In normal driving, the car rides well. It is not a soft suspension, so it keeps rocking to a minimum. But it also does a good job of masking the jolts and bumps from the cabin occupants. Cars that cost almost twice as much don't do much better.
That ride quality is accentuated by the cabin of the Optima SX. With the Premium package, this car gets features such as heated and cooled seats, memory settings for the power-adjustable seats, and even heated rear seats. There is very little separating the Optima SX from a luxury midsize sedan, such as an Audi, Lexus, or Infiniti.
The premium Infinity audio system, part of the optional Technology package, adds to the luxury feel of the Optima SX. With eight speakers, this system delivers very detailed sound reproduction. Stereo separation is excellent, and it makes each sound, each instrument, distinct. Although well-balanced among the frequencies, it does not have a lot of punch.
That audio system is fed by most modern audio sources, including iPod integration, Bluetooth audio streaming, and USB drive capability. It also includes satellite radio. But one area where other automakers are making great strides is app integration, usually bringing in Pandora, something Kia hasn't yet done.
The onscreen menus for music selection and other cabin tech functions are easy to comprehend, and very responsive. Where systems from other automakers often take a little time to react, this one is as fast as your typical smartphone. You can also control many functions through voice command. When using this interface, help automatically appears on the LCD, showing next possible commands. Voice command also makes it possible to dial contacts in a paired Bluetooth phone by name.
The navigation system is the same as in the other Optima models, with bright, clear maps showing traffic information. Stored in flash memory, these maps refresh quickly as you drive, and make it easy to browse a map to set a destination. The maps are limited to 2D views, as opposed to the richly rendered perspective maps from other automakers. But despite this lack, the navigation system handles route guidance well, showing graphics to explain upcoming turns and reading out street names for the voice prompts.
Kia throws a lot of modern technology into the 2011 Optima SX, pushing ahead of the curve without getting to the cutting edge. The engine, with direct injection and a turbo, is an excellent piece of work with plenty of power. But the mundane suspension and general platform keep the Optima SX from exhibiting much in the way of sporting characteristics.
Likewise, the cabin electronics are all very good without getting beyond current offerings. The navigation system in particular has a basic feature set, although we do like its responsiveness. The high point of the cabin is the Infinity audio system.
Ultimately, it is a very good-looking car with solid performance and comfortable cabin appointments. As a family sedan and commuter car, it is a great value.
|Model||2011 Kia Optima|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/34 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Flash-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Infinity 8-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$30,840|