Somebody please tell the Koreans to slow down!
Not that it would help. As other world carmakers stroll along at their customary dignified pace, Kia and Hyundai continue to lunge forward by leaps and bounds. What takes the others six or seven years to accomplish, Korea does in half the time. The rate of improvement in Korean cars is almost alarming. The fine Hyundai Genesis luxury/performance vehicles are one instance. And now Kia joins in with its all-new 2011 Optima. Aimed at the fast-growing mid-size family sedan segment, this is a car of startling finesse, offered at a seductive Korean sticker price.
One look at the new, 2011 Kia Optima confirms its distinguished aesthetics. They are at the very forefront of contemporary design, sleek, muscular, with none of the odd feel that sometimes characterizes new Asian cars. This is a family sedan that will earn its place in the American driveway.
The Optima's interior appointments and materials are handsome, generous, first-quality in every respect. Beautiful leather adorns the dashboard and seating, promoting the impression that driver and passengers are traveling First Class. Seating is comfortable and delivers just the right degree of firm support, even in the rear seats, allowing the driver to make alert, confident driving decisions.
The design and layout of the Optima instrumentation reflect well-considered ergonomics and cutting-edge technology. Legible, pleasingly jewel-like instruments reconfirm that this is no mindless commuter module. The expected provisions are all present, plus one or two bonus conveniences. These include a cooled glove compartment for keeping sodas chilled and heated/cooled seating.
The Optima offers a full inventory of options, everything from a nav package to a back-up camera, paddle-shifter transmission shifters to an extra-large panoramic sunroof, and more. Connectivity conveniences include satellite radio, USB audio input jacks and Bluetooth wireless, with steering wheel voice activation controls that deliver hands-free phone operation.
The Optima's over-the-road characteristics are similarly enlightened. Its front-wheel drive system propels a four-wheel independent suspension that is athletic and responsive, vital in sudden emergency-avoidance maneuvers. The ride is nicely compliant over rougher pavement, yet the suspension accurately communicates all road-surface information, keeping the driver fully informed. The Optima chassis is so good that, while no raging performance sedan, its handling has a very sporty glimmer.
For our initial test, the Optima was only available with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder of 200 horsepower. This engine, while less than exciting, proved entirely satisfactory for normal driving. Quiet at highway cruising speeds, it delivered enough power to keep you competitive in the Interstate grand prix, while delivering an EPA-estimated 24/35 mpg City/Highway. Subsequently added is a somewhat more powerful 274-hp 2.0-liter turbo Optima. And in 2011 Kia will debut a 2.4-liter hybrid package.