2011 Kia Optima SX
2011 Kia Optima SX. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s web site
Kia Canada

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2011 Kia Optima

Things at Kia are moving along at the speed of light. Wasn’t it just a few years ago when this Korean automaker was more of a punchline than a legitimate contender? At TestFest 2008, the Kia Magentis sedan, vying for Family Car $22k-30K, didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. It came in dead last.

How things have changed in four short years. At this year’s event, the Kia Optima Hybrid was named Best New Family Car over $30,000 and the Kia Optima LX won Best New Family Car under $30,000. The turbocharged Kia Optima SX, which we are looking at here, didn’t take the Best New Sports/Performance Car under $50,000 prize, but it certainly put in a good showing.

After a few days of driving this swift SX, it’s clear Kia need not make any apologies to anybody, other than perhaps the competition for fashioning such a comprehensively-equipped and convincing sports sedan for the relatively paltry sum of $33,695. The only addition to this tester was the $150 blue paint.

2011 Kia Optima SX
2011 Kia Optima SX
2011 Kia Optima SX. Click image to enlarge

A key ingredient of the Optima’s appeal is its strikingly handsome sheet metal. Fashioned by ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer, this mid-sized four-door eschews the organic swooping lines of its Hyundai Sonata stablemate for an angular and modern Euro look. Elegantly proportioned with a muscular stance, it has kicked-up rear windows and a coupe-like roofline highlighted by a sweeping arc of chrome. The SX gets a more aggressive front fascia and standout 18-inch alloys that look like nothing else on the road.

Once behind the wheel of this top dog Optima, you’ll forget about its looks and appreciate the sedan’s dynamic cohesiveness. Save for the oddly artificial steering feel (better than the Sonata, however), the front-drive SX is a cracking good time on your favourite back road. With more aggressive damper tuning, it’s nicely balanced, has good path control and doesn’t get upset by quick transitions. For a car with this much power going to the front wheels, torque-steer is conspicuous by its near absence. The SX model also receives upgraded 12.6-inch front discs.

You pay for this athleticism with a firm ride. It’s not a deal breaker, but the ride never really settles down. I also thought rebound control could be better – the SX got real jouncy over a couple of whoop-de-dos.

The star of the show is the 2.0-litre direct-injection DOHC four-cylinder Theta Turbo GDI. With a 9.5:1 compression ratio and a clever induction design that integrates the exhaust manifold and turbo housing into one cast stainless steel piece, this blown four punches out 274 hp at 6,000 rpm with 269 lb.-ft. of torque coming on line at 1,750 rpm. It’s a smooth unit that delivers its power in a linear fashion, I couldn’t detect a hint of turbo lag.

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