It's no secret that Kia and its parent company, Hyundai, have been making almost quantum leaps in the quality of their vehicles in the last generation or two. Comparing, for example, the 2011 Kia Optima to its 2010 iteration is almost like comparing apples to oranges. The new model is larger in nearly every dimension, but thanks to its sportier proportions, it looks much more menacing than its pudgy predecessor. While both examples offer 2.4-liter engines, the 2011 Optima's gasoline direct-injection system gives it a 24-horsepower advantage while also gaining 2 mpg in both city and highway driving over the outgoing model.
The 2011 Optima finds itself outgrowing its low-cost alternative category and into direct competition with the likes of the Toyota Camry. What's most interesting about this metamorphosis is that the upstart Optima is actually looking pretty good when compared with the best-selling midsize sedan in America (according to Forbes), with performance that matches or beats the standard set by the Japanese incumbents and standard features like Bluetooth calling and audio streaming and USB/iPod connectivity stretching all the way down to the entry level.