It wasn't all that long ago when the term "family sedan" was equated to boring and sedate. With the introduction of the 2011 Kia Optima Turbo, it seems like the days of beige are numbered. With evocative styling, a long list of standard and optional features, all-around comfort and just enough performance to get the blood pumping, the new Optima Turbo rises to the top of our list of preferred family sedans.
Just from outward appearances, the 2011 Kia Optima Turbo lets you know that there's something special about it. After all, when was the last time a Camry or Accord turned your head? The attraction continues within, as the cabin exudes a very European look and feel. And this should be expected, since Kia has managed to lure a former Audi chief designer to its side. Of course, the Optima does stray ever so slightly from its European foundations with reduced tire grip and a lack of steering feel, but we find these offenses easily forgivable.
The 2011 Kia Optima Turbo is so good that we believe it edges out the other front-running sedans in this segment. Rivals with the same practical spirit include the Ford Fusion Sport and Hyundai Sonata (upon which the Optima is based). Rivals with similar style and performance include V6-powered versions of the stalwart Honda Accord and Mazda 6. But in the end, we're confident that you'll find the Kia Optima just as enticing as we do.
Powering the front-wheel-drive 2011 Kia Optima SX is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only available transmission. Gearchanges can be controlled via the console-mounted selector or through the shift paddles on the steering wheel, although downshifts are not rev-matched, so they take a bit longer than you'll find in pure performance or luxury cars.
In Edmunds testing, the Optima Turbo accelerates from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is competitive with V6-powered sedans. Stopping from this speed requires a class-average 125 feet. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 city/34 highway mpg and 26 mpg in combined driving. We managed only 19.7 mpg in mostly city driving while rarely engaging the Economy mode.
In SX trim, our Optima test vehicle benefits from a sport-tuned suspension, a rear spoiler and shift paddles on the steering wheel. On the open highway, the car feels sporting and confident. But when the road begins to twist and turn, the Optima's decidedly unsporting tires lose grip quite early, suggesting that fuel economy might be their prime directive. Up until this point, however, the Optima SX delivers a suitable amount of performance to consider it sporty. The steering can feel artificially weighted at times, but it is accurate.
Thankfully, the Optima SX Turbo's athleticism doesn't come at the expense of comfort. Despite the firmer suspension, there's no appreciable harshness over heavily worn pavement. On the highway, the cabin remains pleasantly quiet and calm. For the average-size driver, finding the optimal seating position should be easy thanks to the many seat adjustments and a tilt-and-telescoping wheel. Taller drivers (over 6 feet), might find the sunroof too low for comfort, though, and might want a little more thigh support from the seat besides.
Passengers will find the rear quarters similarly accommodating. The two outboard seats will comfortably fit two average-size adults, with their heads just barely brushing the headliner. As expected, the center position is narrower and slightly elevated.
Our 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo test vehicle comes loaded with just about every option you can think of. Once you have the Technology and Premium package options, occupants are treated to a wide array of niceties that are more commonly associated with luxury cars. Even better, these features are also easy to use and highly functional.
The center-mounted touchscreen display is one of the best in the segment, with a large, clear display and intuitive layout. In some direct lighting conditions, though, the display seems to wash out. Outward visibility is on par with other cars in this category. The same can be said for the trunk capacity, which registers a class-average 15.4 cubic feet. Owners who plan on toting the smallest of passengers will be glad to know that a rear-facing child seat will easily fit in the rear seats, while leaving enough room up front for the average adult male.
Design/Fit and Finish
Among midsize sedans, the Kia Optima is a standout for its sharp and aggressive exterior styling. It has a substantial presence thanks to wide expanses of unadorned sheet metal and accents that are tastefully integrated. While styling is subjective, most agree that the Optima's European influence makes it one of the best-looking midsize sedans to hit the streets in a very long time.
The Optima's European look and feel are echoed inside. The cabin borders on austere, with dark-toned surfaces and just a hint of bright metal trim accents. In many ways, the Optima shows how former Audi chief designer Peter Schreyer has influenced Kia's design direction since he came to the Korean company. It's not quite an Audi knockoff, but the appearance and materials quality are a giant leap forward for Kia. Most surfaces are soft to the touch, while the mesh trim on the seats will likely keep the leather upholstery looking fresh for a while longer.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Kia Optima Turbo is the real deal. Besides its stunning good looks, it hits all of the right notes in terms of ride quality and performance. Aside from the tire choice, it's hard to find fault with the Optima at all. If you're in the market for a midsize sedan, the Optima should be on top of your must-see list. And even those shopping outside of the sedan category might find it an appealing choice.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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