2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test - Performance
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2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test

Performance

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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: 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: 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 SX Turbo: My New Must Have

January 24, 2012

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In 2007 my commuter car must have was an Aux jack. Quickly that was replaced by a dedicated iPod cable and then, rightly, to the USB input where it sits today. The must have feature is something-- in a daily driver -- that I wouldn't go without. It would be a deciding factor in initial car selection.

With the exception of something like our Mazda 3, USB ports are common and easy to get. It's still a must-have for me, but it's no longer something special. The new special is paddle shifters on normal cars. Yes yes I should want a manual damn the traffic but here's the reality of the situation: I drive, on average, 19 miles per day and average somewhere around 19 mph. The traffic isn't stop and go as much as it is 2-8-2-15-5-30-5-40-5 and doing any work at that time of the morning in that stupid traffic is maddening. But having paddle shifters that allow me to slow the car down with the engine make this process significantly more efficient. They even make driving a slushbox more fun if you happen to break free of traffic and hit one of those canyon roads.

Not only are the paddles are available as standard on the SX Turbo, they're standard on the 2012 Toyota Camry SE. That bodes well for me. If the Camry's got 'em, everyone will soon and I'll need to find a next Must Have. Proximity entry is pretty neat. Automatic headlights are already pretty much standard. Maybe power doors? Power hatch would be cool, but no...

Mike Magrath, Features Editor Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: A Day of Driving

December 14, 2011

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A few weeks ago I felt like driving. It was Saturday. Wife and kids were off doing wife and kids stuff. The sun was shining. And I had the keys to our long-term Kia Optima SX Turbo. Destination Malibu.

If you live on the westside of L.A. and you want to drive, you head for Malibu. The famed Pacific Coast Highway makes for great starters. But the real destinations are the less traveled canyon roads that snake their way endlessly through the Santa Monica Mountains. Roads named Stunt, Piuma and Latigo. You can be up there flogging for hours without seeing another car. Days without driving the same route twice.

Sure, I would have rather been in our long-term 5.0 Mustang or NSX, but the Optima turned out to be a pretty good dance partner. I still think it needs better tires and a bit more front end grip (maybe better rubber will fix that), but I was smiling most of the time and the car was enjoying it. I discovered the Optima's need for a little trailbraking and its ability to spin a tire on corner exit if you jump on the accelerater harder than you really should. I also was impressed with its brakes. Sure, I could have cooked them if I really wanted to, but at 8-10th they were happy and heat resistent. And its steering feels better in the hills than it does in the city.

At the end of the run, back on PCH southbound toward the sprawl, I had a new found respect for the Kia sedan with the pretty face. It had earned it the old fashioned way.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: I Would Buy One

November 24, 2011

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I've been driving our long-term Kia Optima SX turbo quite a bit. Last week I lived in the thing, driving it back and forth to the LA Auto Show and to dinners and functions all over the city. During those 600 miles I drove the Optima in every condition imaginable short of a snow storm. Ok, I never took it off-road either.

But at the end of the week I realized how well the Optima had served me. It wasn't just transportation. It was enjoyable. I liked it. Not because it got me there and back. Any car can do that. I liked it because it got me there with a smile.

Some cars go beyond Point A to Point B, and the Optima SX Turbo is one of those cars. And when I would find it waiting for me in an empty parking garage late at night after a 17 hour day I was glad it was there. I would climb behind the wheel, loosen my tie, and truly enjoy the drive home.

I could own this car.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Better Pedals Than I Thought

November 21, 2011

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The whole "sport pedals" thing is a bit overblown. Sure, shiny metal pedals look cool and all, but do they really add anything to the driving experience? For the most part I would say no, and I still don't think any different after driving the Optima.

I do, however, find the rubber studded pedals in our Kia better than your average footrests. Unlike most pedals that are hard and flat, these actually have something to grab onto.

We had rain here all day yesterday and it was a noticeable convenience. I could get in the car with soaked shoes and use both the brake and the gas without my foot constantly slipping off the pedals. A big deal? Hardly, but it's a nice touch nonetheless. Not sporty, just useful.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Charged Up

November 15, 2011

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I have turbocharging on the brain today. That's because I'm editing an article about the role turbos will play as manufacturers continue their quest for lighter, more fuel-efficient engines in order to comply with ever-more-stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The federal agencies that regulate fuel economy and emissions have set a 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg for the U.S. fleet. (For a bevy of complicated reasons, that's equivalent to about 36 mpg on a window sticker.)

Experts say that turbos are present in about 10 percent of the light-vehicle market today, headed toward 23 percent by 2016 and as high as 80 percent by the end of the decade. That's speedy adoption.

From a consumer standpoint, the Optima seems to be an excellent example of why turbos might take off. If all turbocharged cars drive like it does, achieving that 80 percent figure should be a snap.

What's your take on turbos? Are there downsides that would deter you from having turbo in your next car?

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @14,428 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Terrible Tires

November 07, 2011

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Whenever I drive our long-term Kia Optima SX Turbo I think about its tires. Specifically how terrible they are. To me, this car always feels like its a good set of tires away from being really good.

But as it comes from Kia wearing these Nexen Classe Premiere CP662 all-season things, it rides a little rougher than it should and it stops, steers and turns like it's wearing bottom basement buy three get one free rubber from Costco.

Honestly I'd never heard of Nexen tires until yesterday when I took the above photo. I know nothing about the brand and I know nothing about the quality of Nexen's products. But I do know when a good car feels like it's being held back by bad tires, and the Kia Optima SX Turbo is a classic case of good car bad rubber.

Funny, some of our staff members have noticed this before. When we took the Optima to the test track back in February test driver Chris Walton wrote in his notes, "Where's the grip? Nexen tires make the Optima feel like it's trying to turn on ice." He later went on to call the tires slippy and said they overheat and get greasy within a few runs through the slalom. He also said the tires felt slippery in the braking runs from 60 mph.

Meanwhile the performance test numbers are lukewarm for a sedan wearing sizable, low profile 225/45R18 inch rubber. It pulled a .80g around the skidpad and ran through the slalom at 62.7 mph. It also stopped from 60 mph in 125 ft. Not embarrassing by a long shot, but I'm curious what it could do with better shoes. And I'm not talking about Summers either, just a good, quality all-season ultra high-performance tire like these. I'm not sure, but maybe Nexen's own ultra high-performance all-season tire called the N6000 would even be better.

Then there's the Optima's ride. This car always feels like it rides rougher than it should. Like there's 90 psi in the tires. It crashes over stuff instead of absorbing the impacts. Again, probably the tires.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Transparency

October 03, 2011

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I drove the Kia Optima for a couple of days recently and as I turned in the keys, I realized that I don't have much to say about it. Nothing jumps out at me as being quirky or glitchy. There are no grounds for carping about the power or transmission, unlike some other cars in the fleet (and yes, I'm looking at you, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport). The Optima is comfortable, technologically friendly and responsive.

It serves as a good example of transparent transportation: You get in, you start it, you drive, you arrive. Some days, you want to have a commute that's all about the car and the driving experience, and I'm pretty sure the Optima can deliver that, too. This time, I wasn't in the mood. The Optima was happy to accommodate me.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ ~12,682

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Cold Start Jingle

September 20, 2011

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I've noticed that our longterm 2011 Kia Optima Turbo occasionally makes a muted but distinct rattle upon cold start. After a short time, ten seconds or so, it goes away.

I'm quite confident this is the same characteristic for which Hyundai issued a TSB for the Sonata 2.0T (the Optima Turbo shares its powertrain and most of its genes with this car). Click the jump for the gory details of what's going on here.

It's all related to lighting off the catalyst. In this engine the turbo's wastegate is actuated electronically, which allows for some unconventional tricks that would be impossible with a conventional pressure-based pneumatic actuator.

One big trick is this -- during a cold start the wastegate is commanded to an open position to allow hot exhaust gas from the exhaust manifold to bypass the turbo's turbine stage. The turbine housing and wheel are chunks of metal that, when cold, suck heat out of the exhaust gas. By opening the wastegate, the hot gas stays hot, resulting in more rapid catalyst lightoff, which reduces emissions (cold starts constitute the vast majority of a car's emissions profile).

When the turbocharger is cold, so is the wastegate. There's a bit of clearance incorporated among the the wastegate's valve and swingarm to allow for thermal expansion. Enough so that during a cold start, exhaust pulses from the turbo patter against the valve that's hanging in the breeze, and the result is the jingly-rattle noise we hear.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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2011 Kia Optima Turbo: Steering Ruins It

September 06, 2011

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It looks great. The interior is nice enough for the money. Its engine is powerful and has the potential to be frugal if you drive frugally (we don't). It has a whole heap of equipment.

Those are all things I value in a car, but there's something missing in the Kia Optima: good steering. Oh, Kia has attempted to make it sporty by dialing in a bunch of weighting that results in something more responsive than the nebulous helm of a Hyundai Sonata. But it just feels like the electric version of a V6 Chevy Malibu, which equate to the wheel being hooked to a pair of SoloFlex elastic bands. Except the Kia has less communication.

Be it changes to hardware, software, tuning or brand philosophy, the Optima's steering needs to get better before I would consider it. Given the types of giant leaps Hyundai/Kia makes from one generation to the next (and sometimes mid-generation), I would hope that steering and suspension are the next areas they tackle head-on. Because even if the rest of the Optima is oh-so-tantalizing, the steering ruins it.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 11,635 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: BMW Versus Kia

August 26, 2011

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There are real benefits to having all these long-term cars on hand, and it's not just so the editors have a free mode of transport for getting to and from the office. For instance, I didn't realize how much I despise the BMW 528i's throttle tip-in until I drove it and the Kia Optima SX Turbo on back-to-back nights.

One word to describe the BMW's throttle? It sucks (okay, that might have been two). There always seems to be a bit of a delay anytime you hit the throttle, and the transmission is hesitant about the gear to be in as well. If you give it any punch at all, after the delay it then lurches forward abruptly. If you try and get all delicate with your right foot and/or switch to the Comfort setting, the Bimmer moves out like the emergency brake is on. Sport seems to be the best compromise, but it's still far from perfect. Super annoying, and totally unbecoming of a BMW.

Getting in the Kia last night, I immediately felt, "yes, now this is more like it." I didn't have to work hard at being smooth with the throttle so as to not jerk the car suddenly off the line. The action is much more intuitive.

But get this. Between the last three long-termers I've driven, it was actually the Honda Odyssey that had the most supple, most natural throttle tip-in. Yep, that's right. The minivan.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 10,757 miles.

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Heavy Lifting

August 25, 2011

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Well, it can be satisfying to really take a hold of a car. That's why some guys like a steering wheel with a thick rim that fills the palms.

But I am not among them. And there's too much about the Kia Optima's approach to sporting driving that amounts to no more than a kind of oversize statement.

That's the style of performance these days. More steering effort. More suspension damping (especially more damping). More aggressive throttle action. More transmission shifting. More brake bite.

All these things can be fine in themselves, but unless it all comes together in a cohesive package of dynamic capability, what you get is a car that's more like a piece of heavy machinery than an instrument for fast travel. You get stunts, not speed.

It's not that the setup for the Kia Optima is bad, but it does remind me that driving fast has to do with fingertips, not biceps. That's why every racer you'll ever meet will describe the way a car steers by holding an imaginary wheel in front of him with this fingers, and there will none of that elbows-out wrestling stuff.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

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2011 Kia Optima SX: Engine Sound

August 17, 2011

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One thing I wish our Optima SX had was a bit more personality in terms of how it sounds when you accelerate. The Optima Turbo is Kia's answer to other V6 family sedans, and usually those V6s have a decent soundtrack at high rpm. The Optima SX, in contrast, sounds no different than your typical ho-hum four-cylinder. There's nothing wrong with this, but it'd still be nice to get a more engaging engine and/or exhaust note when you step up to the SX model.

A brief shakycam video follows after the jump.

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2011 Kia Optima SX: Hauls The Mail, Among Other Qualities

August 15, 2011

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Last week I mentioned that I'd seriously consider buying an Optima if I needed a family sedan. Well, today I've listed ten attributes about our Optima that I find most appealing.

  1. Engine power. It "hauls the mail," as editor Josh Jaquot would say. Of course, this is relative statement. But the Optima Turbo is quick for a family sedan.
  2. Good fuel economy. We're only getting a combined 21.7 mpg so far. But that could be related to people enjoying item number one. The EPA combined estimate is 26 mpg.
  3. Styling. Aggressive and distinctive, I love the way it looks.
  4. The Corsa Blue paint. This paint color just pops. And its availability is limited to the SX trim only.
  5. Sporty handling. There's room for improvement, but at least Kia makes a sport-tuned suspension available.
  6. Paddle shifters. Ditto.
  7. Logical control layout. Everything falls readily to hand.
  8. Lots of interior storage. There's plenty of space to put your stuff.
  9. Extra convenience features. By this I mean things like xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry and the hated/ventilated seats.
  10. Price: Even though our car has just about everything on it, it still rings up at just $30,840.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,192 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX: Fun To Drive?

August 10, 2011

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I took our Optima out for a back road drive today. Mostly, I was interested to see how it handled. I already like the rest of the car, so having some sporting credentials would just be icing on the cake. Could this be Kia's four-door sports car?

To its credit, the Optima SX has more talent than many other family sedans. You can hustle it around corners at a decent clip. The SX's firmer suspension tuning probably helps here. And if you want to get to the next corner quickly, the Optima's turbocharged engine will certainly oblige.

Knocking the Optima back a couple notches, though, is that there's just not much involvement for the driver. The steering is numb, giving no indication on what's going on at the front tires. Grip from the Nexen 225/45R18 tires is OK, put pile into a low-speed corner and the tires quickly protest and the stability control system cuts in. You'll know more by listening in to the tires than anything the steering might communicate to you.

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: At Your Fingertips

July 28, 2011

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When a car company goes to the trouble of mounting a gear changing apparatus to the steering wheel, you'd think they would put the controls within easy reach - you know, to make it convenient. Surprisingly, not everyone does that.

But from my muddled memory banks, cars like the SHO, the Aura and early PDK equipped Porsches stand out as having really poorly placed shift paddles/buttons. Thankfully, our Optima SX Turbo's paddles fall right to your fingertips. The paddles are quite broad, making it easy to flick up or down a gear without having to move your hands at all from the 9 and 3 o'clock positions. I like the lip on the end of the paddles too; it's a nice finger hold.

How could they be better? I'd have them coated with a rubber backing. And, perhaps the only real gripe here, I'd prefer them mounted to the steering column instead of the wheel, like on a GT-R or an Evolution X.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 9,515 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo Keeps Its Cool in the Heat

July 06, 2011

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This weekend the 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo was my holiday/birthday conveyance to San Luis Obispo. One of my favorite long-termers to take on a road trip for being fun, roomy and comfortable. Plus satellite radio and seat heaters/coolers are always nice.

But as we were heading up Saturday afternoon, a quick look at Google Maps showed the highway to SLO was red, all the way from the 405 to Santa Barbara! 80 miles of stop and slowwww-going traffic. No thanks! So instead we opted to take the much clearer I-5 up to the fun roads and cut across to Santa Maria via 166 West. More on that later.

However on the way up the Grapevine we encountered an abnormally high number of cars -- old and new ones (even saw a Mini, sad) -- on the shoulder with their hoods open. Turns out a lot of cars don't like that combination of 100-plus-degree temps, A/C and climbing a long and serious grade. But in our Kia the air blew cold as ever while charging up the Grapevine at, um, slightly over the speed limit with nary a flick of the coolant temperature gauge. Er, pixels. That, and it felt as powerful as ever despite the heat and the altitude.

Felt bad for those poor folks stranded in the heat but took great comfort that our Kia was able to keep its cool for the four-hour trek to the Central Coast.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 8,283 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Big Honkus, Little Ducting

June 06, 2011

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After reading Jay Kav's engine walkaround, I was curious about the Optima's intake honkus which is precariously squeezed between the hood and the plastic trim surrounding the hood latch.

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Boost Walkaround

May 31, 2011

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When you open the hood of our longterm 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo, it's sort of a jumble of black hoses and tubes. Hard to tell where the boost is coming and going.

Perhaps this brief walkaround will help those that like to keep tabs on the whereabouts of the air in their engine bays.

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2011 Kia Optima Turbo: This Just In. No Racing Between Stoplights

May 12, 2011

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This just in from the wildy out-of-context department at Kia's Owner's Manual writing HQ.

No "jack-rabbit" starts or racing between stoplights.

And tomorrow...a blog post on the Optima with genuine content. Still, I figured you'd get a kick out of this.

I did.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: It's Got Sauce

May 10, 2011

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I tell ya, the 2.0-liter turbo in this 2011 Kia Optima is impressive. Not just in the total amount of sauce it cranks out at full throttle, but also in the way it is delivered in those nuance-y moments between full throttle and no throttle.

Hyundai/Kia intended for this engine to replace a V6, and I have to say they succeeded. Buyers of V6s want immediate torque, and that's what this turbo mill provides. It's a very linear engine. Rarely with this engine do you get the rubber-band sensation typical of turbo engines; instead the rise in torque is immediate and in lockstep with your right foot.

Credit here goes in part to the Kia's twin-scroll turbo. It's a nominally more expensive feature that they saw fit to include as it helps improve time-to-boost.

And yeah, when you give it the wood, it really goes. I'm a fan of this engine in this car.

Now, about the lack of a manual gearbox...

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

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2011 Kia Optima: Psych! Drove It To Vegas Instead

April 18, 2011

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As I need to be in New York tomorrow for the auto show, I was informed that I could not take off the estimated 15 days need to travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back using the Nissan Leaf. What a bloody shame.

Since I didn't feel like stealing Ron Montoya's birthday present (a weekend in the Mustang GT), my choice fell to the No. 3 car on the "What should Riswick drive to Vegas Poll." For those of you nice people who voted for the Kia Optima Turbo, thank you.

For those of you who aren't following me oh-so-diligently on the Twitter @jriswick, I went to Las Vegas this weekend for the Mumford and Sons concert at the Cosmopolitan (front row ... amazing) and the Las Vegas 51s baseball game (AAA team of my Blue Jays). Because of horrible LA-LV traffic, we got to the Cosmo just in the nick of time. Thankfully, the Optima never once added to my traffic-related frustration/fury, and in fact, was greatly helpful during my off-highway detours to get around desert gridlock. The Nissan GT-R, for comparison, nearly chattered our teeth apart on the barely there pavement of Yermo Road.

This was my first extended drive in the Optima, so I have plenty of thoughts to share. As I told the Mrs. at some point while in hour 3 of our Sunday drive home, "You know, I think I'd take this car over my old TSX. The interior isn't of the same quality and the steering's nowhere near as good, but it has all the toys, it's a bit cheaper, it looks awesome and the engine is fantastic. I love the turbo power delivery and given that power, the fuel economy is excellent. It's even the same color as my TSX."

Then I realized she was asleep, so I kept listening to my baseball game. Here's some more thoughts, albeit in bullet form.

Engine: Torque-rich, responsive, perfect for the hilly drive to Vegas. I was most impressed when on the drive home, I accidentally left the car in manual mode. It took me a good half hour to realize the car was stuck in sixth gear despite numerous grades in that time -- it was only because of the "6" in the trip computer that I noticed.

I ended up getting 28.46 mpg for most of the trip, though it's probably about 1 mpg higher because my calculation doesn't include the portion from Rancho Cucamonga to L.A. where the car said I was getting 31.5 mpg. Sure, neither of those numbers are the EPA's 34 mpg estimate, but then I wasn't exactly driving for the Fuel Sipper Smackdown.

Steering: The Optima's steering has an elastic band quality to it, with an artificial amount of weighting added to make it feel sporty around corners. Only it doesn't, really. It feels like a V6-powered Chevy Malibu's, only electric. But it's firm on center, which is what you're looking for on a road trip I guess.

Seats: I'm not in love with the Optima's driving position. The seat's mounted just a bit too low and the front of the seat could rise a little more, but it's not so objectionable that I wouldn't buy the car. In terms of seat comfort, not a problem after 10-some hours of mostly continuous driving over the weekend.

Ride: Since that GT-R drive, my bar for ride comfort is pretty low on the Vegas drive. Having said that, though, the Optima is perfectly comfortable over the long haul. Sure, you feel the low-profile tires over nasty bumps, but I never had one of those "enough already!" moments you can have when driving on California's concrete highways in a car with a firm ride. There is a fair amount of road noise, however.

Road trip intangibles: Big mirrors make lane changes easy. The cupholders are huge and well positioned. No complaints about the iPod interface, which for me is rare. Sound quality from the stereo is strong, but as I was listening to iTunes downloads, quality obviously differed between different tracks.

All in all, big fan of the Optima. Definitely better than the Leaf, and given traffic, I'm also happy I had it's automatic transmission rather than the Mustang's manual.

See you in New York.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Active Eco System

April 11, 2011

Optima Sunset.jpg

There are a lot of lead-footed drivers around the office. I'm not one of them. I'm always looking for ways to improve fuel economy in any car I drive. So during my weekend with our 2011 Kia Optima Turbo, I decided to try out its Active Eco System.

This eco mode is activated by pressing a button on the steering wheel and it stays on for subsequent drives, even if you turn off the car. According to the owner's manual, "Active Eco helps improve fuel efficiency by controlling the engine and the transaxle."

It turned out to be one of the better eco modes I've experienced. The manual said that the power and torque would be limited while in eco mode, but it was never an issue for me. There was a notable drop in power, but you always had enough to pass other cars or climb hills without heavy throttle inputs. Unlike our (now-departed) long term Honda Insight, the air conditioner didn't take a hit, and kept its cool the entire time.

Although the Optima Turbo is a performance-oriented vehicle, it's nice to know that it has the ability to conserve fuel. We may need to run the car in eco mode more often if we want to match the EPA estimates of 22 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. So far we are averaging 19.7 mpg, with a best tank of 23.6 mpg and a worst of 12.6 mpg.

If your car has an eco mode, do you use it? What do you think of it?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 4,085 miles

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2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Makes A Good First Impression

March 30, 2011

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I spent yesterday running around doing work-related errands in our 2011 Kia Optima SX turbo. Count me in the camp that thinks this is the best-looking midsize sedan out there right now. Many of my fellow road-goers seemed to agree.

But how does it drive? Here's a quick rundown of my first impressions:

Engine: There's plenty of wallop for a mainstream sedan; I don't bemoan the lack of a V6 one bit. In town it feels plenty quick because its torque peak of 269 lb-ft arrives at 1,750 rpm and it builds quickly right off idle. Because of that, I was expecting...

Torque Steer: There is a tad, but not nearly as much as I figured given the available thrust. It never called attention to itself when I was just driving and I didn't find an annoying amount when I went out of my way to look for it.

Steering: At low speed it seems a bit friction-y and heavy for heavy's sake. At freeway cruising speeds it feels pretty good, if not slightly detached. For this I don't blame the steering so much as the tires. There doesn't seem to be much there there, and by that I mean sidewall stiffness and initial turn-in precision, which may be why...

Ride Comfort: ...is pretty good. It's not overly soft or spongy, but it isn't gritty and hard, either. The Optima SX gives off a sporty vibe without drilling holes in your backside.

Tech: Bluetooth hands-free, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration; this stuff works well and the touch-screen interface is easy to figure out and use. My iPhone's phonebook auto-downloaded, but the voice commands for phone dialing more stilted than usual, however, and I had to say names last-name-first. At least the correct command options are shown for each step on the screen.

Extras: My wife wants you to know the seat heaters/coolers are much appreciated, and she likes that they self-cancel when the key is removed. The big glass moonroof works well, but I wish for a detent that allows me to easily stop it at the full-tilt position; if I don't intervene at just the right moment it goes too far and commences the complete moonroof-open procedure.

All in all, I like driving this Kia in this sort of environment. This one is staying on my short list.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 4,004 miles

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