2011 Kia Optima SX Review | National Post Toronto

2011 Kia Optima SX Review


2011 Kia Optima SX Review
Graeme Fletcher, National Post – April 2011


In a dozen years or so, Kia has transformed itself from a purveyor of truly horrible cars – the Sephia and original Sportage – to a company that’s on a real tear. While it was product that initially drove the transformation, the company has transitioned into a design pleaser, with a spate of cars and SUVs that now have a family resemblance and are as eye-catching as anything offered. However, good looks count for little if the vehicle in question lacks substance. The Optima SX has substance in spades.


Here’s a mid-sized sedan that can be whatever the potential owner wants. In base form, it is a competent family hauler that’s comfortable, well equipped and fuel-efficient. Move up to the SX and it not only fulfills the family sedan obligation, it delivers a true driver’s car. Part of the reason is its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which blows 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm. The use of direct injection and the fact the turbo blows air into the engine at 17.4 psi puts 150 pound-feet of torque at the driver’s disposal at 1,000 rpm. This banishes turbo lag and gives the Optima an eight-second run to 100 kilometres an hour and a very quick 80-to-120-km/h passing time of 5.2 seconds.


Power is relayed through the front wheels, P225/45R18 tires and six-speed manumatic transmission. This last bit is notable for two reasons. First, the SX’s paddle shifters work regardless of whether the shifter is in drive or manual. Second, it is the first Kia that does not automatically downshift into a lower gear whenever the driver selects manual mode. This is a small item in the scheme of things, but it speaks to the new-found attention to detail the company applies to its offerings.


All of that, however, is not what is truly impressive about this powertrain. At a time where premium gas commands around $1.50 a litre, the ability to use regular fuel has a big impact on the cost of operation – the Optima SX consumes regular gasoline. Likewise, the addition of an active Eco mode improves overall efficiency. Unlike so many economy functions, this one is more than a pretty light – it remaps the throttle and forces the transmission to upshift earlier.


To test its effectiveness, I drove the Optima around a 100-kilometre loop that was comprised of city, urban and highway segments. With the Eco mode off, the Optima returned an average of 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres. The consumption rate dropped to 7.3 L/100 km with the Eco mode engaged. Better news is that the Optima’s official fuel consumption numbers were generated while it was in the normal mode, so, for the driver who opts to use the Eco mode, there is a potential fuel savings of around 10%. Surprisingly, the Eco mode does not blunt the car’s driving edge to any great extent.


The second place the Optima SX delivers is the manner in which it handles. While the suspension is fairly basic, the use of two-stage shocks adds to the SX’s poise enormously. Rather than using electronics or magnetism, these shocks are purely mechanical. When the body’s movement is slow, the damping is soft. The instant the body moves quickly the shocks automatically adopt a firmer damping mode, which dramatically reduces unwanted body roll. Under hard braking, for example, there is minimal weight transfer, so handling remains as predictable as the car does flat. Throw in communicative steering and the front-drive Optima has a remarkably neutral feel.


The sedan’s interior style and content also deliver. The SX comes one way ? fully loaded. The list of standard stuff starts with heated and cooled leather-faced sport bucket seats and runs to a soulful Infinity sound system, the usual power toys, a full panoramic sunroof and a navigation system. It is also a step beyond anything Kia has turned out in terms of quality and the sense of richness that invites those into the cabin. The materials are very good (the important stuff being soft to the touch), the layout is excellent and the attention to detail is obvious ? the French stitching found in key areas caps things off.


It all comes together such that there are really only a few niggles. First, the look of the SX’s aluminum pedals may work for some – I found them gauche. Second, form has taken precedence over function, notably the fastback rear section of the roofline. Also, rather than adopting cantilever-style hinges for the trunk lid, Kia opted for the hockey stick-style. True, there is plenty of cargo volume (15.4 cubic feet), just don’t use the area directly beneath the hinges. Finally, the Optima’s tires are noisy, which runs contrary to the refinement that’s so evident throughout rest of the car.


The reaction to the Optima from my Australian buddy, who’s been helping me ferry test cars around for the better part of 25 years, says more about it than words ever will. His dream car has always been a black Dodge Charger SRT8. It is now the Optima – a grey SX with all the “bells and whistles.” Beyond its looks, fuel-efficient performance, poised handling and swanky interior, it was the Optima’s pricing that left the biggest impression.


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