Review: Kia Optima SX Turbo

I live in a crowded neighborhood on the beach, and as such, it’s tough for anyone to sneeze without being noticed. My closest neighbors are used to seeing a new car in my driveway every week, and usually don’t show much interest unless it’s a muscle car or something high-end from Europe. And then I slowly drove up my street in the new Kia Optima Turbo, windows down on a comfortable September evening to hear “Holy ___ that’s a Kia?!”

That’s about the best, and clearest way to convey the departure Kia made from Optimas of the past. Heck, I’m an Editor for an automotive blog and I have no memory of the 2010 Kia Optima. But this car-wow. Styling is subjective, but in my opinion, the Optima is hands down the best looking mid-size sedan on the market today, and possibly of the past decade. Finished in Ebony Black, our Optima was positively sinister in appearance. Attention to detail was evident-it’s hard to tell from the pics, but the top frame of the windshield mimics that of the grille. Just the right touch of chrome adds an air of elegance. But check out the greenhouse-call me crazy, but I see a striking resemblance to the four door Aston Martin Rapide, but with a bit more height for the sake of headroom. For over two decades, nearly every automaker has been inspired by, and has attempted to imitate German design, but with the new Optima, it is the most faithful interpretation of a European-inspired design I’ve seen yet, but manages to do so without being derivative. The out of this world 18″ wheels on our car put the exclamation point on the car.

Did I say European inspired? Well, step inside, and the theme continues. The dash design makes me think of what a Saab 9000 would look like if it were done today. I loved the driver-focused cockpit, metal pedals and door sill plates helped to ratchet the Optima’s sport/luxe factor. The Optima offers a roomy, comfortable cabin. Materials are of good quality, and I found no fault with fit and finish. Still, it was easy to look around and be easily fooled into thinking you were driving a much more expensive car.

The Kia Optima is directly related to the Hyundai Sonata, a car we reviewed earlier this year. Our SX Turbo featured a 2.0L direct-injected, twin scroll turbo, cranking out a prodigious 274hp. Oh, and it does that on regular, 87 octane gas. And gets 34mpg on the highway. I said it in my review of the Sonata Turbo, and I will repeat it here. Getting 100hp per liter of displacement was once the dominion of exotic cars. The most powerful iteration of the Ferrari Testarossa, the 512M, makes 89.7hp/liter. The Kia Optima Turbo makes 137hp/liter. So, if anyone gives your grief who is still ignorant of how far Kia has come, throw that stat at them. They’ll leave you alone.

The Optima was a delight to drive, was quick off the line and in passing situations. Yes, I’d have liked more steering feel, but I felt that way about the Sonata too. The Optima did feel more firm than it’s cousin from Hyundai though-sportier, and yes, more European in feel. But never harsh-the Optima never crashed over bumps. While the Optima was competent, even fun to drive quick, I can feel this chassis has more to offer-there is a next level Kia can take this car to, and I am dying to know if they do. There is room for a serious sport spec Optima Turbo if Kia is so inclined.

True to form, Kia offers all this at a pretty reasonable price. An Optima SX Turbo has a base price of $25,995USD. For that money, you get dual-zone auto climate control, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth, leather/woven seats, power driver’s seat, HID headlights and LED taillights. Our test car added the Technology Package, with Navigation, back-up camera, Sirius Traffic, and upgraded Infinity stereo. The SX Premium Package added a panoramic sunroof, power passenger seat, driver seat memory, heated/vented front seats, and heated rear seats. As delivered, our Optima rang in at $30,840. That represents one heck of a bargain, considering its competition from Honda and Toyota don’t even offer some of the features the Optima has.

I don’t hesitate to say the Kia Optima Turbo has set a new benchmark in its class in terms of power, efficiency, content, and looks. While the Hyundai Sonata Turbo impressed me, the European-inspired Optima was shockingly better from a design standpoint. Sure, we laugh at the Hamster ads for the Kia Soul, but my black Kia Optima Turbo dropped jaws and got the raves from the public. For a car whose last year I cannot recall, the new Optima is now a game-changer.

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