The cars we loved.
You’d be forgiven if you did not know what a Kia Optima looked like. For years it was merely a clone of Hyundai’s Sonata. In some years it was the slightly better looking sibling. This might be one of those years. With Hyundai stepping up its design of the Sonata recently, the Kia had some big shoes to fill. Fortunately for Kia, it succeeded in matching and possibly one upping the Sonata while finally breaking out from under its shadow.
The Kia like the Sonata uses an all new platform that manages to be 1.7 inches longer the previous car but looks smaller. Where Hyundai’s Sonata takes inspirations from Lexus and other Asian sources, the Kia goes in the opposite direction for decidedly Western more Jaguareqsue appearance with small bits of BMW thrown in. It’s almost like the evil twin of the Sonata’s slippery wind-blown Asian organic look. The crisp lines of the Kia follow recent trends with VW more than any Asian products. Most any car designed today is some derivative of others before it, but the Kia manages to introduce some innovations (or gimmicks) to the post millennial design vocabulary like the strip of chrome that runs across the greenhouse down to the ‘C” pillar. It’s a nice touch that adds to the look of luxury in what amounts to a modestly priced car in the mid to high 20’s.
The design has been well received with acclaim from the press and public, almost overshadowing the more popular Sonata in many ways. Like the Sonata, it’s offered with arrange of four-cylinder engines from 2 to 2.4 litres. There are three trim lines vaguely reminiscent of Honda’s naming conventions starting with the well-appointed price leader the LX, sporty EX and feature heavy SX. At the time of introduction there were two engines; a 2.4 litre GDI four-cylinder producing 200 hp (standard in the LX) and a 2.0 turbo with a six speed automatic in the sporty SX. The 2.0 turbo uses direct injection to produce an impressive 274 hp in the SX model, making a 6 cylinder unnecessary while maintaining efficiency. SX models are further distinguished with optional 18′ wheels vs the standard 16 on the LX and 17′ on the EX. The odd looking 18′ rims look as if they could have come from a 70’s concept car. Despite the style elements, the Optima has a great deal of technology designed to increase effecency.
40 mpg is becomming typical in smaller cars today. Thanks to the Ford Fusion, it’s become a reality for mid-sized cars as well. The Kia relys on a 2.4 litre hybrid to reach that milestone. The hybrid produces 166 hp and be mated to a 40 hp electric motor (206 total hp). Like the Sonata for which it shares this engine, it is expected to get up to 35mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. Buyers need not get a hybrid for high-efficiency. The 2.0 and 2.4 can get anywhere from 34 to 35 mpg on the highway all while using regular unleaded gasoline.
Like the Sonata, considerable attention was paid to the interior with an ergonomic and very modern instrument/entertainment cluster,including push button start,leather seating and a panoramic moon roof option. Unlike many midsized sedans in its class, the Kia seems aimed at tech savvy younger families with standard Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The technology slant becomes more impressive with the optional Microsoft driven infotainment center with rear view camera. For sport minded drivers who will no doubt be saddled with an automatic, Kia offers the automatic with what it calls Sportmatic shifting. Basically a paddle shifting option with out a clutch. Traditional manual shifting is available on the LX model only in the form of a six speed mated to the 200 hp 2.4. A fully independent McPherson strut suspension with a multi-link rear setup (like the Sonata) promises acceptable road holding, especially when equipped with the beefed up front anti-roll bar.
The Sonata jumped ahead of much of the competition with the 2011 model and the Optima is expected to do much the same. Being a bit cheaper than and offering as much style as the Sonata will no doubt help fuel its sales. Nearly the entire line of Kia cars has been revamped into a sporty and smartly designed line up. The timing could not be better, as parent company Hyundai was rumored to be considering ending Kia all together.
It may be do or die for Kia at this point, but with slick new designs like the Optima, its likely that Kia won’t be going anywhere but to the upper half of the sales charts. With the Camry, Accord and Fusion designs beginning to look stale already, the Optima is a welcomed face in an increasingly crowded and bland midsize sedan market in the US.