2011 Kia Optima EX Road Test Review

Jon Rosner - CAP staff
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

My first impression of the Kia Optima was, "Wow, what was that?" It looked like some sort of Audi. And it should, as it was penned by Peter Schreyer who joined Kia as Chief Design Officer in 2006. Schreyer's previous accomplishments included the VW New Beetle, the understated and very elegant previous generation A4, and the highly successful Audi TT.

The exterior of the Optima is both dramatic and understated. The interior matches that feat. Light touches of elegantly thin chrome add highlights to the dash cluster. Polished black lines set-off the center console controls. The places where you would commonly place yours hands are made of soft-touch plastics, the balance with plastic of the less costly hard touch variety. The image is of an interior from a vehicle costing tens of thousands more while utilizing lower cost plastics where driver and passengers don't come in regular contact, and it works. The results are quite impressive and appealing.

The use of pleated materials in the seating and the door panels, the simple elegance of the door design show a tremendous effort made to make the car just so. Plus the rear windows roll all the way down. Passenger space front and rear could accommodate four football players, in uniform, in comfort. The trunk has a slightly higher liftover than the norm and average sized opening, but offers cavernous cargo space, good for a week's worth of luggage for the football squad.

With key fob in pocket you press the red start button. The 2.4-litre twin cam inline four is quiet and refined at idle. Touch the gas and she roars, push a bit and she leaps. This engine may offer 175 horses at a nose-bleed 6,000 rpm, but the torque off the line, 169 foot pounds at 4,000 rpm, is still strong at the low end. Chalk this and expected lower fuel consumption to the state of the art Gas Direct Injection (GDI) system that promises to be at least 10 percent more efficient that the standard fuel injection systems currently offered by Honda, Toyota, and most others in the midsize mainstream class.

On an interchange between freeways a fashionista, shaved head, cell phone clasped to one ear, swapping lanes in a silver New Beetle like he was in an autocross, dove into my lane just behind. He was close enough to my bumper to require an introduction. The crossover dumped into an uphill section of the highway. A controlled squeeze of the go-pedal meant that crossing into a second open lane could be done with ease and the Beetle was left behind. Nice mid-range punch. The cruise controls are easy to set, and that's good as the Optima likes to fly. It's far too easy to head toward triple digits without noticing.

To no surprise the Optima feels like an Audi. It's a bit nose-heavy, like most front-wheel drive cars. Pounding over the back roads, you can sense what the tires are doing. I suspect that it's the mid-performance tires breaking free first, but the Optima with its 2,795-mm wheelbase feels more set up for a comfortable ride than ultimate grip. Still, it dances nicely when not pushed to absurd speeds. Transmission options include a six-speed manual or the very smooth and delightfully responsive six-speed automatic in our test car. The U.S. EPA, a more conservative fuel economy estimator than the Canadian system, says to expect the metric equivalent of 9.8/6.9 L/100km (Canadian estimates are 5.7/8.7 city/hwy). We consumed half the 70-litre tank of regular gas after about 320 km (200 miles), or just about 9.4 L/100km in mixed traffic driving with one banzai run to make a meeting. More than matching expectations for a car that is in the Accord/Camry class. The Optima has a very solid chassis and should Kia want to build a performance version out of it they have a very well sorted base to start from.

Complaints? The seat cushions simply do not offer enough padding to earn a top rank. While heating and air conditioning can bake or freeze those in the front, far less cooling flows directly to rear passengers. There are a few places where the hard plastics on the dash are, well, hard plastic. What was the author expecting? An Audi? Well, yes. On the other hand, fat chance finding a similarly sized Audi with any options for under $50,000. The Kia Optima starts at $23,450, which is incredible considering what it offers. Push it up to EX Luxury trim with navigation, which adds a back-up camera, Sirius Traffic, 8-speaker Infinity audio system, panoramic sunroof, power front passenger seat, driver seat memory, heated and cooled front seats with heated outboard rear seats, and heated steering wheel, and you hit a suggested retail price of $33,700 including delivery charge. That is a lot of car for the money.

Hyundai owns about 40-percent of Kia and there are shared platforms and technologies. With the opening of their $1 billion dollar West Point Georgia facility, Kia has made a very big drive to expand from a 3- to 4-percent share of the U.S. market and similar gains in Canada.

And while Hyundai seems to be doing their best to go mainstream with their wide range of models ~ appearing to targeting the neutered and inoffensive Asian bland-mobile utility cart transportation unit market ~ Kia looks to be driving more towards a European aesthetic that combines style and performance, but with a very heavy emphasis on value. Read, HUGE bang for the buck for those who want to enjoy their time while behind the wheel.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Kia, 2011, Optima, $20,000 - $29,999, Midsize,

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page