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2011 Kia Optima
Prepare to be surprised

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Kia OptimaPrepare to be startled. And prepare to forget about the previous-generation Kia Magentis that was about as anonymous as a sedan could be, especially when compared to the new model.


As with the recently released Sorento and Sportage wagons, plus 2010's Forte Koup coupe and boxy Soul, the new Optima (the Magentis adopts the U.S. name) is a visual shot to the solar plexus, but not in any outrageous way. Kia has simply elevated the styling to a new artistic high from which the competition could learn a thing or three.

Kia uses the latest Hyundai Sonata platform (Kia is part of the Hyundai family) as its starting point and then adds its own special sheetmetal to make the Optima just about the sleekest sedan on the road.

The spit and polish extends to the passenger compartment with an attractive display panel that's angled toward the driver, but not so much as to deprive anyone seated in the shotgun position from access to the communications and audio controls.

2011 Kia OptimaThe Optima's larger interior - in part created by a 7.5-centimetre gain in distance between the front and rear wheels - helps provide greater rear-seat space. Wider doors also make for easier back-seat entry and exit.

Also increased are the outputs of the base and optional powerplants, which mirror those of the Sonata. The starting point is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. That's a gain of 25 horsepower and 17 pound-feet over the outgoing engine of equal displacement.

Instead of relying on a traditional V6 as its optional power source, the new Optima is fitted with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that spools out an impressive 274 peak horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. That makes the previous 2.7-litre V6 option that produced 194-horsepower and 184 pound-feet appear anemic.

Later in the model year, you'll be able to order your Optima with a fuel-saving gasoline-electric hybrid system that matches a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with a 30-kilowatt electric motor to make 209 net horsepower. The system enables the car to reach 100 km-h before the gas engine fires up to help out with propulsion duties.

A six-speed manual transmission is available only in the base 2.4-litre LX model, while a six-speed automatic is optional in the LX, but standard in the up-level models.

2011 Kia OptimaAs the Optima's powerplants are identical to those in the Sonata, base fuel economy should match that model's ratings of 9.4 l/100 km, city and 5.7 l/100 km, highway. That's a bit better than the previous Magentis on the highway and compares  to the Toyota Camry's four-cylinder 9.0/6.1 rating.

The base model comes with standard air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, glove-box cooler and various power-operated amenities. At the far end of the scale, full-load sedans come with dual-zone climate control, eight-way power driver's seat and a sport-tuned suspension.

The options include a panoramic sunroof, navigation system with backup camera plus heated and cooled front seats.

The Optima arrives later this year with an estimated $22,000 base price, although a low price point is no longer the predominant reason to look at this Korean brand. Quite the opposite. Love the style and be surprised at how little it will cost you to get behind the wheel.

What you should know: 2011 Kia Optima

Type: Four-door, mid-size, front-wheel-drive sedan
Engines (hp): 2.4-litre DOHC I4 (200); 2.0-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (274)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic
Market position: Kia, along with parent Hyundai, is shaking up the mid-size sedan market with styling that is both daring and dashing. Older buyers might not warm to the look, but younger family types are going to love it.
Points: Styling from any angle earns a resounding "wow!"; Spacious interior is equally stylish; Both base and optional four-cylinder engines boast impressive power numbers; An all-wheel-drive option would really suit the Optima, but it's front drive only; More than fair base price, and don't forget the extra-lengthy warranty coverage.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 9.4/5.7 (2.4, AT, est.)
Base price (incl. destination): $22,000 (est.)

By comparison:    

Ford Fusion
Base price: $21,350
Gas- or hybrid-powered, this mid-size Ford has caught on in a big way.

Honda Accord
Base price: $26,350
Popular and roomy sedan comes in I4, V6 strengths.
Excellent resale.

Toyota Camry
Base price: $26,800
For Kia, this top-dog sedan is the one to beat. Available as a hybrid, too.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted February 2, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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