May 24, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 05 May 2011 10:59
Virtually every automaker builds at least one midsize car, ranging from no-nonsense units to “sleepers” with 300-horsepower engines and sport suspensions, to expensive luxury models bearing legendary nameplates.
Count on the Koreans to get it exactly right. The 2011 Kia Optima strikes a precise balance of price, performance, luxury, style and fuel economy. While it lacks the refinement and sharp handling of the major European brands, it costs thousands, even tens of thousands, less.If handling and performance are all-important to you, the nearest BMW dealer has just what you’re looking for. If you just want a reliable, comfortable, good-looking set of wheels at a modest price, the Koreans get harder to beat with each passing year.
Our last bulked-up Kia test car was a midsize sedan called the Amanti, which bore a striking, albeit entirely superficial, resemblance to Mercedes-Benz’s E Class. The only thing we remember about that car was that one of the passengers said it made her sleepy. Kia put the Amanti to sleep after the 2009 model year.
The Optima is a whole ’nother animal. It features competent handling, brisk response from its 200-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine with 6-speed automatic transmission, and a roomy, quiet interior. There’s some road noise, but wind noise is practically indiscernible. As is often the case with today’s midsize sedans, the sculpted roofline can induce claustrophobia in taller rear-seat passengers.
Our black Optima’s base price was $22,495. The technology and premium packages, which included navigation system, back-up camera, panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats and heated steering wheel, added $4,250. With freight and handling, the sticker price reached $27,440 — about $3,000 less than the similar-sized, V-6-powered Nissan Altima we drove last year. (Kia offers a turbocharged, 274-horespower, 4-cylinder engine, but no V-6 is available.)
The Optima EX comes with standard safety features such as anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control that are optional in some competitors’ models. Among the luxury items are dual-zone automatic climate control, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth wireless technology, leather-trimmed seats, autodimming rear-view mirror and push-button start.
The LX version, available with a stick shift, starts at under $19,000.
Not so many years ago, even the smallest Korean subcompacts fell far short of their Japanese competitors in the fuel-economy race. They’ve caught up. The Optima is rated at 24 mpg city, 34 highway, on regular gasoline. We averaged about 29 mpg, mainly cruising on Interstate 84 in western Connecticut or doing stop-and-go driving on Route 25.
The Optima has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. Past Optimas have exhibited average to better-than-average reliability, according to Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys.
Where Kia and its corporate owner, Hyundai, have triumphed is in nurturing their reputation for low price and long standard-features lists, while increasingly making cars that are pleasant, bordering on fun, to drive.
Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 200 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,223 lb.
Suspension: Four-wheel independent, MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17x6.5-inch painted alloy
Tires: P215/55R17 93V all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.4 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular
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