2011 Kia Optima Walk Around

Kia corporate officials refer to the 2011 Optima as a paradigm shift for the company, and truly it is. This is a bold, fresh prism through which to view the Kia image. As with the recently redesigned Kia Sorento and the quirky, good-natured Kia Soul, the new Optima's design focus is no longer Korean nor even Asian. It is a world car as surely as are the latest mid-sized sedans from Ford, Toyota or Honda. Sleek, aggressive and modern, the Optima requires no visual translation. It is immediately at ease.

In the longer/lower/wider department, the Optima is three inches longer, its length is two inches greater, and it is one inch lower and one inch wider than the previous model. Aimed directly at Generation X buyers between 35 and 49 years of age, it is a perfectly tailored fine Italian suit, from Korea.

The grille is elegantly simple, with a chrome bezel surrounding its black mesh screen. The mesh grille is a keynote taken directly from the more exotic models of Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley and others. A dramatic low front air dam gives the nose an aggressive look, while also contributing to better fuel mileage. The headlight complex is wraparound and racy, in contemporary practice, a major design element, and the broad wheelbase and low stance imply willing athleticism.

Big wheel flares give additional muscularity to the Optima's flanks, and its bright silver wheels, available in several patterns and sizes, are cutting edge. The sides of the car are exceptionally clean, with just three horizontal character lines giving them form and flow. At the rear, wraparound red taillights complete the dynamic, sporty look, with dual chrome exhausts, one at each side, fulfilling the sporty image. The latter duals, of course, are gilding the rose, dual exhausts on an inline four-cylinder are pure styling, snow shoes on a duck. Still, the imagery is enticing.


The interior of the new Optima has the look and feel of a finely appointed European sedan. The dashboard gleams with pebble-grain black leather, each element and contour handsomely stitched with French seams. The instruments are completely free of look-at-me gimmickry. They use a clean, crisp adults-only font. The controls on the center console are angled ten degrees towards the driver, facilitating operating them with a minimum of distraction. A digital dashboard computer delivers information like instant fuel mileage, fuel range and outside temperature.

The Optima steering wheel tilts and telescopes and is jam-packed with controls for audio, cruise control, phone and Eco setting. (The latter optimizes fuel mileage by adjusting the transmission's shift schedule.) The gearshift lever has black wood trim with silver flakes dusted into the surface, a luxury touch that we found only mildly winsome. The PRND gearshift positions are on the far side of the transmission tunnel, with the manual shifter located closest to the driver.

Five-passenger seating is excellent, with a full range of adjustability available in the driver's seat. However, the center-rear passenger must ride the camel's hump until reaching your destination. The seats are firm, well-bolstered, and deliver snug lateral support for more vigorous driving. Heated front and rear seating is available, as is front-seat cooling. A heated steering wheel warms your hands in winter, and a moderately successful cooled glovebox keeps your refreshments chilled year-round.

Pleasingly, both front windows feature fully automatic one-touch up/down operation, a provision found in pricier European sedans The panoramic sunroof is huge, airy and truly bright. When closing it, the sunscreen panel closes automatically as well, no more reaching up to manually shut the screen. A separate function opens only the screen and tilt roof. Nicely done.

The navigation system is straightforward and easily used, and the HVAC climate-control system left no room for complaint. Infinity's deluxe 12-speaker audio system was handsomely mounted around the doors and dash and delivered superb sound.

Perhaps the highest praise we can give the Kia interior is that nearly all the controls were self-explanatory and easy to use. Only the heated steering-wheel control, located low on the steering column, temporarily eluded us.

Cargo space is cavernous. The trunk lid is opened by a remote. Gaping into this voluminous trunk, it's clear that the family summer vacation will be a fully equipped event.

The 2011 Optima's interior appointments concede nothing to its European or American competitors. With cars like this, the time may have come to dream of driving a mid-size sedan.

* MSRP is the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the vehicle. Unless specifically indicated in the advertisement, MSRP does not include taxes, fees or other charges. Actual dealer pricing may vary. Consult your dealer for more information and complete details.

* The dealer advertised price may not reflect specific dealer offers, and may be subject to certain terms and conditions as indicated in the advertisement. Consult your dealer for more information and complete details.

* Images and options shown are examples, only, and may not reflect exact vehicle color, trim, options, pricing or other specifications.

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