With two mechanically similar cars, what is Kia's value proposition? A European air in terms of chassis tuning, appearance, and feel. In place of the Sonata's swoopy, highly-styled sheet metal, the Optima's exterior is slab-sided, smooth and sleek. It wears Kia's corporate grille nicely, and the SX trim throws in a lowered front fascia and side skirts. Nineteen-inch machined face aluminum wheels add an upscale look to the car without overwhelming its proportions. There are neat details sprinkled around -- note, for instance, the top of the windshield, which mirrors both the shape of the grille and the slick LED taillights. The result is an honestly handsome sedan some could easily mistake as the latest Saab or Audi offering from afar.
Fittingly, the interior is less flamboyant more strapped down than its platform-mate and presents a refined, European aesthetic. Exceptionally high-quality materials run throughout, with soft touch plastics fitted in all the right places. The interior forms are more geometric in comparison to the Sonata's organic lines, but French-stitched seams around the instrument cluster and center stack, well-designed switchgear, and nicely finished seating surfaces delight. A navigation screen placed at the top of an angled center stack controls multimedia and phone integration, while buttons sorted beneath are tied to audio and climate control systems.
Owners may enjoy having these widgets present in the car, but they'll likely be more surprised by how good the Optima SX is to drive. Power comes on strong with no hint of turbo lag, and the transmission quickly finds the proper gear for rapid acceleration when you goose the throttle. In comparison to some of its V-6-powered competitors, the Optima's turbo-four feels slightly harsh, but that's the price paid for less weight and better fuel economy. Still, it's able to keep pace with six-cylinder cars in terms of acceleration. The Optima SX is downright quick, and we were floated an unofficial 0-60 mph time of roughly 6.5 seconds.