Quick Drive: 2011 Kia Optima EX

By Winding Road Staff

February 16, 2011

Every member of Kia’s styling department should get a raise, and a bonus, a big one.

Here comes Optima, one of the best-looking sedans from the 2011 model year, hot on the heels of the Sportage and the Koup, two of the best looking entries in their respective market segments, too. All offer exterior design that manages to be a little bit edgy without stepping far enough outside of the mainstream to risk polarization. That’s a fine line to tread, and one that the Kia folks have tight-roped beautifully for two years now.
Optima offers a completely willing 200-horsepower motor with still excellent fuel economy (city/highway mpg of 24/34 for our EX), an automatic transmission with individual gear control, and a fat feature set, all for under approximately $23K. And once you see the level of quality and sheer luxuriousness of the cabin at the EX level, you’ll start to wonder why, save pure ego/emotion, you’d ever need to spend anymore on a car. It’s that good.
Now, with that said, Optima doesn’t offer a lot for the enthusiast’s soul, to be sure. Every dynamic seems measured for “confident comfort,” meaning a bit more isolation and a lot less involvement than I’d ideally like. If you want a good driver’s car at this price point, you’ll still want to check out the Suzuki Kizashi first, I’d wager.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief

Let me be clear; I really like the Hyundai Sonata. It is a handsome car inside and out, is pretty good to drive, comes in at an affordable price, and can be equipped with some heavy hitting options. But the Kia Optima is just better. Allow me to elaborate.

As good as the Sonata looks, the Optima’s styling is much cleaner. The way the headlights and taillights wrap around into the fenders, and the bizarro Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar give the car a great deal of design presence. Hell, even the side grills look pretty good. It’s the same story on the interior. The driver-centric orientation of the center stack is more conventional than the modern-looking Sonata, and just feels easier to work with while driving.

I’m also partial to the steering in the Optima. Anyone that has read anything I’ve written about the Sonata will notice I’m not particularly fond of its steering. While I’d still like to have a bit more feedback, the Optima offers a marked improvement over the Hyundai as far as I can tell. The Kia also features a better ride than its platform-mate thanks to a slightly different suspension. While both cars feature fully independent suspensions, the Optima uses coil springs at all four corners, while the Sonata features gas-charged shocks up front. I can safely say that the Optima feels better controlled through the bends than the Sonata, with less body roll. The Optima did feel a bit unsettled over the rougher patches of Detroit asphalt, but I’d happily be jostled occasionally and have decent handling the rest of the time.

The Sonata has been my choice for a family sedan for some time, but after a few hundred miles in the Optima, I’m rethinking that choice.
—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager

I, too, was quite impressed by the Optima’s interior. It comes off as very mature, with a good attention to detail and a high level of quality and content for the price. The two-tone interior, clad in what appeared to be perforated leather, is impressive, and features like seat heaters in the second row make it feel pretty special.
As for the steering, though, I must take issue. As premium as the Optima looks and feels as a passenger, when driving, the feel of the wheel sort of gives away that this isn’t the luxury car it appears to be. Steering is a bit elastic, especially under load, and feels like a rubber band is pulling the wheel toward center.
—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor


  • Really, really good-looking. Better in person than in pictures, trust us. 
  • Sporting suspension makes it fun to throw about
  • A truly premium-feeling cabin, especially for the price


  • Despite its overall brilliance, Optima is not an enthusiast’s dream sedan
  • Steering is confident while still feeling pretty numb
  • Could use a little more refinement in the ride quality to match its looks