2011 Kia Optima

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Like fraternal twins that have reached the age of going their own way so have Kia and Hyundai separated to do their own thing, but still connected at their roots; case in point — the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima.

While still connected at the platform and powertrain level, each has gone its own way to conquer the mid-sized sedan world. For the first time in our recollection a Kia and Hyundai have appeared in a competitive set where a focus group could select from a number of like segment vehicles and this time including the corporate fraternal twins. 

The kicker is that the Kia came out on top of the mid-size competition; and even after the brands were revealed Kia came away with top honors from this particular group.

The coup here started with design. The Optima is sleek and streamlined; longer, lower, wider and conservative when compared to the Sonata with its deep character lines and bold front end. The character lines on Optima are more subtle and the front is more handsome than aggressive. Kia’s design chief Tom Kearns calls Optima, “Simple, clean and pure.”

It’s a different kind of Optima, so radically new it garnered a lot of attention from the gawking public as we piloted the new sedan around Southern California during a recent media preview.

Optima, like Sonata is far from being a muscle car, currently available only as a four-cylinder. The base engine is a 2.4L DOHC in-line four-cylinder putting out 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. And like Sonata, Optima will soon offer a 2.0-liter I4 Turbo the pumps out 274 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque and still later there will be a hybrid version as well.

The Optima is available in three trim levels, the base LX, EX and SX. The only manual transmission available is a six-speed that’s exclusively available with the LX. Otherwise you’ll get a smooth six-speed automatic.

Road handling is precise and the ride was solid. There’s nothing soft and slushy. Estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway for the 6-speed manual and the automatic numbers are 24/34. The Turbo is rated 22/34.

The interior of the 2011 Kia Optima is nothing short of outstanding and sitting in the driver’s seat is like being strapped into the cockpit of an aircraft. The instrument panel is contoured 10-degrees toward the driver and features precise gauges and controls that are easy to read. There’s plenty of room front and rear and an ample amount of storage space, plus a cargo volume area of 15.3-cubic feet.

This Optima is a contender and deservedly so.

— Ted Biederman and Al Vinikour