Review and photos by
Grant Yoxon, Autos.ca
Miami, Florida – At a time when some other vehicle manufacturers are struggling, Kia is getting it right.
Under the design guidance of Peter Schreyer (formally of Audi), Kia has revised nearly every model in its line-up. The oldest model is now the Rondo, introduced just four years ago. All are attractive vehicles and consumers have taken notice, driving Kia sales in Canada upward.
The most recent revision is the Kia Optima (formerly the Magentis, but known in nearly every other market as the Optima) and the timing for its introduction to the Canadian media couldn’t have been better – the last day of the month, the day that monthly sales figures are released.
Sales for Kia in March topped 5,000 vehicles – 5,394 to be exact – up 21.6 per cent over 2010. Year to date sales are 25 per cent better than last year at this time. Among all manufacturers, only Porsche has seen a higher percentage increase in the first three months of the year compared to last year.
Without a doubt, the new Optima will steal sales from both Japanese and North American rivals – and sister Hyundai as well – and help keep Kia sales pointing upward.
Although it shares many components with its Hyundai sibling, the Sonata, the Kia Optima is definitely different. Whereas the Hyundai is stylishly distinctive and elegantly swoopy, the Kia has the solid presence and understated strength of a European sports sedan. Look around and you will notice borrowed bits from a variety of European imports. Those fender gills could have been lifted from the BMW M3, for example. But the overall package is distinctly Kia’s own.
And it is a winner. The Kia Optima won a coveted red dot award for 2011 in the annual design competition held in Germany (the Kia Sportage was also awarded a 2011 red dot award, while the Kia Soul was honoured with a red dot award in 2009). The Optima also claimed the 2011 red dot ‘best of the best’ title, the competition’s highest distinction, for which only the best products in each category are eligible.
Inside is equally impressive. Starting at just $21,995 with a 200-hp 2.4-litre gasoline direct injected (GDI) engine and standard transmission, the Optima LX includes features normally found on much higher trim levels – voice activated Bluetooth, six speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/Satellite audio with AUX and USB inputs, steering wheel audio controls and cruise control, keyless entry, windshield wiper de-icer, alloy wheels, heated front seats, driver power lumbar support, front fog lights, LED outside mirror repeaters, front and rear mud guards, dual exhaust with chrome tips, automatic headlights and trip computer. A six speed automatic transmission is an additional $2,200, but also comes with power driver’s seat and rear ventilation. A full-length panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass and Homelink can be added for an additional $1,400.
The Optima EX starts as $26,695 and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, UVO multimedia, leather seating, steering wheel and shifter, smart key with push button ignition, rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear-view camera, automatic defog system, dual-zone automatic climate control and solar glass. With full-length panoramic roof, the price rises to $28,095, while the full-on EX luxury adds 18-inch alloy wheels, larger brakes, heated steering wheel, ventilated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats, power passenger seat, Xenon HID headlights, Infinity 530-watt premium audio system, memory driver’s seat and enhanced instrument cluster with 3.5-inch LCD display for $30,595. A navigation system can be added for an additional $1,500
One has to wonder why any one would buy a luxury sedan when you can have all the bells and whistles for a tad over $32K.
Power might be a reason. A six-cylinder engine is not available, but we found that the 2.4-litre engine with 200 hp and 186 lb.-ft. of torque produces more than enough power for most people, while achieving notable fuel economy of 8.7 L/100 km city and 5.7 L/100 km on the highway. That is hard to beat with pump prices moving up.
If that isn’t enough power, the Kia Optima SX would be the answer with its turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder GDI engine. A twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler puts some muscle into the Optima with 274 hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque starting at just 1,750 rpm and continuously available through 4,500 rpm. This engine, which uses regular fuel, will accelerate to 100 km/h in just over eight seconds. More impressive though is its passing power, accelerating from 80 to 120 km/h in just 5.2 seconds. Fuel consumption is 9.2 and 5.8 L/100 km city/highway.
With this kind of power from a four, who needs a V6?
Naturally this sporty Optima gets some sporty features including bigger brakes – 12.6-inch front and 11.2-inch rear – 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear sport bumpers, alloy pedals, paddle shifters, distinctive SX grille, rear lip spoiler and two-tone leather and cloth sport seats as well as all the other luxury features included in the EX Luxury for $33,695. Navigation is an optional extra.
Even in base trim, the Optima includes the full complement of active and passive safety features – six airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, vehicle stability management system, brake assist and hill assist control.
The new Optima is a completely new vehicle – wider, lower and longer than the outgoing Magentis – with a completely new platform, albeit one shared with the Sonata. To describe it sounds no different than many other four-door sedans – unibody, front-wheel drive, independent front and rear suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link layout in the rear, coil springs, anti-roll bar in front. But to drive it is to find that all these standard components work really well together.
On the highways of south Florida, the Optima EX models that we drove impressed us not only with their high level of luxury content, but with their smooth and comfortable ride, quiet interior and comfortable leather seats.
Rear seat leg room is more than adequate while the trunk is enormous. Even more cargo space is available thanks to 60/40 split folding rear seats.
We were introduced to the Optima SX at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine displayed as much power as an entry-level BMW 3-series and handling to rival. The SX suspension is tuned for more aggressive driving, delivering a firmer ride, but better handling than its EX or LX counterparts. Understeer, the curse of a front-wheel driver, was minimal. And braking was excellent. Even under repeated hard braking, the larger SX brakes did not fade.
Kia is on a roll. Its new vehicles are winners in design competitions and winners with consumers. Its sales have spiked upward as a result. With the 2011 Optima now available it is likely Kia’s winning ways will continue.