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Kia See Sharp: The 2011 Kia Optima

2011 Kia Optima

Okay, I’m no musician, and I don’t know if that headline makes any sense musically. But I do know that the new Kia Optima does look sharp. If you liked its cousin the Hyundai Sonata, ladies (and gents) you’ll go ga ga over the new Optima. Past models were adequate-looking at best; the sort of car that you’d have trouble finding in the mall parking lot. Kia stylists started out with a fresh sheet of paper for 2011—okay, a fresh sheet of paper with the basic outline of the Sonata on it (Kia, if you don’t already know, is owned by Hyundai, and many of its models share the same architecture).

Starting up front, you’ll find Kia’s new signature grille shape. A pleasant surprise is the way stylists worked the top part of that grille shape into the top cut of the windshield. It’s difficult to see in the photo but it’s there. Very clever. Headlights emanate from the outer edges of the grille and flow smoothly into the fenders. The roof gives the car what Kia describes as a “coupe-like profile.” That’s the latest automotive styling trick: Make a four-door sedan look like a two-door coupe in profile. And it kind of works if you stand back far enough and squint. Nonetheless, it’s a very pleasing shape.

But that coupe-like profile doesn’t interfere at all with interior space. You’d think it might cut down on rear seat headroom at the least, but it doesn’t. When I approached my ride—a Spicy Red LX—at Northtown Kia a week or so ago, sales guy Kolton Moser held open the back door as I easily slid into the comfy seat. With the driver’s seat positioned for my six-foot frame, I still had all the room I’d ever need in the back, including knee and head room. A car, as I like to say, that I could take a long trip in, seated amidships with nary a complaint. Although, of course, I’d still rather drive.

And drive I did. Surprisingly, all Optimas are now powered by four-cylinder engines: either a 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder, a 2.0-liter GDI turbo, or a 2.4-liter hybrid engine (GDI standing for Gasoline Direct Injection). The test car had the standard 2.4, which is rated at 200 hp, and it moved the car along surprisingly well. This is no small car by any means, but acceleration is brisk. Hard to believe that back in 1974 I had a brand new Ford Pinto with a 2.3-liter engine, and the much-smaller car could barely get out of its own way. Standard transmission is a six-speed manual; my test car had the optional six-speed electronically-controlled Sportmatic—a fancy name for an automatic transmission which has a manual-shift mode off to the side. Leaving it in the automatic mode (which most people will) provides the car with smooth shift points and probably better gas mileage than shifting for yourself; the test car was rated at 24/34 city/highway miles per gallon. You can, if you like, force the car into its most economical mode by pressing the “eco” button on the steering wheel, which puts limits on just how fast you can pull away from that stoplight and also optimizes the transmission’s shift points for the best possible gas mileage. Other features include a cooling outlet in the glove box, an am/fm/mp3/cd audio system with usb and iPod ports, side-mirror turn signal indicators, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat

My car had a base price of $20,495 and had the optional LX convenience package which added an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink, bringing the price up to a respectable $21,885. It’s a lot of car for the money. Add to it Kia’s 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and you almost can’t go wrong.

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