First Look: 2011 Kia Optima

Kia's Optima has never exactly stood apart from the crowds of midsize sedans sold here in North America -- but all of that changes with the new 2011 Kia Optima, which makes its big debut at the 2010 New York auto show.

How do we justify that bold pronouncement? Simple. Not only will Kia now offer the Optima with a legitimate hybrid, but a legitimate sport model is in the works as well. If one look at the 2011 Optima doesn't tell you that Kia's been doing its homework, a quick peek under the hood will.

Optima LX base models come equipped with Kia's impressive new 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine, equipped with a six-speed automatic or optional six-speed manual. Coming in early 2011, this engine will shack up with an electric motor and form Kia's first hybrid for the U.S. market.

The enthusiasts, of course, want to know about that sport model we mentioned earlier. Called the SX, it bursts on to the scene with the hot new Theta II, 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder that bangs out a muscular 274 horsepower. Unfortunately, it only comes with the six-speed auto, but you at least get a set of paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Look past the engines and you'll see an all-new platform underneath equipped with a MacPherson strut front suspension and a new multi-link rear setup. Kia promises its engineers have been working very hard on the NVH, so the new Optima is expected to simultaneously be a sportier and more comfortable ride than the car it replaces. You can expect more room inside as well, thanks to a 2.9-inch longer wheelbase, which in turn leads to a 1.7-inch increase in overall length. The new Optima is also wider and lower than the outgoing model.

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Looks a bit strange. I wonder how it looks in person. Maybe it wont be too funky.

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