Seamless - 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo Long-Term Road Test

2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test

2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: Seamless

January 03, 2012

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Something about this angle of the Optima reminds me of the first-generation Acura TSX. Maybe the Optima's electric blue paint looks similar to a shade offered on those early TSXs. Or maybe it's the banded headlights and wide, tapering hood profile. Whatever it is, this is a flattering pose for the Optima. Rest of the car isn't bad either, but except for the honeycomb grille and handlebar moustache chrome trim motif, this is a sharp, aggressive look.

Having spent the holiday weekend driving around in the Optima, I could see buying one myself. I didn't get this impression the few times I'd driven it home for one-night stands. But after getting to know one another better, I think the Optima hits the right notes, from the mundane to the adrenal.

I like the keyless entry/thumb-button lock and unlock, and push-button start. Keep the key in your pocket (smaller fob would be good), easy. Likewise, keep the smartphone in pocket and stream your music, or wire the phone in and control menus and playlists from the touchscreen.

I'm down on touchscreens at the moment, the Optima no exception. Smudgy fingerprints, bleached out when the sun's overhead or behind, just plain distracting: I hope they go away. Dial-and-screen controllers I can get behind; you still need to pull your eyes from the road, but only to see and confirm an input, and not to also guide your finger to a point on the display. Perhaps with time you can intuitively learn where things are on a touchscreen, and the Optima performs better than many in this regard, with its display's big, blocky tabs and buttons. Still, down with the touchscreen.

I like that climate and audio controls still use buttons and knobs. The steering wheel's a little too button-happy, but there's a trend no one's likely to reverse. Like that there's ample storage in the side pockets, glovebox and deep center console with an elevated tray for a wallet stacked fat with Washingtons. Ah yeah, Jack In the Box Jumbaco value, coming for you, baby. Had no issues with the seats, although couple of the other editors have said they don't stand up to long hauls.

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And then there's the powertrain. Damn, this thing just pulls and pulls, and pulls just a little more. Too much, really. It's like a small horse that somehow got into some Red Bull. Plenty of torque steer in the upper reaches if you want it, and not enough suspension travel to keep the tires firmly planted over road rash. But just as swiftly as it accelerates, grabbing a paddle for an upshift settles it right back down. Passing slow traffic on the highway becomes a thrill, setting up for the pass, then grabbing a downshift, and the Optima just whips you forward. It's easy to drive this car in a completely belligerent, sociopathic manner.

Still not feeling the interior, though. The layout is nice and the gaps and stitching and all that is fine. But the materials don't feel matched to a $31,000 car (about the price as tested here). The seats are comfortable enough, but the vinyl-eather covering belongs on lawn furniture. The doors and other plastic surfaces are notching up mars and scars. And the poly-vinyl material covering the steering wheel just feels cold and chalky. All this too seems a trend no one's likely to reverse, especially as the American dollar doesn't buy quite as much for Asian automakers anymore.

The Optima may disappoint someone nostalgic for older Accord and Jetta interiors. But it's hardly a deal-breaker. For younger drivers just seeking some kicks on the way to work or out with friends, or even just buyers who want a little habanero in their family sedan, the Optima SX just gets much of it right.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor


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Past Long-Term Road Tests