• Apr 13, 2011
The New Benchmark, For Now

2011 Kia Optima EX - Click above for high-res image gallery

Nobody remembers the 2010 Kia Optima, but just like that, the 2011 model may be the mainstream sedan to beat. While some consumers – the uninformed and brand-bigoted – might remain skeptical, the 2011 Kia Optima is the new benchmark. How could the Optima go from warmed-over also-ran to the segment's latest front-runner?

Continue reading Review: 2011 Kia Optima EX...



Photos copyright ©2011 Dan Roth / AOL

The 2011 Kia Optima is at once classy and striking. There's just enough detailing to keep it interesting without looking gaudy. Kia sent us an Optima EX with standard 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome accents on the door handles, body color mirrors and chrome exhaust tips added to the crisp bodywork. The windshield header's echo of the "tabbed" grille is the designer's way of saying "Hey, we thought about this." Clean and inoffensive, there's virtually nothing to criticize about the 2011 Optima's styling.

The nuts and bolts of body assembly appear carefully attended to with tight panel gaps and good fit and finish all around. A stretched-out, long-wheelbase look underscores the increased size over the old Optima, and passenger volume is boosted to 102 cubic feet, near the top of its class. A 15.4-cubic-foot trunk is also larger than several of the Optima's peers.

2011 Kia Optima EX side view2011 Kia Optima EX front view2011 Kia Optima EX rear view

On the inside, there's not as much flair as the outside, perhaps, but the dashboard has a whiff of Saab-ness to it. French stitching, the latest way to say "I'm upscale!" appears on the padded material ringing the instrument panel and center stack. The EX trim level we tested carried the $2,000 Technology Package, which also rolls in the $2,500 Premium Package. All of this translates to a panoramic moonroof and heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats with memory for the driver's side and heated rear seats. A metal bezel around the shifter and wood trim on the center console and door panels is there to reinforce the message of fancy tailoring. Materials, design and quality are as good or better than anyone else. You'll have to step up to a luxury brand to find anything better.

Knobs and stalks also feel tight and precise. The big LCD screen, automobiledom's equivalent of the ostentatious flat screen, is clear and easy to use, but we found it too bright for night driving, even at its minimum illumination setting. Fortunately, the screen is easily switched off to minimize nighttime distraction. We did occasionally hunt for buttons, and even though Bluetooth is standard, there's no voice command system for anything other than paired phones. Uvo, developed with Microsoft, does offer some voice recognition control and communication and device integration, but it's rolling out gradually and not offered on Optimas that have navigation like our EX.

2011 Kia Optima EX interior2011 Kia Optima EX front seats2011 Kia Optima EX navigation system2011 Kia Optima EX engine

The Optima is a mainstream sedan, so ease-of-use is a priority. The chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel is sporty-feeling, even if the electrically-assisted rack and pinion is too light and not much of a talker. With a roomy cabin, the Optima is comfortable front and rear, though the class-leading 44.5 inches of front leg room comes at the expense of rear legroom – at just 34.6 inches, it's about three inches shy of its segment peers. Rear seat passengers are also shortchanged on shoulder room relative to the rest of the class, though rear headroom isn't bitten by the raked C pillar like you might expect.

Kia says the 2011 Optima rides on an all-new platform. That's true, and the underpinnings were co-developed with the all-new Hyundai Sonata. The Optima's suspension is firmer, giving sharp responses at the expense of some ride comfort. Kia's modus operandi of stiffly tuned standard suspensions makes even the basic 2011 Optima stern enough over bumps. It's more supple than some of its overly-harsh siblings that bounce and clunk over bad pavement, capable of tight body control and impact absorption. The multi-link rear and MacPherson strut front setups allow the Optima to corner with discipline. Brakes are firm and easily modulated, as well. The bottom line for drivers is that the 2011 Optima follows orders eagerly and can actually be fun to drive.

2011 Kia Optima EX rear 3/4 view2011 Kia Optima EX headlight2011 Kia Optima EX side trim2011 Kia Optima EX wheel

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that our EX carried is among the smoothest engines of its type. Its 200 horsepower is made possible by direct injection that also boosts efficiency. A six-speed manual transmission is available in the entry Optima LX trim and a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine can also be had, but not together. Optional turbo aside, the 2.4-liter's no slouch on its own. Teamed with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, this powertrain is quiet and refined, capable of great fuel economy. The EPA estimates you'll get 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. We scored a solid 27 combined.

Perhaps it's not much of a surprise that the newest mainstream sedan appears to trump all the established players. After all, competitors like the Nissan Altima, Toyota's evergreen Camry, Ford's lauded Fusion and the Chevrolet Malibu that debuted to much fanfare are all years-old veterans by now. Refreshes are coming and this battle will wear on. Soon, we'll know if the 2011 Kia Optima is forged from the right stuff to continue proving the company's "The Power to Surprise" tagline. For the moment, it's got what it takes, but our advice would be to not rest on its newfound success. It's brutal out there.



Photos copyright ©2011 Dan Roth / AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 128 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      The Camry has been caught napping.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I like the new Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata. I think the Optima styling is refreshing in a segment where styling has been pretty humdrum for the most part. The interior isn't as flashy as the Sonata's, but is more serious and driver oriented. It has hints of Saab and older BMWs before the dashes they went all iDrivey.

      Like the sub and compact segments, I think the offerings will be getting more dynamic. I think the Koreans and the reinvigorated Ford and GM will be raising the stakes. We'll see how Honda, Toyota and Nissan respond. If the 2012 Civic is any example, Honda already seems to be lost.
      • 3 Years Ago
      LOL!

      Typical invisible trolling.

      Yeah, we'll all go by what you say and overlook the fact that the Optima has won a no. of design awards in Europe such as the iF and Red Dot design awards.
      Nick Zuklic
      • 2 Years Ago
      Hey Mitch, your an *******
      Welcome Franco
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have 15,000 miles on my Optima EX and I love, love, love it...33-37 mpgs
      • 3 Years Ago
      Kia had recently hired the lead Audi designer, it's finally beginning to show. Looking better and better. Korean is the new Japan in car design and quality. Honda and Toyota are running into the same issues the American car companies did. Getting too large and bloated to be nimble in the market place. The latest from them has been pretty bland and uninspiring and quality isn't what it used to be.

      Who cares where it comes from, here's to more fun to drive and interesting design where it is.
      • 3 Years Ago
      It doesn't matter how good it looks or how " good " it is it is made by a company whose profits go to Korea and ultimately hurt our economy just like all Asian or German owned car companies whether you want "acknowledge " it or not. Buy something made by a domestic owned company or teach your kids and grandkids NOW how to hold cardboard and steal to feed their families. 1 in 10 jobs in this country are tied to DOMESTIC automakers and that is even dwindling because of the uneducated folks that buy FOREIGN anything !!! Look it up, do some research, or are you too lazy to do that ? Just know you are FREE to choose what to drive, but you are not FREE to choose the CONSEQUENCE that comes from your choice. Just like Jesus, there will be a day when you will see the TRUTH and it has been coming for 15 years !! 14-15% unemployment and you wonder why. Wale up or shut up,now you can't use I didn't know as an excuse !!!!!!!
        iubacker4ever
        • 3 Years Ago
        Even though I agree that we need to buy more American products, I also want the most bang for my buck. I bought and drove Chevy's for years until everything I bought either fell apart, drove like crap and the service at the dealership was dispicable. They overcharged, did un-needed repairs with their replacement mechanics and so on. So after some research I went out and bought a Kia Sentra for about half of what they wanted for a malibu, taurus or fusion. Much to my surprise the Kia I had purchased had been totally assembled in Mississippi. Here is something else I discovered after I got off my fat butt and did some research, Kia was actually started with Generous Motors money. Oh and by the way, Jesus dosen't care what I drive, as long as it gets me to church on time!!!!!
        mpmezz
        • 2 Years Ago
        We were considering many cars in our latest hunt: Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Buick Regal, and Subaru Legacy. We test drove them all. Got quotes and prices on them all. For similarly priced vehicles, the American car companies' monthly payments were exhorbinantly high. We tried to get an American car. But, THEY made it impossible to justify the expense. The American auto industry needs to get their act together.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What is wrong with that KIA? The body panels have awful lines. Especially the horrible C pillar. I've seen a few of these at the rental car lots and they do not look good in the flesh. Very disjointed. UGLY.
        • 3 Years Ago
        LOL!

        Typical invisible trolling.

        Yeah, we'll all go by what you say and overlook the fact that the Optima has won a no. of design awards in Europe such as the iF and Red Dot design awards.

        • 3 Years Ago
        Yeah, I'll take MY opinion over you who works for marketing at KIA.

        LOL indeed you shill.
          • 3 Years Ago
          [blocked]
      founerra
      • 3 Years Ago
      Oh God Damn it, Hyundai been copying other automakers for years, like Lexus for the Sonata and Elantra, Honda for the 2012 Accent, Ford for the Genesis Coupe, and also Scion for the Soul, f*ck that I am staying with Nissan and Honda.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I can give you 5 obvious reasons why the front face is as ugly as hell, and why most of you are all nuts to think this is actually a nice-looking car:

      1. Plastic chrome everywhere
      2. Way too much orange in headlights
      3. Cheap black plastics
      4. Large uncharacteristic grill
      5. From side-view, headlights are too long.

      Problems with the interior:
      1. Ugly 90s style dash
      2. Econo style stitching pattern on seats
      3. Cheap interior plastics
      4. Contrived mess of steering wheel controls lacking ergonomics
      5. Loose seat belt latches

      All these are indicative of a cheap car.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Coming from the guy who I'm assuming drives a Prius.....the stylish, sporty car that it is, made by a company known for stylish and sporty cars.......*facepalm*

        Your comment couldn't be more full of rubbish, sir.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Half of your list is opinion, subjective. It also said of the interior quality:
        "Materials, design and quality are as good or better than anyone else. You'll have to step up to a luxury brand to find anything better."

        So, i think your argument is void.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I may have to defected to a Prius (and its probably the best car I've ever owned) - but believe me I've been around my share of sports cars. Kia still lacks an identity and the Optima does nothing to persuade me otherwise.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Funny, the Prius had been dinged by the automotive press for it's somewhat cheap plastics while the Optima has been praised for its upscale interior.

        And oh, how many (aesthetic) design awards has the Prius won?

        The Optima has won several.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Ha, even here at Autoblog they called the interior CHEAP.

        "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. "
          Moreno636
          • 2 Years Ago
          Where in that entire paragraph did it say it was CHEAP??
        • 3 Years Ago
        I own 4 cars, 2 are Chryslers, 2 are foreign. My 300 could definitely use a better interior which is why the 2011 is on my radar. You have no point.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Are you kidding, someone with 300kid replied. A prius has a better interior than anything from Chrysler.
      • 3 Years Ago
      May be it is one of the best hardware around, but the look is no better than corporate cousin Hyundai Sonata, IMHO. Still Jay Leno's favorite brand to joke with...
      cj
      • 3 Years Ago
      Is it me or Ford and Hyundai are looking very similar?? They must have spies within each other... I recently saw a Ford.. oh i don't know, a subcompact, and I thought it was a Hyundai..
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