering numerous standard features from the ground up, the LX trim (starting at $19,200) includes dual exhaust with chrome tips, solar glass, outside mirror turn signal indicators and 16-inch steel wheels fitted with 205/65R16 tires. Upgrading to the EX ($22,700) offers standard fog lights, heated outside mirrors, exterior chrome/body-color door handles along with 17-inch alloy wheels with P215/55/R17 tires, while the EX Turbo ($24,700) adds a unique front grille design. Moving up to the athletic SX adds 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.
My EX-trim test car, which priced out at $27,440, was equipped with the Premium Package, which adds the panoramic sunroof with high-gloss B-pillar, four-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with driver’s seat memory, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel…note these last two items on an under $30,000 sedan… wood interior trim and center console and metal-finished shifter. And, this Optima also had the Technology Package which adds the navigation systemwith back-up camera and eight-speaker Infinity premium audio system.
The 2011 Optima is available in three all-new and fuel-efficient Theta II powerplants, a 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder, a 2.0-liter GDI turbo or a 2.4-liter hybrid engine. The 2.4-liter GDI engine produces 200 horsepower and upgrading to the available 2.0-liter turbo GDI engine (EX Turbo and SX models) provides 274 horsepower…no need for a V6 here…while mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. All automatics feature Sportmatic® clutchless shifting. A single six-speed manual transmission is available only with the LX four-cylinder model.
The Optima Hybrid uses a full parallel hybrid system and can be driven in zero emission, full-electric drive mode at speeds up to 62 miles per hour or in blended gas-electric mode at any speed. When the car comes to a stop and the electrical load is low, the engine shuts off to completely eliminate idle fuel consumption and emissions. EPA estimates are 35 city mpg and 40 highway mpg.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder EPA fuel economy estimates are 24 city mpg and 35 highway mpg with the manual transmission and 24 city mpg and 34 highway mpg with the automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter turbo GDI offers 22 city mpg and 34 highway mpg and is only available with the automatic transmission. With its 18.5gal. fuel tank, all day driving of over 625 miles can be achieved.
The 2011 Optima is equipped with a high level of standard safety features. This includes six airbags (dual advanced front and front-seat mounted side as well as full-length side curtain), front active headrests, side-impact door beams, height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System(TPMS). Four-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a Traction Control System (TCS), a Brake Assist System (BAS) and Hill Assist Control (HAC) also are standard.
The 2011 Optima is covered by Kia’s warranty program, which includes a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the vehicle coverage.
Kia Motors America (KMA) offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 725 dealers throughout the United States. Starting this fall with the 2012 model year, the Optima will move production to Kia Motors’ first U.S.-based plant in West Point, Georgia.
Kia: “The Power to Surprise.” and it does.