Test Drive: 2011 Kia Optima SX videos car test drives reviews kia
2011 Kia Optima SX. Click image to enlarge

The combination of the turbocharged engine and terrific suspension make you want to drive this car, not just to get somewhere, but to enjoy the drive itself. The turbocharged engine is a great fit here, more so than in the Sonata, whose softer suspension and generally more laid-back attitude seems at odds with the motor’s eager power delivery. In the Optima, the right-now torque – all 269 lb.-ft. of it is available from 1,750 r.p.m. – is well-matched to the taut suspension. Turbo lag, a common turbo characteristic in which there’s a delay between throttle input and power output, is barely noticeable.

BMW has just introduced a turbocharged four-cylinder engine in its X1, and this motor will eventually power a range of vehicles, including entry-level 3 Series. I mention it here only to say that this Kia/Hyundai motor is just as good as that one, in terms of power delivery and refinement.

The SX’s fuel consumption ratings are 9.2/5.8 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester averaged 11.1 L/100 km in city driving, which included plenty of self-indulgent mashing of the throttle (when traffic conditions allowed) to enjoy the turbocharged thrust.

Test Drive: 2011 Kia Optima SX videos car test drives reviews kia
2011 Kia Optima SX. Click image to enlarge

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only one offered in the Optima SX; only the most basic LX model can be had with a stickshift. While the automatic’s inclusion here reflects a reality in which an auto is the gearbox of choice for the vast majority of family car buyers, a manual would be a good fit. That said, this automatic has a manual-shift mode, and a surprisingly good one. Upshifts and downshifts happen when you want them, not a second-and-a-half later, as is the norm with similar arrangements in many cars.

Shifting for yourself is most handy in hard running, but can be useful in normal driving, to avoid the transmission’s annoying tendency to upshift too soon in normal acceleration, and then shift down again when it realizes that, oh yeah, third gear at 30 km/h doesn’t work very well, does it? A sport program for automatic mode would be a nice addition, too.

Test Drive: 2011 Kia Optima SX videos car test drives reviews kia
Test Drive: 2011 Kia Optima SX videos car test drives reviews kia
2011 Kia Optima SX. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Optima SX gets upgraded seats that my wife and I both found more comfortable than the standard chairs, mostly due to their extra lumbar support. Side bolstering is more aggressive, too. A panoramic sunroof is standard here (part of the package in the EX+ and higher trims); it lends an airy feel to the cabin, but eats into front-seat headroom. Rear seat riders get better headroom, lots of legroom and heated seats to complement the heated and cooled fronts. The spacious 436-litre trunk expands by way of a split folding rear seatback, but the opening is small and the transition from trunk floor to folded seatback is not flat.

Kia and Hyundai use a proprietary USB input for portable music players; without it, the stereo’s media player controls don’t work. Kia kindly included the necessary cable in this test car, and with it I was (finally!) able to determine that the media player interface is very easy to use.

The top-line Optima is an attainable family car which, at $33,695, is just $1,600 more than the next-priciest EX Luxury + Navigation model. That $1,600 is money well-spent to create a family car that only just misses the mark in its aim for sport sedan status.

Pricing: 2011 Kia Optima SX