2011 Kia Optima Long-Term Road Test - Wrap-Up

2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo Long-Term Test


2011 Kia Optima - Wrap-Up

Read the introduction of the 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo to our long-term fleet.

See all of the blog posts on this vehicle.

What We Got
The Kia Optima was all-new for 2011 and it was astonishing. Here was a sedan with a Kia badge that made people's heads turn. Sure, it was similar to the Hyundai Sonata under its skin, but that skin had some serious style. Then Kia said there would be a turbocharged version with 274 horsepower, not to mention a full hybrid model.

Clearly there was plenty to talk about, so we immediately looked into one for the long-term fleet to see if it would live up to its hype. We decided on a 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo. It promised V6 power, four-cylinder mileage and a sport sedan feel. We opted for the SX Premium package that added a panoramic sunroof, power front seats, heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats. The Technology package accessorized our SX Turbo with a navigation system, back-up camera and Infinity eight-speaker audio system. All told, the MSRP was $30,840, about as expensive as an Optima gets. There was no negotiation, however, as Kia loaned us the car for the year.

As hard as it was to ignore the stunning Corsa Blue paint, this test was really about the powertrain. How could we say no to a 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline four-cylinder with 274 hp on tap? Further, it generated 269 pound-feet of torque and achieved 22 city and 34 highway mpg, at least according to the EPA. We were curious if it would live up to those numbers and impress us with its power in the process. Here's what we found out.

Our Impressions

  • Kia intended for this engine to replace a V6, and I have to say it 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." — Jason Kavanagh

  • "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

  • "The ride quality isn't as soft as some other cars, but it's still comfortable and controlled on the freeway. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the SX for daily driver duty. Road noise does seem to be a bit more pronounced than the norm, however." — Brent Romans

  • "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, but I was smiling most of the time and the car was enjoying it. I discovered the Optima's need for a little trail braking and its ability to spin a tire on corner exit if you jump on the accelerator harder than you really should. I also was impressed with the brakes. Sure, I could have cooked them if I really wanted to, but at eight-tenths they were happy and heat-resistant. And its steering feels better in the hills than it does in the city.... I had a newfound respect for the Kia." — Scott Oldham

  • "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.... 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 2011 Kia Optima 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

  • "While I can't yet weigh in on the long-distance comfort of the Optima's seats, I was immediately impressed with another aspect. That ring of cloth around the leather seems like a brilliant idea. The edges of the side bolsters almost always wear down with leather, and sometimes quite quickly.... Placing a more resilient material such as the Optima's tech fabric should not only reduce wear, but perhaps even increase grip." — James Riswick

  • "The Kia Optima Turbo's armrest is definitely not the place for a piece of plastic, carbon-fiber-look or otherwise. For me anyway, my left elbow touches down right where the padded leather and non-padded plastic trim come together... and that's just plain silly, not to mention uncomfortable." — Mike Monticello

  • "This car always feels like it's a good set of tires away from being really good... But [with] 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." — Scott Oldham

  • "Love how [as a passenger] I can program a destination into the nav while the car is in motion. The dual climate controls and dual seat heaters/coolers only reaffirm my opinion that the Optima is a great road trip car. The passenger seat wasn't exactly plush or OMG comfy but neither did it compel me to jump out of the car rubbing my tush at every pit stop." — Caroline Pardilla

  • "In back, we had two adults and one 6-year-old in a bulky booster seat. The main thing everyone noticed was the surplus of rear legroom in the Optima. It's absolutely not a problem to have adults seated behind adults.... plenty of room for four and just enough for five." — Erin Riches

  • "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. Surprisingly, not everyone does that.... Thankfully, our Optima SX Turbo's paddles fall right at your fingertips. The paddles are quite broad, making them 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." — Kurt Niebuhr

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: Optima Turbos request routine maintenance at 5,000-mile intervals. It was not until its first service appointment that we discovered a glitch with the onboard service warning light. The warning can only be programmed, at the least, for 6,000-mile increments. Our reliance on the computer to keep us informed caught us off guard and we were late for its first service. We resorted to tracking mileage on paper for subsequent visits. Overall, routine maintenance on the 2011 Kia Optima was affordable, as we averaged about $50 per visit.

Service Campaigns: We encountered a handful of unexpected repair items during our test. Kia paid to remedy all of them under warranty. First, it replaced the driver seat after the upholstery started separating. Then Kia reflashed the onboard computer to fix an interior light malfunction. During our test we also experienced some issues that occurred without warning and disappeared before we could address them. There was a failure of the back-up camera. It went blank on a couple of occasions and then worked fine. We also noticed a distinct yet muted rattle during cold starts. We returned the car to Kia prior to a formal recall being issued; however, during our test Hyundai published a TSB for a similar rattle on the Optima's cousin, the Sonata 2.0T.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy: We averaged 22 mpg in the 2011 Kia Optima Turbo over 19,035 miles of driving. This equaled the EPA city estimations. Our best single tank of 31 mpg was well shy of the EPA highway calculations of 34 mpg. Its fun-to-drive character distracted from consistent, fuel-efficient driving. Still, in the fuel economy category, this Turbo did not live up to our expectations.

Resale and Depreciation: By test end, Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued the Optima at $24,758 based on a private-party sale. That equated to slightly less than 20 percent depreciation from its original MSRP. Historically, depreciation of 20 percent deserves recognition. It is a place for elite vehicles. Say what you will about the fuel economy, but the Optima Turbo is in demand in the used car market.

Summing Up

Pros: Exterior styling was a hit with our group. The 274-hp turbo-4 delivered plenty of power in any situation. There is legitimate space for four adult occupants.

Cons: Fuel economy did not meet EPA estimates. Its MSRP exceeded $30,000. Our test car suffered a handful of warranty issues.

Bottom Line: Kia has made a contender out of its previously invisible Optima. It's not only one of the most stylish midsize sedans on the market, it also offers one of the more entertaining drivetrains, too. Anyone who's willing to give up a little fuel mileage in the name of performance will find a capable partner in the 2011 Kia Optima.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: $100.32 (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: Replace driver seat, reflash ECU
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1 for seat repair and ECU reflash
Days Out of Service: 2 for warranty repairs
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 31.1 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 12.6 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 22.2 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $24,758 (private-party sale)
Depreciation: $6,082 (or 20% of original MSRP)
Final Odometer Reading: 19,035 miles

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Past Long-Term Road Tests