There are three different performance flavors for the Optima--all including a four-cylinder engine under the hood--and each of them caters to a different type of driver. Those who simply want an economical mid-size sedan with decent performance will be plenty satisfied with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection. It makes 200 horsepower, and while it's a little coarse when wound out, you rarely need to visit the high revs as it churns out the torque and works extremely well with the six-speed automatic transmission that most models will have (a manual six-speed should still be available).
Performance-minded shoppers--and some of those who would have picked the top-of-the-line V-6 in the past--will likely enjoy the turbocharged SX model, which whistles along with 274 horsepower and paddle controls for the automatic. Here also the Optima graduates into a sportier echelon, capable of keeping up with the likes of the With this combination, the Optima's personality into something authentically sporty, if not high-performance--along the lines of the Volkswagen CC or Buick Regal.
Meeting the needs of those who want to be as green as possible is the Optima Hybrid, with its electric-motor system and lithium-polymer battery pack that pair with a four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission (not a CVT). There's been one pretty significant drawback to the previous versions of the Hybrid, even if it did perform reasonably well: Its transitions on and off the two power sources were often downright jarring, and far from seamless. Kia (and Hyundai, which shares the system) have spent time reworking the system for improved fuel economy and better driveability. We'll report back when we get more seat time in the revised model.
With all powertrains, highway gas mileage hits a minimum of 33 mpg in turbos, with four-cylinders hitting a stellar 35 mpg and hybrids reaching to a rated 39 mpg. We've had difficulty hitting the hybrid's high-water marks, but the basic Optima offers repeatable, real-world gas mileage that's tops in its class, and equal to some economy cars.
The Optima has steering that's a little firm in feel, yet somehow much more confident than that of the closely related Sonata. That combined with an independent suspension, giving the Optima a quick, nimble feel--even though if handling is one of your top priorities you'd probably be happier with the Fusion, Mazda6, or Altima.