2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: When Koreans Make German Porn [Review]

2.0T

That’ll be an Audi with the ubiquitous two-litre TFSI engine, then. “Not so fast”, says Kia, a subsidiary of South Korean monolith Hyundai. “It’s a Kia”, they continue, in much the same way that every Optima owner will, on a daily basis, no less. Had Kia actually slapped a “2.0T” badge on the back, instead of the GDI-T (denoting Gas Direct Injection – Turbocharged), Audi would, believe it or not, blush at the comparison.

Even though Audi’s new EA888 has upped its game to 211hp and 258lb-ft, the GDI-T utterly trumps that with 274hp and 269lb-ft thanks to direct injection, a sizeable intercooler, and a twin-scroll turbocharger. That Kia badge is suddenly less funny. But where the Audi is all-wheel drive, the Optima is resolutely a front driver. This important difference ensures that the Optima will be rightly compared to the likes of Honda’s Accord and Ford’s Fusion, rather than the more premium nameplates its sultry lines suggest.

Power is routed to those character-defining front wheels through the standard 6-speed automatic, developed in-house, which handles the boosty power delivery assuredly. Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel casually target ratios with all the self-important indifference of snooty British Royalty, which is to say that they can’t be bothered to work. This is probably for the best, because the Optima doesn’t ask its driver to grab it by the scruff of its neck and give it a good shagging, it asks the driver to feel good because he looks good, but more on the looks in a minute. The steering is partly to blame for the lack of enthusiasm; it has some heft to it, but its inaccuracy means that it doesn’t mask the size of the vehicle as well as the small-diameter rim might suggest.

The ride is evenly measured, but rebound is a bit sharp around town, giving the car a sporting pretension it would be better served to ignore. The ride paces itself better on the highway, where the on-boost turbo dismisses lesser Korean fare with a flick of the toe. The engine and exhaust notes are also appropriately relaxed at highway speeds, which means no energy-sapping droning and a fresh-feeling driver at the other end. More demure, but suitably rapid, progress is the modus operandi. The Optima Turbo would be perfect on a road trip, like the one we did to Winnipeg in March.

Sized comparably with the kingly BMW 5-series, and actually slightly lower in height, the Optima eschews its mundane mainstream competitors and lunges straight for the jugular of German Royalty, at least on the surface. Based on the KND-5 Concept, the design of the suave sheetmetal, respectable rubber, and leathery leathers owes much to its German designer, a man evidently fond of German (car) porn and hellbent on bringing it East. The Optima is just plain handsome, and were it to wear a less stigmatized logo, it would be stacking sales titles left, right, and centre. It’s no easy task to sketch a unique design when safety regulations are so imposing and the platform is being donated by the Hyundai Sonata, but the stretched headlights, clean side profile, and bejeweled taillights conspire to bring a newfound sense of elegance to the brand.

The interior is similarly accomplished. In the tested top-spec SX, the capacitive touchscreen zipped from menu to menu so little commotion that it made MyFordTouch seem like an anachronism. The Optima might as well be an iPad to the MFT’s Windows 97. The favourably sized, easily legible navigation buttons nestled beneath the touchscreen made operation of the myriad functions all the more intuitive. The twin glass roofs made for an airy and light-filled commode – a pleasant place to spend time whether in front or in back.

The front heated and cooled seats are cosseting but low on side support, with fine mesh detailing that looks at once sporting and upscale. The rear heated seats are only 1-stage, but that they’re standard equipment on a $35,000 vehicle is democratization of luxury at its best. Truly, the Optima’s meteorological mastery of seating is a shot clear across the bow of the Kriegsmarine ship German Royalty.

Despite the technology, Kia claims a weight of only 3,385lbs, or about as much as a NASCAR race car. Perhaps that’s a useless comparison, or perhaps not. Because race car. Kidding! One has a nav screen, leather, and electric everything, while the other has a tin body, safety equipment, and a V8. The trade-offs apparently balance each other out.

Fuel economy leaves something to be desired, but driving turbo cars aggressively will do that. Just ask an Evo X owner. We saw 14L/100km with 80% city driving and 20% highway.

Based on the above, “2.0T” obviously doesn’t mean what it used to, and Kia is certainly on the right track as it explores new arenas of performance, but the shrewdest choice in the line-up isn’t the most expensive.

The linearity of the naturally aspirated two-litre engine in the lesser Optima is more than sufficient and is the midsize sedan buyer’s best bet. It produces as much horsepower as the MkV GTI and does so without the German’s turbo. Amazing, when you put it in perspective. The fuel economy of the NA Optima also has a slightly better mileage rating, but would likely distance itself even further in the real world since there’s no turbo to indulge in.

So here’s your CarEnvy Top Tip: Skip the SX Turbo. Buy the EX Luxury with Navigation and you’ll save yourself $1600, get the standard suspension instead of the too-jumpy sport suspension, better fuel economy, and best of all, no paddle shifters.

Envy Factor: 8/10

9 thoughts on “2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: When Koreans Make German Porn [Review]

  1. eric neville says:

    Saw a beautiful sparkly white one with beige interior in the U.S. last trip. Talked to the owner for a couple of very informative minutes. He still had a grin on his face after owning his new Optima for about a month.
    He is geting about 38 mpg (U.S.) highway, that’s about 45 mpgs to us Frosty Backs.

    You are right about the looks, it’s simply stunning from any angle, without the melting-mess design on the front end of the new Sonata. And did you mention it’s a less money than a comparable Sonata?
    Now if only we could buy one in Canada at the same MSRP on the U.S. window sticker!

    And why is that again?

    • Peter says:

      Eric, it’s mostly because the Americans are fiscally f*cked and can’t afford to pay what we do. As a result, auto manufacturers subsidize their US prices out of the goodness of their hearts. Bless their souls.

    • eric neville says:

      Peter, From local delerships trying to spin the answer to my question about the higher CDN sticker prices on the same car, ranging from,
      “it’s the CDN dollar”, it’s a small market here”, It’s the import duties”, “it’s the high Japanese Yen”, it’s the price of rice in China,”
      I will now add “fiscally f*cked” to the list of excuses for the CDN-U.S. price difference.
      Thank you, I can sleep better now.

    • Peter says:

      Eric, you’re welcome. Melatonin also works if you’re having trouble sleeping. So does reading car reviews in your local newspaper.

    • eric neville says:

      Good advice David, but where I live we have no ‘local newspaper’ and the rush hour traffic jam is 2 cars following a tractor, down main street.

      So I am stuck reading car reviews at the dentist office…. (he drives a new BMW) his parting words..”only floss the ones you want to keep”

  2. Mark Zimmer says:

    I bought the SX model a couple weeks ago (US Spec) and still like standing in my driveway and staring at it.
    Is it a perfect car, no, far from it. The front end looks a little long from the side, the steering isnt in the same class as the germans, the paddle shifters do not let you downshift at times, (not that I will really ever use them anyway).

    However, it does look GREAT overall, is loaded with options, too many to list on here, it is quick, it is comfortable and did I already mention it looks GREAT!

    The ride id firm but not harsh, it handles well but not great, it feels like a much more expensive car.

    I looked at a US Spec EX with the 2.0 turbo and both the tech package (nav, upgraded stereo, backup camera, heated steering wheel) and the premiuim package ( dual front power seats, heated rear seats, dual sunroof). It stickered within a couple hundred US dollars of the SX with the premium package and minus the tech package.

    I listen to AM radio, have a Tom Tom GPS unit and the car came with rear view mirrors, therefore I didnt really need the backup camera.

    Had a hard time locating a SX without the Nav package but finally found one at the 5th and final dealer I visited. I opted for the SX as it had 18 inch wheels, stiffer suspension, HID headlights, LED taillights, a more agressive yet refined front end and side cladding, the leather interior with the fabric, lighted door sills, etc.
    I just thought it was money better spent than getting the EX for the same price with the Nav package.
    I drove 250 miles last week and got 32.9 per gallon highway in economy mode with a little spirited driving from time to time just to kick the turbo in.

    Its only been a couple weeks but I love the car…you owe it to yourselves if you are in the market to go out and drive one.

    • Peter says:

      Mark, it sounds to us like you wanted the Optima the way no man has ever wanted a Korean car before. For that, and for choosing such a sexy car, we applaud your perseverance.

  3. SolydTruth says:

    I own a spicy red 2012 Optima SX-TGDI with every available option…..I traded in my 2007 Audi A4. Simply put, this car cannot be beat in the segment……if you think it is, I’d say you’re either lying to yourself or you are partial to whatever brand you feel is “so” much better…..I have never been particularly attached to KIA but now, after driving and owning this vehicle for a month…..I am truly impressed with the build quality, fit, finish, options and world class craftmanship……..performance, economy, quality, technology, aesthetics, warranty……….no compromise…..unless you are a “brand maven” that identifies only with the up market eurocars or premium Japanese fair……the Koreans have made a !00% made in the USA European competitor with Korean blood……now that is AN ACCOMPLISHMENT!

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