2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury
2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury. Click image to enlarge

Spring and summer in D.C. are typically steamy, and this year was no exception. The test car Kia provided me with was an EX Luxury Navigation model, which gets ventilated (and heated) perforated leather front seats that were a real bonus for the backside after the car had been sitting in the sun for an entire day. Heated rear seats and navigation are included in this trim, while the intelligent (keyless) access and pushbutton start are standard as of the EX trim.

Optima pricing starts at $21,995 for an LX with 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission; the more popular LX Auto, which replaces the stickshift with a six-speed automatic, is worth $24,195, and also adds a power driver’s seat, rear-seat ventilation and an ECO switch on the steering wheel. By the time you get to my EX Luxury with Navigation tester, Kia adds a panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, leather seats, smart key and pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, rear-view camera, dual-zone, automatic climate control, 18-inch wheels, larger brakes, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, power front passenger seat, driver’s seat memory, Xenon headlights, LED taillights, interior ambient lighting, lighted door scuff plates, 530-watt sound system and navigation. For this, you pay $32,095 (plus freight and $150 for my tester’s sharp Santorini Blue paint). The only Optima more expensive is the turbocharged SX model, which copies the EX Luxury with Navigation’s spec sheet and adds that more powerful motor.

2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury
2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury
2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury
2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Optima presents an attractive dash, with a centre stack canted gently toward the driver. In my EX Luxury tester, there’s less brightwork here than in the Sonata; Kia replaces that with carbon fibre-look trim (which, if it’s fake, is a convincing facsimile). The stitched faux-leather dash surround is classy, too. There’s a distinct impression that Kia is trying to out-value its corporate sibling with a few extra features; this top-line (non-turbo) model’s heated rear seats and cooled fronts aren’t offered in the otherwise similarly-equipphttps://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#inboxed Sonata Limited. Otherwise, though, the specs lists are close, including niceties like navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, upgraded Infinity-branded stereo and a large dual-panel sunroof that creates an airy cabin.

In the rear seat, headroom is decent, legroom is great and the seats themselves are almost ridiculously comfortable, with soft, nicely contoured cushions that wouldn’t seem out of place in the kind of car you’d buy to be driven around in. The rear seats fold down – not entirely flat – for extra load space, but our week’s worth of luggage, including a stuffed-to-the-max full-size suitcase, acoustic guitar, two laptops and three small duffel bags fit easily in the Optima’s 436-litre trunk.

Not everything’s perfect. The driver’s seat hit my back the wrong way to be long-haul comfortable, though my wife, whose bad back is sensitive to so-so seats, said she had little to complain about at the end of our longest days on the road.

The C-pillar is shaped such that it can trick your eye into thinking there’s a phantom vehicle in your blind spot, which really throws you off the first time you shoulder check for a lane change on a busy expressway. On the other hand, that design feature is part of what lends the Optima’s rear-three-quarter view a striking resemblance to the Jaguar XF. On that note, the front end looks too much like a Honda Accord.

Smaller niggles include not being able to adjust the sound system’s equalizer controls while listening to a music player connected to the car via Bluetooth. And if you want to connect an iPod via USB and control it through the car stereo, you need a cable sold for extra through Kia’s parts department. Otherwise, the standard auxiliary input is your only option.

As family sedans go, the Optima is a seriously appealing car, with a comfortable interior and a generally satisfying drive. Its looks do much to distinguish it from the Sonata; better sorted drivetrain and brake responses would make it just about perfect, considering its attractive price.

Pricing: 2011 Kia Optima EX Luxury with Navigation
  • Base price: $32,095 (LX Auto: $24,195)
  • Options: None
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,455
  • Price as tested: $33,650

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Kia Optima

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