Nearly a full year has passed since I first saw the 2011 Kia Optima at the 2010 New York auto show and I am still pleasantly surprised by how good it looks inside and out. Perhaps there wasn't more praise piled onto the Optima when it debuted because everyone had already seen the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata and realized the Korean automakers had finally hit their stride, but it's a shame so few people seemed to notice Kia's incredible new sedan.
Hyundai appears poised to move upmarket with the Genesis sub-brand, and the Equus hitting the streets (in limited numbers). It almost seems trite to recount Hyundai's success story now. But Kia's success story is just beginning. Yes, the funky Soul and quite good Forte set the tone for Kia's product portfolio, but neither has the level of polish the Optima does. It seems Kia will finally fulfill the sporty niche it was always supposed to play in, with products like the Optima Turbo.
My colleagues have mentioned the Optima's few flaws (poor tire choice and suspension that could use a touch more refinement) but nobody has pointed out the lack of torque steer. Kia has found a way to deliver 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels with very minimal torque steer, which is something that the engineers at Mazda couldn't figure out in the 263-hp Mazdaspeed3.
I find the value of the Optima Turbo to be pretty incredible given how good it looks and how well it drives for a starting price under $27,000. None of the options featured on our test car are really necessary to make the Optima a good car, so the base price is all buyers really need to shell out. Many other mid-size cars feel pretty stripped down without optional equipment but Kia is able to deliver good looks, great performance, and a pleasant interior without sacrificing the reasonable price we've come to expect from the brand.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor