2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Sibling Rivalry

February 23, 2012

Kia Optima at The Cosmopolitan.jpg

There appears to be a rivalry developing between Kia and its sister brand/parent Hyundai. Kia is going head-to-head with Hyundai across several vehicles in its model line, with the latest instance being the recent announcement of the Kia KH/K9 based on the Genesis platform.

However, the best example of this is the Kia Optima and its sibling the Hyundai Sonata.

Kia has recently been advertising the daylights out of the Optima, including a big promotion with Clippers basketball star Blake Griffin and a superbowl ad with supermodel Adriana Lima.

And most people think the Optima's styling is better and its coolness factor higher compared to Sonata.

With all that you would think that the Optima is committing spectacular sororicide on the Sonata.

To borrow a phrase from The Terminator, "Wrong."

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Well, It's No Camry SE

February 22, 2012

Through circumstance and misadventure, I found myself on a tour of California in the Kia Optima SX Turbo last weekend. Up to Santa Clara from L.A., then across to Sacramento, back to L.A. and then a short hop to San Clemente and back.

The Optima isn't my favorite sedan, but it worked out fine.

And then right after I returned, I found myself in the 2012 Toyota Camry SE. And within minutes, I was amazed to discover just how good the Kia had become.

The Kia's turbo four-cylinder engine is weak at low rpm and sounds bad besides, but it cruises the freeway effortlessly and quietly. The Camry's four-cylinder always seems to be two gears away from where it needs to be, so you wonder where the power went.

The Optima SX Turbo's suspension is snubbed down a little too firmly and there's a lot of noise from the tires. But the Camry SE's sport suspension is all spring and no damping, and so every bump from the highway makes it weave down the road.

The effort level for the Kia's steering is very heavy, more evidence that carmakers have been listening too closely to all the chest-beating journalists who believe tractor-style steering is a key indicator of a fast car. There's some stiction in the action of its electric-assist steering, but it only makes you crazy part of the time. Meanwhile, the Camry SE's electric-assist steering has so much stiction that it makes you crazy all the time, especially when you can't get the steering in phase with the chassis.

The Optima's interior is a bit glitzy, and the driver seat doesn't look like much although it works well once you dial in the adjustable lumbar support. The maps of the navigation system aren't quite detailed enough when the scale gets close up. The Camry's interior has a grab-bag of unpleasant elements that makes me think of a 1980s Chrysler K-car, and I started squirming in the driver seat within 20 minutes. The navigation system's maps might be better than those on a cell phone, but not by much.

So over the course of a couple days, I've been reminded just how far Kia has come.

When I first drove a Kia in Japan in the in he early 1980s, the company had a relationship with Ford and the cars were cast-off old-tech Mazdas made in Korea. Later, Kia came under the Hyundai umbrella, apparently because a scion of Hyundai's family-related executive board needed something to do, and the cars were old-tech Mitsubishis with names that no one could remember.

And now the Kia Optima SX Turbo is a car that attracted notice at every hotel, gas station and stop-and-rob snack mart that I visited in California. So far, no one has asked me anything about the Toyota Camry SE except for directions to the nearest Starbucks.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 19,062 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Eco Vs. Normal Fuel Economy

February 17, 2012

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Eco mode in this turbo-charged sports sedan always struck me as an oxymoron. I was pondering this yesterday on a drive to the Palm Springs area and decided to see what difference eco mode made to the fuel economy. After all, if you're going a constant speed you won't miss the punch. And there are times when you just want to save a few bucks on gas.

So I drove to Palm Springs, 130-miles from my house, in normal mode and monitored my fuel economy using the on-board gauge. The traffic was stop and go most of the way. (Yes, I know these gauges are somewhat unreliable, but I felt if it was consistently unreliable it would at least reveal the difference.) Then, I made the return trip of the same difference in eco mode. The difference was much bigger than I thought.

In normal mode I got 26.6 mpg.

In eco mode I got 34.7 mpg.

If I owned this car I think I would be in eco mode any time I was just trying to get there.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 17,920

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: No Change

February 14, 2012

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After all this time, the Kia Optima Turbo still seems the same to me.

So this means that it's still a little too much for me. You know, trying too hard with the way it looks, those less than resilient seats, all that rebound damping, and stiff-sidewall tires. Then again, this Kia is not for wimps, and it's nice to see a sport sedan that lives up to its billing.

But no change also means a very good thing.

After a year and the new wears off, a lot of cars are genuinely frayed at the edges. Suddenly the compromises in quality, specification or performance are more apparent than ever. And this has been especially true with cars with a Korean nameplate.

The Kia Optima Turbo seems to be a conspicuous exception. It might not be exactly my kind of car, but it looks and drives just as it did when it arrived. And considering the things this car has been through while in our hands, the fact that it still seems the same to me makes a bigger statement about quality than even a 100,000-mile warranty.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 17,540 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Quite literally, cool.

February 14, 2012

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Found this hidden gem during a recent video shoot with our Kia Optima: No, not the candy bar, but a cooled glove box, which comes standard on all Optimas. This is great if you don't want something like a candy bar to melt on a hot summer day. Or any day here in southern California.

All you do is open that vent and the air conditioning system routes cool air into the glove box. Provided the a/c is on.

Or, if you have no need for a cool glove box, just close the vent as pictured here.

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Not Very Picky for a Turbo

February 13, 2012

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Notice something about the gas cap on our turbocharged Kia Optima?

That's right, it's blue and it has a cap holder. More importantly, it doesn't feature a sticker that warns owners against using regular gas.

This seems like a no brainer for a midsize family sedan, but when you're talking about a car powered by a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, it's a little more unique.

It's one thing to offer a high-powered four-cylinder engine in place of a V6, but if owners are then forced to use premium gas the cost savings go out the window. Look for this to become a more prominent issue as more and more manufacturers adopt smaller, turbocharged powerplants.

Gas issues aside, the Optima's engine remains impressive after all these miles. It's responsive, smooth-running and quiet even at full throttle. The quick-shifting transmission helps even if the paddles are a little on the cheap side.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com @ 17,241 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Nice

February 12, 2012

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It had been quite some time since I last drove our long-term Kia Optima SX. And you know what? I'd forgotten what a genuinely nice car it really is.

I mean it's got the flashy styling that attracts attention if you're into that. A sporty-looking interior with generally nice materials. And seat coolers (I'm definitely into that).

But what gets me more than anything else...

is the Optima SX's turbocharged four-cylinder. It has excellent low-end torque along with a truly decent 274 horsepower. Just punch it and it goes. Never overwhelming, but always more than adequate for any situation.

Plus, it's a pretty smooth-running piece. Nice.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 17,240 miles.

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2011 Kia Optima and 2012 Volvo S60: Numbers and Non-Numbers

February 06, 2012

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I was at a Super Bowl party this weekend. Between mouthfuls of corn chips and guacamole, a fellow attendee who knows what I do for a living asked me what I was driving. I told him an S60. He asked how it was. I replied that it's a nice sedan -- drives well, pretty comfortable, has a lot of features. "How much?" he asked. "Well, our car is loaded up. But mid 30s would be more typical," I said.

He nodded his head. Then he asked: "So why would somebody get an S60 when they could just get a loaded Optima instead?"

Super Bowl advertising influence, perhaps? But it's a good question.

Here's a quick chart of a 2012 Optima EX Turbo and a 2012 Volvo S60 T5.

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Dated Interior?

January 31, 2012

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Every time I see the exterior of our 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo I remember how much I really dig the styling of this Kia (Peter Schreyer does good work). And I'd option mine in this very same Corsa Blue, it just looks right with the dark grille and Kia's slightly over-the-top wheels.

But then I get in and see the touchscreen that doesn't really make anything easier. It's just a touch-based interface because that's what someone said a car like this needed. And then there's the display in the IP. The resolution is low and the displays are, again, kind of pointless. The whole thing feels like a forced attempt at hitting the marks set by market research.

Kia apparently knows this, though, as they've got the new UVO system available on a host of 2012 MY cars, but you can't get it with Nav. Not in the Optima. The system is dated but isn't deal breaker bad. It would, however, count as a check in the "cons" column of the list I make for every purchase and in a field this tight, every check counts.

(It should be noted that the non-touchscreen controls -- HVAC, hard radio buttons-- are very good.)

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Not Feeling the Paddles

January 30, 2012

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Actually, feeling the paddles is the problem. As you can see, they're made of plastic, which is fine for some things but it's rarely a good idea for something you grab with several of your fingers and pull on.

There's nothing mechanical about plastic no matter how hard or indestructible it may be. It's a flimsiness that's hard to ignore. So although these paddles are unlikely to break off at any time, they lend a certain cheapness to the car that I'm sure Kia would rather not promote.

Oddly enough, the Bentley Continental GT suffers from the same problem. Go figure.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Kia Optima in VA is:

$134 per month*
* Explanation
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