Major automotive manufacturers have had it rough the past few years with a struggling economy and declining sales. How convenient, then, that Kia and big brother Hyundai have been consistently churning out solid products. Following in the wake of the Genesis and Sonata comes 2011’s complete redesign of the Optima, and it is yet another vehicle that will continue the company’s upswing. With a sophisticated, crisp body and the choice of three powerful engines, the third-generation vehicle is one of the most distinctive in its class. Currently there are three trim levels available – LX, EX and SX – with the hybrid hitting dealerships early next year. While the second generation was basically a duplicate of the first, the 2011 Optima’s style upgrade and drivetrain will be able to keep Kia’s head above water in this competitive market.
What’s to Like
The 2011 Optima is truly the driver’s vehicle. From the instrument console that’s tilted 10 degrees towards the driver to the heated steering wheel to UVO – Kia’s easy-to-activate voice recognition software – Kia has made this ride one to enjoy. The car’s wheelbase is also nearly three inches longer, which creates a 1.7-inch increase in overall length. The panoramic sunroof helps the already spacious sedan feel roomier. All vehicles come with Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.
What’s Not to Like
The Optima can be easily confused with the recently released Hyundai Sonata. With the same wheelbase and similar dimensions, the Sonata will most likely get more attention based solely on Hyundai’s success with the vehicle. The side mirrors can obstruct the view of shorter drivers, which is not a comforting feeling in such a long vehicle.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
This lower, wider, longer Optima offers a smooth ride, but can also easily handle the tight turns of Southern California’s Topanga Canyon thanks to the independent MacPherson strut front and rear suspensions. Since it’s built on the same platform as the Sonata, we can’t argue that the drive is any different but if you upgrade to the EX or SX, the turbocharged engine delivers a power boost that fits the sharp exterior. Although the engine choices provide plenty of power, we felt that some of it was wasted on the automatic transmission, especially when it shifted on its own in manual mode.
Engine and Drivetrain
200 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque is produced by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in the LX and EX, whereas the 2.0-liter turbo engine with 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque comes with the EX and SX Turbo. Both manual and automatic transmissions will have six speeds, but the former is on...