Kia Optima - Totally new 2011 is a smart buy

Kia unleashes its redesigned 2011 Optima this fall. Targeting a very tough midsize-sedan segment that includes perennial favorites Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu, as well as several others, the third generation Optima is the one Kia is convinced will finally have a real market impact. Sales of the first two generations were tepid at best, but Kia is confident that the latest version will sell in numbers that will challenge segment big dogs and increase market share.

Optimism within Kia's ranks for the 2011 Optima's fortunes aren't based solely on its many enhancements, but also on the growing momentum of the brand in general. Kia sees the watershed event in its history as the launch of the Soul. Executives there talk in terms of B.S. and A.S.: before Soul and after Soul. Since Soul rolled into showrooms last year, Kia sales have increased by 11 percent year over year.
Although Kia will eventually offer Optima in three trim levels, initially at launch only the entry-level LX and mid-level EX will be available. The sporty SX will follow a month or two later. Prices are unannounced at this writing, but look for them to begin at around $18,000 before destination charges for the LX, and continuing up to approximately $23,000 for SX.

Pinpointing a specific age group as a vehicle's core buyers is something akin to using an Ouija Board to make financial investments or a Magic 8 Ball to choose an appropriate mate; it's more luck than science. However in the case of Optima, Kia has "Gen X" firmly in its cross hairs. These are maturing adults spanning ages 35 to 49. Because of Optima's obvious value, the average age of buyers has the potential to skew much higher. Optima also has the potential to cannibalize sales from the Hyundai Sonata with which it shares a platform, engine, transmissions and other mechanicals.
Kia hosted an Optima first drive for journalists in Southern California in late September. There they provided EX versions with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Later the same 274-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four powering the SX will be available in the EX as an extra-cost option.

Most drivers will probably find the 2.4L has all the guts they need. It develops 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Answering the throttle with gusto, it sprints away from green lights without hesitation. It had plenty of pulling power attacking hills as well. Engine output is funneled to the front wheels by way of a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. This is the optional transmission on the base LX that comes standard with a six-speed manual. Engine and automatic transmission work together flawlessly. Shifts are timely and smooth.

Fuel economy doesn't vary significantly regardless of the engine or transmission. When paired with the manual tranny, the 2.4L delivers an EPA estimated 24 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The six-speed automatic scrubs 1 mpg from the highway number. Matching the automatic with the turbocharged engine drops the estimated economy to 22 mpg city and 34 highway. If your goal is even better fuel efficiency, you might wait for the Optima Hybrid due in showrooms next year.

Providing a wonderful combination of ride quality and crisp handling, the four-wheel independent suspension uses MacPherson struts and coil springs in front, and a multi-link arrangement with coil springs in the rear. Disc brakes overseen by an antilock system reel in Optima's forward motion. Traction control, stability control, hill assist control and electronic brakeforce distribution are all standard, as are six airbags.
Telling the 2011 Optima from last year's edition is not difficult. The new styling is simply sportier and more memorable. Generally the latest Optima is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor. The wheelbase is stretched by 3 inches and the overall length by nearly 2 inches.

The longer wheel base and length should translate into a roomier passenger compartment, but they don't. A 2-inch gain in front legroom is balanced by about a 3-inch loss in rear legroom. Trunk space is up marginally to 15.4 cubic feet from 15 cubic feet.
Focusing on the driver, all of the controls and gauges are arranged for his ease of use. Tilted toward the driver at a 10-degree angle, the center stack houses controls for the audio and climate systems A chilled glove box keeps beverages cool, while the available panoramic sunroof allows lots of light into the cabin.

Capable of seating five in a pinch, the cabin is better suited for four. Sculpted front seats with generous side bolsters are designed to keep occupants firmly in place when putting Optima through its paces in the twisties. Better than average, the 60/40 split-folding rear seat also provides decent support for the two outboard passengers. A center pass through is ideal for toting longer items like skis. Leather seating is standard in EX and SX models, as are heated and cooled front seats.

Every Optima comes with full power accessories, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, and an audio system with CD player, USB audio input jacks and Bluetooth connectivity. Stepping up to the EX adds other standard features that include push-button-start ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rear view mirror, and UVO, a hands-free entertainment and communications system powered by Microsoft. As with other Kia models, Optima can be upgraded with an Infinity premium audio system, navigation system and backup camera.

Even without knowing the actual suggested retail price, Optima is guaranteed to be an epic value. Stuffed with standard features and covered by one of the best warranties in the industry, Optima is a smart buy any way you look at it.

by Russ Heaps - MyCarData