2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo new car reviews

Yes, it's a Kia. Kias have grown up.
The Optima SX Turbo's 2.0 turbo makes 274 horsepower.
Nice interior.
And the 18-inch wheels are standard on the SX Turbo.

Better than: All past Optimas
But not as good as: BMW M3
GRM Bang For The Buck Index: 94.47

Do you even know what a Kia Optima looks like? Honestly, we didn't either. No disrespect to anyone who owns one, but since its 2000 release the Optima has been one of those fairly nondescript, four-door sedans that dot the landscape.

Well, it's done grown up. The all-new Optima is a lean, mean, family-hauling machine, complete with new sheet metal that resembles the rest of the recently redone Kia lineup.

We tested the SX Turbo model. Power comes from a force-fed, 274-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine. While a six-speed manual is available on the base Optima, the SX Turbo only comes with a six-speed automatic. Other standard equipment includes 18x7.5-inch wheels and "sport-tuned" suspension. All Optimas feature a cooling glove box.

Our particular car also had the $2000 Technology Package (navigation, satellite radio and back-up camera) plus another $2150 for the SX Premium Package. That second one added the giant panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, and power passenger seat.

Other staff views

David S. Wallens David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

I'll start with the things I didn't like. Don't worry, it's a short list:

First, the sound of the turn signals reminded me of the cheapest car ever built. I know, a silly, niggling thing, but I'm guessing this could be upgraded for a few pennies per car. Hey, does anyone ever complain about how a BMW sounds?

Also, the steering was vague on-center. Not sure if this was an alignment issue for just our car or symptom of something more wide-spread. Either way, the Optima didn't feel like a Miata.

The really first-class interior was let down by a cheapie center console. I know, another silly complaint, but we're talking about a car that's so close to being a 10.

Other than that, I love it. I love the looks, love the engine, and love the interior. This is a Kia? Wow. How far you guys have come.

Scott Lear Scott Lear

Boy, Kia has come a long way from being the consolation prize at the rental car counter when the inventory was low. Fully loaded this Optima is not cheap at $30k, but it compares very favorably with some much more expensive automobiles, and if you take out the nav system, super stereo and various comfort goodies, you've got a very impressive, 274 horsepower $25K car. It looks downright sweet, has an interior that is more BMW than rent-a-car, goes down the road nicely, will burn first gear with any generous dip of the throttle, and can get 34 mpg if you set the cruise on the highway.

It's not 100 percent of the way there: You can see the line where the nice interior ends and the cheap plastic center console begins, for example. It's a shame they didn't just follow through with that last bit of interior. Also, the steering, while connected, gets heavy anytime it's past about 5 degrees from center. It also returns very sharply to that 5-degree point, but won't go the rest of the way on its own. Maybe too much caster? Still, this is a really, really nice car, and Kia is just some fine tuning away from shaming the competition at a much lower cost.

Tim Suddard Tim Suddard
Publisher

Frankly, I was blown away--not only by the Kia Optima SX, but by the whole Kia line. I recently drove the new Forte, Sportage and Optima SX, and Kia has come a long way. Five to 10 years ago, Kia was a car that you bought if you didn’t have the money or credit worthiness to buy a real car. Today, you'd be an idiot if you didn't give Kia (and their sister company, Hyundai) a real close look. This company has taken their vehicles from worst in class to best in class. They've still managed to keep their prices below those of Honda and Toyota. Their cars and SUVs offer topnotch quality and, with the new lineup, topnotch styling as well.

The Optima SX is one of the best sedans I have ever driven. The new styling, while not overwhelmingly impressive and still a bit “Banglesque,” is well proportioned and contemporary. The drivetrain--once a Kia weakness--is now world-class. The engine--turbocharged, 274 horsepower, 2.0 liters, four cylinders--has all the power you could use and gets great fuel mileage. Coupled to the six-speed automatic transmission, it's also smooth as silk.

The car offers a great ride quality, responsive handling, and enough room to seat four people in complete comfort. The controls fall readily to hand and are easy to understand. The seats even look cool thanks to their open-weave accents. This is a really pleasurable new car, and if you ticked every option box, you would still probably not be able to spend $30,000.

Our only nitpick: The road noise is a little louder than we prefer for a car like this. The OE tires probably deserve the blame. Oddly, Kia overlooked fellow Korean companies when shopping for rubber; they could have gone with Kumhos or a couple of other great Korean tires.

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Comments
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pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
3/25/11 8:31 a.m.

I love my Rondo, and that car truly was the rental car also-ran. Hope they make a new Rondo off of this Optima platform! GRM compared a Kia to an M3. Satan, do you need a coat yet?

tuna55
tuna55 UltimaDork
3/26/11 8:14 p.m.

You guys have the best car reviews ever. Really. Ever.

slefain
slefain UltraDork
3/28/11 4:36 p.m.

I drove the turbo model last week. Much peppier than the Hyundai Sonata turbo. Same engine, I know but for some reason it just felt "punchier" off the line. I thought it drove great, no complaints at all. If I had money this would be a top pick for a bargain family car.

amg_rx7
amg_rx7 Dork
3/29/11 8:19 p.m.

Too bad the turbo model doesn't have a nice 6 speed manual. I fall asleep driving automatics.

fastEddie
fastEddie SuperDork
3/31/11 11:30 a.m.

I still remember my first experience with a Kia, my mom's 1988 Ford Festiva was assembled in Korea by Kia and had a sticker stating so under the hood. I remember thinking, who the heck is Kia?! That was a great car though and lasted 190k miles despite being involved in 3 accidents. As I recall it had a whopping 64hp and a 4-speed manual but only weighed something crazy like 1850# (it was a base model and didn't even come with a radio let alone AC).

Oh, and the Optima looks nice too! lol Not sure about the wheels tho'.

4eyes
4eyes Dork
4/4/11 4:22 p.m.

I wish the turbo model had a manual transmission, I loath auto's. Other than that, nice car.

Sounbwoy
Sounbwoy
4/30/11 9:39 p.m.

The issue with the steering is that it is electric and not really calibrated well. We have a 2011 Kia Sportage with the same system. It's a well known complaint. Supposedly the Euro models have a software update to fix it, but no verification on that.

heyduard
heyduard Reader
6/3/11 10:00 p.m.

+1 on the manual tranny! I'd get it then! Looks sharp in real life.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/10/13 12:00 a.m.

Do you even know what a Kia Optima looks like? Honestly, we didn't either. No disrespect to anyone who owns one, but since its 2000 release the Optima has been one of those fairly nondescript, four-door sedans that dot the landscape.

Well, it's done grown up. The all-new Optima is a lean, mean, family-hauling machine, complete with new sheet metal that resembles the rest of the recently redone Kia lineup.

We tested the SX Turbo model. Power comes from a force-fed, 274-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine. While a six-speed manual is available on the base Optima, the SX Turbo only comes with a six-speed automatic. Other standard equipment includes 18x7.5-inch wheels and "sport-tuned" suspension. All Optimas feature a cooling glove box.

Our particular car also had the $2000 Technology Package (navigation, satellite radio and back-up camera) plus another $2150 for the SX Premium Package. That second one added the giant panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, and power passenger seat.

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