Five Fun Fuel Efficient Cars - 2011 Kia Optima SX

Relax: just because experts predict the price of gasoline to eclipse $5 a gallon in the next few years doesn't mean you can't have some enjoyment behind the wheel. In fact, there are a number of vehicles already on the market that offer some fuel-efficient fun. We've selected a few of our favorites for your consideration.

2011 Kia Optima SX

Hyundai shocked the world -- or, rather, the North American midsize sedan segment -- with its 2011 Sonata. For the first time, the company was able to blend attractive styling, a well-crafted interior, superb fuel economy, and affordable styling into a world-class package.

Leave it to corporate cousin Kia, then, to improve on what seemed to be perfection.

Although it bears little visual resemblance to the Sonata, Kia?s latest Optima does utilize the same platform (and many of the same mechanical bits) as the Hyundai offering. We, however, think the company managed to wrap it up in an even more attractive package. The Optima is (thus far) the pinnacle of the company?s design renaissance, spearheaded in no small part by design director (and Audi ex-patriot) Peter Schreyer.

Any argument that the Optima has an almost European feel is bolstered once you take a peek inside. The interior not only sports overtones of Audi(particularly the sweeping dashboard and center stack), it?s well-built, and relatively devoid of the hard, cheap plastics that riddled previous Kia vehicles.

The 200-horsepower, direct-injection 2.4-liter I-4 fitted as standard equipment in LX and EX models provides adequate acceleration, but those looking for a little more pep should jump for the turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4, which is optional on EX models and standard on the Optima SX. Kia rates the engine at 274 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 269 pound-feet of torque from 1750 through 4500 rpm. That's plenty of grunt, but with a 22/34 mpg EPA rating (city/highway), it won?t break the bank when it comes time to fill up the tank.

Speaking of affordable, the only Kia stereotype carried into the new Optima lies with pricing. Base cars start at $19,690 (including destination), but SX cars -- which also receive sportier suspension tuning and a host of additional content -- start at a reasonable $26,690.

More of our five fun fuel-efficient picks:

-2011 Nissan Juke

-2011 Mazda MX-5

-2011 Mini Cooper

-2011 Kia Optima SX

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