Another Kia Optima, another car crippled by wretched tires. As with the less powerful Kia Optima EX that we tested in late 2010, this Optima Turbo was shod with Nexen Class Premiere tires. Just as you'd expect, delivering an extra 74 hp to the front wheels does little good when the tires have all the grip of a greased pan. It's a shame that Kia pinched pennies when choosing the tires, because they take away so much from an otherwise excellent car.
The Kia Optima improves on the highly regarded Hyundai Sonata with sportier styling and a significant improvement in the steering effort. The price of the sleek, chopped roofline is slightly cramped headroom, though. It seems that Kia could have addressed this simply by allowing the power-adjustable driver's seat to drop lower. The passenger's seat, which is at a fixed height, is substantially lower. The interior is otherwise comfortable and tasteful, and the Optima rides nicely. It's all gravy until you enter a slow corner with a touch of aggression.
You can blame a lot of the furious spinning on the tires, but Kia also needs to work on its traction-control software. A car this powerful needs a more active, predictive intervention like that in the Volkswagen GTI. In its current form, the Kia's traction control cuts in too late and too hard, and so power suddenly disappears. The Optima Turbo would also benefit from programming that brakes the inside front wheel in corners.
Buyers should budget some money for a new set of tires -- or two. The Optima is a car worthy of performance-oriented rubber, so a pair of quality summer tires (along with winter tires, if necessary) is a smart investment.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor