2011 Kia Optima Quick Drive

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We just got back from driving the 2011 Kia Optima at Road Atlanta, and unfortunately, we don't have much to report. Why? Because we only got a handful of very reduced-pace laps around the track with the car. But we did spend enough time with Kia's latest sedan to give you the 10,000-foot overview. The executive summary: it looks darn good from this height.

Steering is better than the Sonata, without the floaty, divorced-from-the-road feeling or large on-center deadspot, though it's still a bit light and low on feedback, not that we really got to push the car hard. Braking is solid, what you'd expect from a midsize sedan, tracking straight even when hammering moderately hard on the slow pedal.

Step on the go pedal and things pick up quicker than you'd expect for a 2.4-liter four-cylinder in a large-ish four-door, but you're not going to be the Stoplight Commando. The six-speed automatic transmission features paddle shifters and a sport mode that acquits itself well when it wants to, but can be balky on upshifts and downshifts alike. These were pre-production vehicles not legal for the road yet, however, so fine-tuning may take place before they are sold en masse.

In the handling department, we had basically zero opportunity to push the limits, but body roll does seem to be more than you'd expect. In fact, riding at the same pace in the 2011 Sorento SX in the hands of Trevor Hopwood, one of the KONI Grand-Am Kia Forte Koup race drivers, the crossover seemed to take to the corners more ably than the Optima, with less lean.

Inside the cabin, the Optima is what you should expect (but may not know) of new Kias: it's really quite nice. Good but not great materials, very nice fit and finish, controls where they should be, and an intuitive layout and marking structure meet up with an attractive design that could teach the Japanese a lesson or two. Seats are comfortable for a 15-minute jaunt (which is about all we got), though they could use a bit more bolstering for sporty driving.

After our brief test, the Optima, with its (in my opinion) better looks, equal-or-better cabin, and better steering feel, is the smart choice between it and the Sonata, and the Sonata is a very good car, especially for the price. If the Optima offers similar pricing and features, it'll be a no-brainer--unless, of course, a longer test reveals things we didn't have time to notice on this brief initial drive.

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Comments (4)
  1. But the Sonata is supposed to be floaty. If you like a sportier feel then the KIA is for you.

  2. oooooooooouuu is so Beautiful

  3. I've been lusting after this car for a few weeks now. The numbers on the 2.0T engine are so attractive - 274hp, 269tq, 34mpg HWY. :)

  4. Well its a almost a year ago and since the article my wife decided to get the Optima SX Turbo fully optioned out. WOW.
    We took a 1000 mile to trip from West Pa to Chicago using cruise most of the trip. The computer avg was 65 mph and a amazing 33.3 mpg. Locally combined driving is 27.8 - The car is pure luxury and the only con are the tires. I will get a 3m invisible bra and tint. The car is snow white metallic and the looks and comments are comical at times. Thats a KIA wow....the turbo is very powerful with a boost of 17.5 psi and max hp and torque at a very low 1750 rpms. NO other car including those in the $40k bracket has so many exceptional options.

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