HEELS ON WHEELS: 2011 KIA OPTIMA REVIEW
HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel
INTRO TO THE OPTIMA VEHICLE
The Optima had a simple start back in 2000 as a rebadged of the Hyundai Sonata, but the manufacturer – Kia Motors – really starting taking the mid-size sedan more serious in the last couple of years. And the 2011 model has undergone its biggest overall yet to morph into a truly sportier, sleeker vehicle, with an all-new exterior shape, fuel-efficient Theta II powertrains (including a turbo and hybrid) and premium interior amenities.
I drove a 2011 Kia Optima powered by a 200-horsepower 2.4-liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) DOCH 4-cylinder engine and a 6-speed electronically controlled Sportmatic overdrive transmission (manual is available for the LX trim). The Optima is available in three trims: LX, EX and the sport-tuned SX. Standards on my EX trim included: SIRIUS radio, Bluetooth, leather-trimmed seats, power driver’s seat, push-button start, dual exhaust chrome tips, outside mirrors with turn indicators and 17-inch wheels. Optional equipment consisted of a $2,000 Technology Package (navigation system with back-up camera, 8-speaker Infinity audio system and SIRIUS traffic) and a $2,250 Premium Package (panoramic sunroof, power front passenger seat, driver seat memory, heated outboard rear seats and heated steering wheel). Total vehicle price came to $26,745.
Having driven the Kia Optima and the Hyundai Sonata back-to-back, I can attest these are seemingly different sedans and would have never suspected the Optima is just a rebadged. Comparably equipped, the costs are relatively the same or just above the $25k mark for decently outfitted trims.
HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA
Stylish But Comfortable Results: Inside, there is a feeling the instrument panel has been intentionally sculpted to contour the driver – it is both ergonomically and stylishly pleasing. A higher dash, large sunroof and sportier seating design create a more sophisticated spin for the interior. Although the new shape is assertive and sweeping, the Sonata is something of a design homerun and holds the eye a lot longer.
Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2011 Optima is first Korean-built vehicle to achieve the highest 5-star ratings under new, more stringent government guidelines by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The model is also a recipient of a "Top Safety Pick" award by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Cost Issues: The Optima is as affordable as $18,995. A no-frills base Sonata will run you just under $20k. Next to major competitors like the Honda Civic and the Nissan Altima, the Optima is not just priced to sell but designed to out-satisfy the rest.
Activity & Performance Ability: The 2.4-liter engine displayed gusto and vigor during acceleration and uphill surges. The car corners well enough and the brakes are firm and not too tight, although it rides a bit stiffer than its counterpart. Road noise has been strategically removed in the new design for a small car that feels rather weighty. I would have preferred for the steering feel to be a bit more spirited – it is rather bland and a bit of a buzz kill. Those additional new powertrains on the Optima also include a 2.0-liter turbo engine and a 2.4-liter hybrid version.
The Green Concern: The Optima’s 2.4-liter engine gets 24-city/34-highway driving MPG for an average of 27-MPG, which is about 1-MPG better than the Sonata’s 274-horsepower 2.4-liter GDI 4-cylinder engine. The Optima’s turbo gets 22-city/34-highway driving.
FINAL PARTING WORDS
The Hyundai Sonata’s striking shape might outshine its sibling just a notch, but the Optima is still holds incredible worth for offering an impressive gas direct injection 4-cylinder engine, premium interior technology and sporty shape for a little above $25k.
©2011 Katrina Ramser