Long-Term Road Test: Farewell 2011 Kia Optima
A 2011 Kia Optima EX joined our extended-use fleet last spring and quickly became a staff favorite for long trips. It not only had a roomy interior and comfortable ride, but was also easy on gas. The icing on the cake was a long list of luxury equipment at a bargain price: navigation, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, cooled glovebox, and dual-zone automatic climate controls.
Kia redesigned the Optima for the 2011 model year. This car and its platform mate, Hyundai Sonata, have a history of offering an impressive amount of features for the buck, and we were curious to see if the new Optima followed suit. We were pleased to find out it offers many compelling features, and that put it over the top to earn our Consumer Guide Best Buy award.
Optima is offered with a 200-horsepower naturally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine or a 274-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four. Kia also sells a hybrid Optima. We chose the 2.4 with a 6-speed automatic transmission that carried EPA estimates of 24 mpg city and 34 highway.
Engine: 200-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Total Miles Driven: 13,491 miles
CG Observed Fuel Economy: 25.51 mpg
Base Price: $ 22,495
Major Options: Technology Package (Navigation system with rearview camera and Sirius traffic), Infinity audio system–8 speakers, EX Premium Package (Panoramic sunroof, power front passenger’s seat, driver’s seat memory, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel)
Price as Tested: $ 27,440
Problems During Test: None
Our Optima EX’s $ 22,495 base price included leather upholstery, USB port, wireless cell-phone link, keyless access and starting, and universal garage door opener. To this we added the $ 2,000 Technology Package (navigation, rearview camera) and a $ 2,250 Premium Package (driver-seat memory, panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated/cooled front seats, and heated rear seats). The last four items of the Premium Package are not often available on some luxury cars and seldom offered on rival popular-priced midsized sedans. One tester noted, “I continue to be amazed by the refinement and features-per-dollar the Optima offers. Nowhere in this class can you get a car with a navigation system, heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, and panoramic roof for $ 30,000, much less the $ 27,500 for our test example.” Including destination charge, our Optima came to a reasonable as-tested price of $ 27,440.
It was more than Optima’s equipment list that impressed CG’s testers. The ride was smooth and generally well controlled. Handling was sportier than most mainstream midsized sedans. We also found the Optima EX’s 2.4-liter engine peppy in all situations. One driver said, “It is also a decent driver’s car, extremely rare in this ‘transportation appliance’ class. It handles reasonably well and is relatively responsive, especially the 4-cylinder.”
Over almost 13,500 miles we averaged 25.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. That was less than projected by the EPA, but still respectable for such a roomy sedan. The Optima’s 18.5-gallon tank and good gas mileage meant a long distance between fill ups. One tester commented, “Despite some high-speed shenanigans on Michigan’s highways, the car still returned 31.4 mpg, requiring me to fill up only once on the journey.”
There were a few negatives. Although generally smooth riding, some thought the suspension unsettled at times. A driver noted, “…this Optima is simply not as composed over sharp bumps as its class rivals.” We found the engine less refined than the best in class, although it was quiet at cruise.
The Optima is missed. It was comfortable, yet still entertaining to drive. And our Optima EX upheld Kia’s tradition of features-per-dollar value. One driver summed it up, “Whenever I get into this car, my passengers always think it’s more expensive than it is. The fact that this Optima is loaded with premium features (backup camera, leather, and dual sunroof are my favorites) and only stickers in the mid-20s makes this car very appealing.” This midsize car’s sales have grown, and after a year in our long-term EX model, we understand why.
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