Just when I started telling people that the Hyundai Sonata was the mid-size car to buy, kid brother Kia comes out with something even more appealing. First off, it's unbelievably good looking. Even with white paint and a heavy coating of ice and snow, its sloping roofline and chiseled shoulders look just right. Why oh why would anyone buy a vanilla Toyota Camry when the same money buys all this sexiness?
It gets even better inside, where the stitched leather, nicely grained dash, thick-rimmed steering wheel, and attractive navigation screen honestly feel like they could belong in an Audi. Some will likely complain about the low, short seat squab, but I consider it short peoples' revenge for all those long cushions that cut into the back of my stubby legs.
The actual driving experience is no less shocking. The steering is precise and more nicely weighted than in the Sonata, although there is a dollop of torque steer during full-throttle acceleration.
To say the Optima is a huge advance over the last version is a massive understatement. It's not only better than its predecessor, it eclipses just about everything else in the segment as well.
- David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Unlike my colleagues, including Jason Cammisa, who wrote Automobile Magazine's first-drive story on the new 2011 Optima, I'm not in love with this car's styling. I'll admit that it's very refreshing to see such a distinctive-looking car in the midsize sedan category, but I'm having a hard time warming up to Kia's new inverted-bow-tie grille; it just isn't my thing. I do like the exterior styling of the Optima slightly better than that of the super swoopy Hyundai Sonata, whose grille reminds me a bit of melted candle wax. On the plus side, and unlike Eric Tingwall, I really like the dashboard's asymmetrical design.
I, too, thought that the Optima drove better than most mid-size cars, but it didn't seem like much of revelation during my snowy, icy commute. These Nexen all-season tires certainly did the Optima no favors, and left much to be desired in wintry conditions. The four-cylinder's power was plenty adequate, though, and the six-speed automatic shifted smoothly and quickly. To me, the steering felt good but somewhat heavy in normal, 50-mph sweeping curves.
I look forward to spending more time behind the wheel of a 2011 Optima to see if my opinions align with or further diverge from those of my colleagues. This mid-size Kia, after all, is a very nice place to spend time.
- Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor