By Brendan Moore
My goodness, the hits just keep coming from Kia. Here we have the exuberant and pretty 2012 Kia Optima SX, a car that is sure to give serious heartburn to its competitors like the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry.
Why? Because it does things better than those cars, it’s less expensive and it’s much better-looking – in a nutshell. That’s why. No mystery here.
The Optima SX has the 274 HP turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder, and that’s the model that was dropped off for us recently. This setup, with the six-speed automatic transmission (with paddle controls!) makes the Optima a genuinely sporty proposition in this segment as opposed to a mere poseur.
The “sport-tuned” handling that comes with the SX keeps up with the engine’s power, providing nimble cornering, very good braking, and great tactile feedback (even with the electric power steering), all without sacrificing ride quality. It is not an exaggeration to state that the Optima SX has handling characteristics that put it at the top of its segment. Indeed, I prefer this car’s handling to even that of the Hyundai Sonata, its corporate twin.
The interior, per usual with Kia these days, is a classic case of over-achievement. This “punching above its weight” doesn’t occur in the area of refinement, but rather, in the area of features. This doesn’t diminish the Optima SX’s interior refinement; as its very nice inside, but the idea here is to wow the owner with technology and convenience features that seem unlikely at this price point. Which the Optima SX does, and admirably. At an MSRP of $31,695, the Kia Optima SX has the aforementioned mechanical and performance upgrades as well as features like power everything, dual-zone climate control, a USB port, a smart-key system, leather seat trim, Bluetooth, etc., in addition to SX-specific features via the Technology option package that add a navigation system, sunroof, Infinity Audio system, power folding external mirrors, rear camera, heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats.
Did I mention that it’s manufactured in Georgia and has a 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and a 5 year, 60,000 mile basic warranty? Did I also mention that it gets 22 mpg in the city, and 34 mpg on the highway, despite having 274 HP?
The only complaint I have about the Optima SX interior is the flat seat cushions in the front seats, which have no thigh support and could be fatiguing on longer trips, depending on your preferred seating position. The rear seats, however, are not plagued with the same issue.
Quick technical specifications overview:
• Type: 2-liter 16-valve DOHC turbocharged inline 4
• Displacement, cc: 1998
• Compression ratio: 9.5:1
• Horsepower: 274 hp @ 6000 rpm
• Torque: 269 lb-ft @ 1750-4500 rpm
• Fuel economy, EPA est.: 22/34 mpg city/highway
6-speed automatic with paddle shifters on steering wheel
• Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut/multi-link
• Wheels: 18×7.5-inch alloy
• Tires: 225/45R18 all-season
• Brakes; diam.: disc/disc; 12.6/11.2 in.
• Steering: electric motor assist rack-and-pinion
• Turning circle: 35.8 ft.
What to say about the exterior sheet metal? Well, I think it’s a very attractive car. I daresay most other people will, too. I did run across a few outliers during my time with the car; people that thought the styling was “weird” or “tortured”, but almost everyone else thought it was a good-looking lump of metal. I personally think it goes beyond good-looking, and continues into “beautiful and daring” territory, but beauty is always subjective, isn’t it? Ugly rarely is, but beauty is many times in the eye of the beholder. I think it’s quite a looker.
So, if you’re a potential buyer in this segment, you should probably hasten thee down to a Kia dealer and get acquainted with one of the Optimas there on the lot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
When I imagined what the Optima SX would be like, I thought it would be a somewhat down-market version of the Hyundai Sonata, nice-looking, but decontented in terms of suspension and features. Boy, was I wrong. Driving the 2012 Kia Optima SX for a week is like discovering that the local beauty queen also has a master’s degree in astrophysics, likes to drink whisky, bakes her own bread, and is a crack shot with a pistol.
Who could blame you if you fall in love?
Kia provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.
Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.