Recently I spent a weekend in Baltimore for a family event. Naturally, we needed wheels during our time there, and as such I was able to acquire a 2011 Kia Optima EX to cart our family of five around the city. The main questions I had were how the stacks up against the competition and how the driving experience would differ from the SX Turbo I drove to the Chicago Auto Show in February.
From the exterior the Optima EX looks quite similar to the SX Turbo. You lose the 18-inch alloy wheels for a set of 17’s that have thicker rubber on them. This changes the visual impact of the car in a huge way. It isn’t necessarily worse, but it is not as aggressive looking.
I had more than one family member tell me over the weekend how much the Optima looks like a Jaguar and I’m going to assume that was a compliment. They all seemed to like the fake fender vent jewelry and many commented on the aggressively swept back headlights and taillights.
The interior is the same design overall in the EX as it is in the SX Turbo, with a few notable changes. The gauge cluster is completely different though. With three round barrels, the EX matches the gauge clusters in the other new Kia models such as the new Sportage. The speedometer sits front and center and has a round trip computer screen in the center of it.
The interior of my EX tester isn’t all black like the SX Turbo, but instead it has a combination of black and beige which lends the cabin a much airier feel. I quickly noted that the leather on the EX steering wheel is not as smooth or high quality feeling as the leather on the SX Turbo’s steering wheel.
I still found the navigation screen to be about an inch farther away from me than I would have liked, an d and noticed the seat warmer/cooler switches are hidden from the drivers view when the gearshift is in drive.
My tester featured the Optima’s base 2.4-liter direct-injection inline four, which produces 200-horsepower and 186 pound feet of torque. The EX features a standard six-speed automatic transmission, with the ability to shift your own gears. I must say, the transmission was programmed quite well. It is nice to be in a car where I don’t find myself constantly asking why the transmission just did something. It downshifts when asked and upshifts smoothly. While you wont be winning any races to the grocery store, there is more than enough power to get underway, and highway passing is not an issue.
I wanted to specifically mention how different the suspension is in the EX is when compared to the SX. It is controlled but never overly harsh like the SX. It never felt like a wheel was about to rip off like it did when going over some pot holes in the SX.
In the end the entire family was shocked this was a Kia, and even more so at the content that was offered for the as-tested price of $27,440. The Optima EX held a family of five in comfort and all the luggage that went with us. Bottom line? This is definitely a competitive family sedan.
Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Kia