Review – 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: What’s An Optima?



2011 Kia Optima SX TurboIf I asked you what the last generation Kia Optima looked like, you would probably have no idea. You would also probably not be able to tell me one thing about it. In fact, if you were looking at a group of de-badged cars, you probably couldn’t pick one out. That’s a problem. Though, once you see the new Kia Optima, you will have none of these issues.

Up front the new Kia Optima features the new corporate grille. Swept back headlights are actually much larger in person than one might think. In fact, the headlights are longer than my forearm.

2011 Kia Optima SX TurboLooking at the Optima from a side view, the front has a ridiculously long overhang. This is due to sharing its platform with the new Hyundai Sonata. Where the Sonata has swept back front end styling, the Optima has a more upright stance. This leads the front end to look rather large.

The rear doors feature an interesting king where the rear glass meets the C-pillar. This is unique, but does create a rather large blind spot. This can become an annoyance when backing up.

2011 Kia Optima SX TurboAround back the Optima SX Turbo feature LED taillights that wrap around the rear end and run into the rear fenders. They look terrific, especially when lit up at night.

There is a chrome strip that traces the greenhouse. It starts at the base of the A-pillars and actually runs all the way to the trunk lid. This is a very interesting design piece that looks great on dark colored cars. The fake fender vents don’t bother me, but some will find them ugly.

One last controversial styling element on the SX Turbo are the wheels. The 18-inch wheels feature black paint and are flangeless. It seems many people do not like their design. Personally I found them to be unique.

2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo2011 Kia Optima SX TurboThe interior of the Kia Optima SX Turbo may be the most impressive interior of any Kia to date. Most of the dashboard is soft touch, while part of the center stack is leather wrapped. Speaking of the center stack, it is actually canted towards the driver. The buttons are grouped logically and finding what you needed quickly was easy.

Two minor gripes have to do with the touchscreen navigation and the heated/cooled seat buttons. I found the navigation screen to operate great, but the screen itself was about an inch farther away from me than I would have liked. The heated/cooled seat buttons for the driver and passenger were both on the right of the gearshift. This looks fine design wise, but when the gearshift is in drive, the driver can’t see the buttons. You are left to feel for which button is which, otherwise you must peek your head around the side.

Small gripes aside, the interior is well designed and the materials are surprisingly nice. The fit and finish is terrific. The interior of this Optima SX Turbo literally puts the Camry to shame.

2011 Kia Optima SX TurboThe heart of the Optima SX Turbo is a 2.0-Liter turbo four-cylinder featuring direct injection. This set up is good for 274-horsepower and 269 lb-ft all sent to the front wheels through a one choice six-speed automatic transmission.

I had the opportunity to drive the Optima SX Turbo over 1,000 miles on my way to and from the Chicago Auto Show. On the highway I average 31.3 mpg cruising north of 70 MPH. While I was in the city I saw an average of 25.5 mpg. Seeing as the EPA rates the Optima SX Turbo at 22/34 I was pleased with the mileage. It’s worth noting it was below freezing with heavy winds during my time with the Optima.

I personally loved the programming in this transmission. It isn’t hesitant to downshift immediately when needed and always seems to be doing just what you want it to be doing. Sadly, that is a rare characteristic these days.

The power comes on strong and with barely any turbo lag. You are hit with the full brunt of that 269 lb-ft at a mere 1,750 rpms, and it is a flat torque curve all the way to 4,000 rpms.

You would expect quite a bit of torque steer with that amount of power all going to the front wheels. Surprisingly, there is really isn’t any.

While the power is linear, the steering is less than. At highway speeds the electric power steering is nicely weighted, but at parking lot speeds it is ridiculously over boosted. It feels artificial and gives no real feedback.

2011 Kia Optima SX TurboThe suspension is also quite harsh. The SX supposedly has a sport-tuned suspension and high performance dampers. Now I personally like a firm ride, and the Optima SX Turbo is quite controlled on the highway and through a clover leaf, but sometimes the suspension come crashing down when hitting a pot hole. I literally thought I might have ripped a wheel off more than once. Combined with the 18-inch alloy wheels and low profile tires, some consumers will not be able to tolerate the harsh ride on a daily basis.

You can get the turbo engine in the EX trim level (for slightly less than the SX trim level). While I could accept the harsh suspension in the SX on a daily basis, many consumers might not feel the same way.

The Optima SX Turbo I was in had a sticker price of $30,840 after destination. This included the technology package and SX Premium Package.

After spending a week with the Optima SX Turbo, I almost feel anyone that would buy a Toyota Camry V-6 over this vehicle might be nuts. The Optima is a true value. With everything from heated rear seats to great fit and finish, this is one Optima you’ll remember.

Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Kia

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6 Responses to “Review – 2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo: What’s An Optima?”

  1. Tod Curtiss #

    Joel — Valued your review of the 2011 Optima SX Turbo. We have ordered the SX model, obviously without driving it. (Saw it for first time this week at the auto show). We have driven a Suburu Forester (wife) and a Subaru 2.5RS coupe (me) for the past 10 years and have considered their seats and suspensions FIRM but comfortable. Would you characterize the SX seats as similar in comfort and the suspension as comparably taut to the Subaru. We are hoping it is not going to be Subaru STI firm. Really would appreciate your feedback.
    Tod in Woodbury, MN

    03/17/2011 at 12:45 pm Reply
    • Tod,
      Thanks for the feedback. I definitely feel the seats are firm and very comfortable. I drove the car to Chicago and back and could have kept going. As for the suspension, it is definitely taut. On good pavement I loved it, very controlled, but when going over a pothole…I it really came crashing down. It wouldn’t stop me from recommending it, but I would definitely swerve away from potholes as I wouldn’t want a bent wheel.

      03/17/2011 at 12:49 pm Reply
  2. Thats a Great looking VW… I mean Kia Optima!
    great review!

    03/18/2011 at 2:11 pm Reply
  3. Chris G #

    Thanks for the thorough review of the Optima SX. I test drove one locally (only for about 15-20 minutes) and really loved the interior as well. Your point about the seat heater buttons is right on, though I guess I’d probably switch the seat heating/cooling on before leaving the house. :-)

    The example I drove had all of the options, including what Kia calls the “18-inch luxury wheels,” which, to me anyway, looked MUCH better than the standard SX wheels shown in your photos. Much more conventional, sort of like BBS wheels. Sort of.

    I also found the suspension to be a bit harsh, though compared to my current car (a 2005 Scion xA), it was smooth, “like butter.” Hoping to pick up an Optima SX (or EX Turbo) this summer.

    Keep up the great work!

    03/22/2011 at 3:08 pm Reply
  4. Taire Avbovbo #

    Hey Joel,

    Loved your review !! Actually just stumbled across your website and I am glad that I did.
    Earlier today, I was having a conversation with my Dad about how the Korean auto manufacturers are disrupting their Japanese counterparts. Reading this review confirms our hypothesis. It is getting harder to ignore Kia and Hyundai given that they are releasing one hit vehicle after another. And they are just getting started. My guess is that they will eventually tone down their styling just a tad bit in order to appeal to the masses. Lets face it, the masses like vanilla and this is why Toyota and Honda sell tons of cars (among other reasons).
    Keep up the good work. As a onetime avid reader of car magazines, I must say that a well written blog review really hits the spot :-)

    06/21/2011 at 1:21 am Reply
  5. bepsf #

    IMO, KIA should buy Saab – This would make a darned nice 9-3…

    07/07/2011 at 5:53 pm Reply

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