2011 Kia Optima EX

The new Kia Optima is remarkably good looking. I saw a design study for it at Kia headquarters in Korea in July 2009, and we've since seen it at auto shows and in endless photos, but then when you actually encounter one on the street, you're still a little shocked: THIS is a Kia?!? Wow. So sleek and upscale looking. One minor exterior fillip that I could do without is the GDI (gasoline direct-injection) badge on the trunk lid next to the EX badge. It reminds me of when GM would put badges like "ABS" and "Port Fuel Injection" on its cars.

While scraping the Optima's windows after our first snowstorm, I realized just how small the side windows are in this new Optima, a consequence of the shoulder line that swoops up dramatically toward the rear of the car. Some rear-seat passengers might find it a little claustrophobic to have the side door glass start at their shoulders, but in our particular test car, there's a rear panoramic sunroof that goes a long way toward alleviating that feeling, as it brings a lot of light into the rear part of the cabin. It's a twin panoramic sunroof, with two panels of glass, one above the front passengers and the other above the rear passengers. Sitting behind myself in the rear seat, I found plenty of legroom, and I appreciated the pull-down center armrest. The outboard rear seats also are nicely sculpted.

If anything, the Optima is an even nicer, more refined version of the Hyundai Sonata with which it shares its platform and powertrains. Among those powertrains is the optional turbocharged engine, which handily outperforms, for example, the 220-hp 2.0-liter turbo four available in the new Buick Regal. Ride, handling, steering: all these dynamic qualities are among the best in class and will, I'm quite sure, shock the daylights out of anyone who drives the previous Optima. Excellent high-beam headlamps, I might add.

The streaming audio in the Infinity stereo worked beautifully, and the phone interface is great. The center-stack buttons are all very clearly labeled and quite intuitive. The whole instrument panel is attractive. I also liked the tan leather seats with white stitching in our test car.
- Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

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