• Dec 20, 2010
Meet the Sonata 2.0T's Evil Twin

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T - Click above for high-res image gallery

By this point, you should know all about the excellent new turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder engine from Hyundai and, by extension, Kia. We've spent plenty of pixels gushing about the engine's power and efficiency when lodged in the nose of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T, and judging from our time behind the wheel of the 2011 Kia Optima 2.0T, the engine is no less at home lighting up the tires of the newest sedan from Kia. Buyers looking for a four-door with a little more edge than the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or even the embiggened Sonata will be happy to see that the newest interpretation of the Optima wears some seriously aggressive sheetmetal outside to go with some of the best power and fuel-efficiency in the mid-sized sedan class.

Kia says that the Optima 2.0T was built to be the Sonata's more menacing cousin, and in addition to the sedan's brawny lines and 274-horsepower four-cylinder turbo, the company's engineers folded in a firmer suspension and reworked power steering system for a more athletic driving experience. The changes may not be enough for us to call the 2011 Optima 2.0T a sport sedan, but they do serve to give the vehicle a significantly different flavor compared to the 2011 Sonata. We jumped into the driver's seat of the 2011 Kia Optima 2.0T SX to find out just what those changes meant on the road.

Continue reading...

Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL

Critics of Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture" design language can rejoice at the more masculine (if traditional) visage of the 2011 Optima. There are more than a few whiffs of BMW in the Korean sedan's lines thanks to a pair of aggressive front fenders as well as a bulging hood. Combined with a pair of scowling, wraparound HID headlights, the elements team up to create a sedan that shares more than a passing resemblance with the big-bad 5 Series.

But that's not to say that the Optima is a carbon copy of the Bimmer. The four-door manages to make the look its own thanks to its signature Kia grille, a blacked-out roof and a subtle windshield detail that repeats the lines of the front fascia. There's no mistaking the nose of this machine as anything from Germany, either. The Optima 2.0T wears one of the most aggressive faces of the mid-sized sedan segment thanks to a pair of exaggerated fog light insets and faux canards positioned down low. Like its corporate cousin, the Optima 2.0T model is defined by a low-slung, sporty profile that's exaggerated by the vehicle's stylish 18-inch wheels. The flush-designed rollers clearly distinguish the forced-induction Optima from its 2.4-liter powered brother.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T side view2011 Kia Optima 2.0T front view2011 Kia Optima 2.0T rear view

The differentiation continues around back, where the Optima boasts a set of very stylish LED taillamps and a small lip spoiler. Twin oval exhaust tips and red-lettered 2.0 GDI badges give the tail of the Optima a little more flash, and the swept rear glass and tall deck height make for a mean stance. The combined effect is a sedan that looks both clean and athletic. But for as sharp as the exterior of the Optima 2.0T is, the company's designers seem to have lost the plot indoors.

The trouble starts with the vehicle's leather seats. The buckets are trimmed with cloth mesh that looks like it was borrowed from a Dallas Cowboys practice jersey. While the contrasting gray stitching is a sharp addition, we found the mesh trimmings to be simply unattractive. In following with the sportier-than-thou mantra of the Optima 2.0T, the designers also incorporated a driver-oriented center stack that would be nice if it weren't for the expanses of bland matte black plastic surrounding the touchscreen interface, audio and climate controls. Whereas the doors and center console are treated to attractive carbon-fiber detailing, the dash is left to soldier on with its acres of cheap feeling black plastic.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T interior2011 Kia Optima 2.0T front seats2011 Kia Optima 2.0T gauges2011 Kia Optima 2.0T navigation system

Buyers will be able to pick up their Optima turbo in either EX or SX trim, and while EX buyers will be able to choose between black, tan and grey interior colors, SX buyers are stuck with all black, all the time. That means if you want those hot 18-inch wheels, HID headlights, LED tail lights and the slick rear spoiler, you're stuck with the one-color-fits-all interior.

Regardless of whether you opt for EX or SX trim, the Optima 2.0T comes with an excellent drivetrain. Under the hood, a turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder musters up 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with the sharp in-house six-speed automatic transmission built by Hyundai/Kia and makes use of the same clever fuel-saving and horsepower-building technologies as found in the Sonata 2.0T. While plenty of manufacturers are mating direct injection and forced induction to create V6 horsepower with inline-four displacement, Kia has managed to craft an engine capable of dishing out V6-besting horsepower and four-cylinder-topping fuel economy in the same package. Even better, it does it on regular unleaded gas.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T engine

One of the more clever tricks is found in the intercooler system. The piece uses some crafty duct work to funnel air through the intercooler in a specific route, keeping outlet temperatures 50 degrees cooler than what's seen without the ducting. That drop in temperature helps increase fuel economy, horsepower and engine response – all things that put a smile on our faces.

The engine also uses the same innovative twin-scroll turbocharger integrated into a cast stainless-steel exhaust manifold. Both lighter and more durable than cast-iron two-piece units, the trick piece of kit was necessary to make sure that the engine could stand up to significant abuse. Since Kia boasts one of the best warranties in the industry, the company doesn't want to be replacing turbochargers on a regular basis.

Kia also opted to employ what it calls a "counter-spiny liner" to the outside of the cylinder sleeve. Using sprayed aluminum, the manufacturing process increases the sleeve's surface area, allowing for more efficient cooling. Kia's engineers say that the liner helps keep temperatures low enough to reduce the likelihood of bore deformation. That means that even as the engine racks up miles, owners aren't likely to see the kind of oil blow-by that's notorious on older turbo engines.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T headlight2011 Kia Optima 2.0T front fascia2011 Kia Optima 2.0T wheel2011 Kia Optima 2.0T taillight

But all of that's identical to what's found in the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T. Kia made it clear that the Optima is a sportier alternative to the swept-nose Hyundai, and to that end, the company set about making the Optima handle with a little more precision. They started by reprogramming the electric power steering to provide a slightly heavier wheel. Additionally, firmer shocks help take away some of the float, and in SX trim, the engineers swapped the standard 11.8-inch front brake rotors for larger 12.6-inch discs to provide an extra level of stopping prowess.

What does all of that add up to on the road? There's no mistaking the difference in personality between the Optima 2.0T and the Sonata 2.0T. The two may be cut from the same cloth, but the vehicles' seamstress was using entirely different patterns. We were able to spend time behind the wheel of the Optima 2.0T SX and were surprised to hear quite a bit more road noise in the cabin compared to the Hyundai. With less rubber to soak up vibrations from the sun-baked Miami asphalt thanks to the larger 18-inch wheels and a mouthy tread pattern from the low-profile Nexen tires, drone from the interstate is more than a little noticeable.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T shifter2011 Kia Optima 2.0T paddle shifter

Likewise, while those firmer shocks are meant to deliver a vehicle with more sporting intentions, they merely serve up a jarring ride over broken asphalt and changes in the road surface. Kia was kind enough to host us at the Palm Beach International Raceway for a few laps behind the wheel of the SX, and while we felt that the steering went past well-weighted and into downright heavy on the street, the wheel was right at home amidst the apexes and chicanes of the short track. Out on the glassy-smooth surface of the raceway, those firmer shocks helped to deliver a ride that was well planted, even at speeds over 115 mph. That's not exactly something to scoff at for a vehicle built for getting Dad and the groceries home in one piece.

Unfortunately, we can't imagine too many Optima 2.0T buyers wheeling their sedan into the paddock on the weekend for a little track time. Out of the race complex and into the real world, power from the 2.0T is excellent. Despite all of the grunt on tap, even from as low as 1,800 rpm, there's next to no torque steer. According to Kia's engineers, that's thanks to some clever work in keeping the engine out of boost just long enough keep the front wheels planted on acceleration. This machine isn't going to be winning any 0-60 mph dashes any time soon, but the drivetrain is incredibly forgiving toward drivers with an overactive right foot.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T grille2011 Kia Optima 2.0T side mirror2011 Kia Optima 2.0T side detail2011 Kia Optima 2.0T exhaust system

The EPA has rated the 2011 Optima 2.0T at 22 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Even after a dozen or so full-throttle laps around Palm Beach, our tester still read 24 mpg combined, and we can't wait to see what the vehicle returns in a more realistic driving scenario.

On the road, the Optima 2.0T is perfect for fencing with Miami traffic. The larger front discs deliver confident braking, and the torquey 2.0-liter four-cylinder has no problem serving up enough power to make short work of point-to-point passes. Rearward visibility is hampered somewhat by the large, solid C-pillar in the Optima, and we found ourselves missing the extra piece of glass in the Sonata design. Still, with the Optima's wing mirrors in the right spot and the helpful rearview camera, we weren't exactly concerned for our safety or those around us.

Kia has priced the 2011 Optima 2.0T SX at $25,995, though our tester landed a shave over $30,800 with destination thanks to a premium package that threw in tricks like the excellent dual-pane sunroof, power heated-and-cooled front seats and heated rear thrones. Our SX also came equipped with a technology package that rolled in navigation and a sweet Infinity sound system. If you don't have your heart set on the aggressive bodywork of the SX, the Optima 2.0T EX comes in at $24,995.

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T rear 3/4 view

Even loaded with those options, the Optima 2.0T lands within tagging distance of less well-equipped hardware like the Honda Accord V6 at $27,080 and the Toyota Camry V6 at $26,195. The case for those offerings gets even thinner when we start comparing horsepower and fuel economy figures. Honda's bread-and-butter sedan lands with four fewer ponies and just 30 mpg highway, and the Camry doesn't fair much better at 268 hp and an embarrassing 29 mpg highway. In fact, the only model out there that can really give the Optima a run for its money is the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T with its identical power and fuel economy figures.

In the end, the decision between the Sonata 2.0T and Optima 2.0T SX will simply come down to styling preference. We all know that car buying is largely driven by a vehicle's aesthetics, and while the Sonata's face isn't going to be for everyone, few will disagree that the Optima 2.0T is one very handsome machine. While the Optima's louder cabin, heavy steering and less attractive interior are sure to be detractors for some buyers, we're guessing that Kia isn't going to have a problem finding people to take these machines home.

Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm shocked to how good this thing looks inside and outside, I vote this as one of the best looking sedans out there, and the power, wow.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Settle down everybody... I'm going korean.
      • 4 Years Ago
      BMW 5 Series? Really? (The guys at AB should refrain from commenting about design.)

      The Optima is about the farthest thing from the current bland 5 Series (the Gran Coupe concept, otoh...); cars like the Accord, Legacy, Passat, G8, G37, Genesis, etc. have a lot more 5 Series in them than does the Optima.

      The biggest problem for me is the design of the interior dash and center stack; unlike the clean lines of the exterior - it has too many lines going into different directions and the vents are ugly (the combo of the Optima exterior design and the Sonata's dash/center stack design would have been perfect).

      According to most of the other reviews of the SX, Kia mostly got the steering feel and handling right (the non-SX trim Optimas, while still a little more sportier than the Sonata, are tuned to be more of daily drivers).

        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't see ANY bimmer either. I see Jag XF if anything.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Don't expect the depreciation rates of Kia's new models to be anything like before.

      ALG (Auto Leasing Guide) has many of the new Kia models near the top of their respective classes for residual value.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Sonata looks better than this turd. The hyundai fluidic sculpture gives hyundai its brand identity. Sonota looks great in person IMHO, so as the new Elantra. This one borrows from other manufacturers, SAAB, honda to name a few. I don't think other manufacturer will worry about this car, it will take another redesign for this to be competitive even to its hyundai cousin, and couple more years to the class leaders camry/accord.
      • 4 Years Ago
      If you really like at and can afford to wait, this will be a terrific closeout in summer.
      • 4 Years Ago
      NIce car and way better than anything Toyota and Honda is offering. Yuck!!! I said Honda, got to go and wash my mouth with sulfuric acid.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Stock Nexen tires?! haz teh KIA gone mad?
      • 4 Years Ago
      "the Sonata's face isn't going to be for everyone, few will disagree that the Optima 2.0T is one very handsome machine"

      Here's one. The Sonata is homely; the Optima is eyeball-searing hideous. It's astonishing that the same company that can do the Forte, Sorento, and Sportage came up with this bucket of diarrhea. OTOH, the interior design is good--can't speak to the materials--and would make a great improvement to the Sonata.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Didn't want a black interior but the cooled front seats make up for that!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not bad. Certainly better looking than the hideous Sonata. But I would still rather have a 2011 Charger over this if I was going to buy a 4 door car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        the top of the line model looks good but I wish they would show the base model in reviews.

        The base model always looks so much worse/different IMO because they dont have the sporty body kit and wheel package. I like the look of this $30k optima but I saw a base model with tiny wheel covers and it didn't look that good...same with the Sonata
        • 4 Years Ago
        No, because Simpletard would want a 1970s Charger.
        • 4 Years Ago
        OMG! BuyUSA, please don't post that comment again. It's ridiculious to keep saying the same thing everytime you post.

        The Charger while nice enough, gets worse gas mileage and doesn't look near as sleek and upscale as either offering from Hyundai/Kia. Also, the quality in a Chrysler has become more questionable than a Hyundai these days. Bizzaro world.

        • 4 Years Ago

        For one, your name implies you're a blind idiot.

        Also, I'm not sure what world you live in where the Charger competes with this or any other mid-sized car, but I hope they have good beer!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Please stop "Dodging" reality by constantly "Charging" us with your take on the "Charger". A brief quote from Consumer Reports sums it up "the [Charger] lacks the refinement of some competitors"
        • 4 Years Ago
        Again with the same comment. Just buy the damn thing already and leave all these comments alone. Go post on AOL autos with your brethren.
        • 4 Years Ago
        you're just like simplecar: Same comment no matter the topic. I do agree though, this is MUCH better than the Sonata.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Mohawk58 If you want to talk about low quality, go look up the Motor Trend first test video of the Optima 2.0T. It barely even pulls a 15 second quarter mile due to transmission problems in the test. I wouldn't exactly say Kia has the best reputation for quality or long-term reliability either. This 2011 Optima with a cheap interior is a decent start, but Kia still has a LONG way to go to redeem itself. Think before you speak.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Great review, I love what hyundai and kia are doing with both brands to differentiate themselves and eschew any GM levels of brand destruction through rebadging. great car, though in person and on the road the C pillar area feels way to clumsy and confused, too many angles and trim going on. aside from that, it's honestly a real looker. I did a double take the first time i saw one at night.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "...eschew any GM levels of brand destruction through rebadging."

        Uh, what?

        This is Grand Am vs. Malibu redux. Both are just regular ol' midsize sedans, one just has a "sportier" look and a stiffer suspension.

        Heck, even the reviews could be pulled out of the early 2000s. These cars are a little slower than their competitors, steering feel could be a little better, the interior is a little cheaper, but they're both a great value.

        Hopefully they prove to be more reliable.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Uh, yes. Have you driven a Grand Am and a Malibu?

        The interiors were vastly different. And while neither handled good (much like the Sonata and Optima), the Grand Am did in fact handle better than the Malibu.
    • Load More Comments