Kia recently handed us the keys to its 2012 Kia Optima midsize sedan for the weekend. We decided a trip from Manhattan down to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., would be the perfect trip to see how well the sedan stacks up against competition like the Camry, Accord and Altima.
Kia recently handed us the keys to its 2012 Kia Optima midsize sedan for the weekend. We decided a trip from Manhattan down to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C,. would be the perfect trip to see how well the sedan stacks up against competition like the Camry, Accord and Altima. We were already impressed with the 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door that we drove last month, but the Optima definitely wowed more than just a few of us.
How Does it Look?
The current Kia Optima was all-new for the 2011 model year and represents the third generation of Kia’s midsize sedan. The Kia Optima was originally released in the early 2000’s, but for 10 years the sedan, which shares its platform with the Hyundai Sonata, was largely ignored due to its boring “budget-minded” styling. The third-generation Optima has adopted Kia’s latest design language, which has turned the Optima into a sleek, sporty midsize sedan that stands out from some of the other sedans in its segment. No one can say that the Optima’s styling is boring. Kia gave us the keys to the top of the line Optima SX Turbo, which looked even better with its 18-inch alloy wheels, slight body kit and rear-lip spoiler. Its aggressive styling also continues onto the inside with a stylish cockpit that and unlike previous Optima’s, the interior was not full of low grade plastic.
What’s it Got Under the Hood?
The third-generation Kia is offered in four trim levels (LX, EX, EX Turbo and SX) plus the Optima Hybrid. The base Optima is powered by a 200-hp 2.4L four-cylinder. The EX Turbo and SX models get a more potent 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft. of torque (Kia is following the latest trend of not offering a V6 engine in its midsize sedan). Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Optima Hybrid gets a 2.4L four-cylinder engine that is mated to an electric motor that has a combined output of 206 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque. The Optima Hybrid is rated at 35/40 mpg, while the 2.4L standard Optima is rated at 24/35 and the Optima Turbo gets 22/34 mpg. We averaged around 26 mpg on our trip in the Optima Turbo.
How Does it Drive?
Although Kia offers the Optima with three different powertrains we only got time behind the wheel of the most-powerful Optima SX Turbo, which was definitely not a bad thing. With its 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft. of torque on tap, the Optima Turbo definitely could hold its own. To compare the Toyota Camry’s top engine is a 3.5L V6 that puts out 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft. of torque. The Optima Turbo is also rated higher on the highway with 35 mpg vs the Camry’s 30 mpg rating.
Even though the Optima Turbo only had a 2.0L engine under the hood, it drove much more like a larger V6. From a stop you would get that fun feeling as your back was against the seats. There was a lack of torque steer and the sounds from the engine were pleasant. The SX Turbo model also gets a sport-tuned suspension, which includes a lower ride height. At times the ride was a bit firm, but we’d much rather take that than the floating feeling that some other sedans offer. The only negative we noticed was that when the road got a little twisty, the Optima would lose its composure a bit. The front seats also didn’t really hold us in our seats very well as the side bolsters were pretty much non-existent.
How’s the Interior?
We already mentioned that the third-generation Optima has a stylish-driver oriented interior with materials that are on par with the rest of its competition. Our SX Turbo also came packed with technology features like the UVO infotainment system, rear-camera display, an Infinity sound system with eight-speakers, navigation system with SiriusXM, Bluetooth and a smart key system. It also surprised us with its heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seat and steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. Our favorite feature was the panoramic sunroof, which prompted a friend who also owns a Lexus, to say, “I’m actually impressed!” The biggest gripe we had with the interior was that its front seats seemed a bit small and didn’t offer enough support. By the end of our trip down to D.C. our lower backs were not happy.
Would We Buy One?
The 2012 Optima starts at $21,750 and represents a strong alternative to other models like the Camry and Accord. But our top of the line Optima SX will set you back $31k, which may be a bit much for buyers to swallow with a “Kia” badge on the hood. But if you factor in all the features it packs, its sporty styling and the nice turbo engine the Optima can no longer be ignored.