All images: © 2011 Anne Proffit
Driving a new car for 1200 miles in a week and a half can definitely tell the driver if the machine is naughty or nice. I'm here to report that the 2011 Kia Optima EX GDI (alphabet soup to be explained below) is one of the nicest mid-size front-wheel-drive sedans I've sampled in recent history.
The Optima, built on the same platform as Hyundai's lovely Sonata sedan, shares running gear and some attributes with that car but has a delightful personality of its own. With its smiling, large front grille, sleekly set-in headlamp and fog lamp treatment, definitive side crease that accentuates the cabin, slight side sills, to its sloping rear deck and articulated rear lights, the 2011 Kia Optima oozes elegance.
The EX model is, by definition, top of the line and the GDI stands for gasoline direct injection. More manufacturers are going to direct injection as it improves fuel economy and aids drivability through the rev range.
Dressed in bright silver with a gray leather interior, the Kia Optima is a lovely sight. It's even nicer when you enjoy the 2.4-liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder engine and shiftable 6-speed transmission. While a bit on the heavy side at 3223 pounds, the Optima puts out a completely usable 200 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 186 ft-lb of torque at 4250. It merges beautifully with traffic and shows its large twin pipes to everyone else. There are slight louvers on the front fenders, but I'm not sure they're practical.
The suspension is compliant enough but also firm enough to satisfy any driver with MacPherson struts and multi-links doing their job, together with front and rear stabilizer bars. Rack and pinion power-assisted steering has 2.94 turns lock to lock and a good turning circle (for FWD) at 35.76 feet. Ventilated front and rear disc brakes stop here and now and Kia fits 215/55R Nexen (Korean Michelin) tires on the handsome twinned five-spoke 17-inch alloy rims.
Size of the Optima is similar to its competition at 190.7 inches long, 7205 inches wide and 57.28 inches tall. It rides on a 110.1-inch wheelbase and has very good ground clearance of 5.31 inches. Passenger volume is an excellent 102.17 cubic feet; cargo volume is an awesome 15.43 cubic feet - just about anything can fit in this trunk!
I really like the lack of pretension for its own sake on this car; the driver's office has black gauges with white numbers and red pointers, no extraneous colors invited. The speedometer races to 160 mph while the tachometer redlines at 6500 rpm. There are two-speed heated and cooled front seats and the driver's seat slides back for easy egress/ingress. A simple tap on the start-stop button brings the seat forward to its last known position.
The Kia Optima EX's multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio/trip computer controls on the left and cruise/phone functions on the right. It is a tactile pleasure to use and the concave/convex buttons help the driver remember which buttons to push. There is an ECO button that aids the remarkable fuel mileage and I kept it ignited the entire trip.
Both front windows have single touch operation, as does the dual pane sunroof that glides across itself upon opening. There are dual coverings that allow the emergence of sunlight when the roof slides or tilts. It's a very nice system. There are cupholders in each door; two in the central tunnel and two in the fold-down rear armrest. All of the leather seats are quite comfortable; the driver has lumbar controls and yes, there's minimal lateral support but this is to be expected as the Kia Optima is not intended as a sport sedan.
The EX GDI Kia Optima model has a starting price of $23,390 including shippingThere are two excellent options packages: the $2000 technology grouping that includes an excellent navigation system with high resolution backup camera and Sirius Traffic, Infinity audio system and eight booming speakers.