Review: the 2011 KIA Optima Turbo packs a gun to a knife fight


MIAMI—The impressive turbocharged four-cylinder engine offered for the KIA Optima Turbo turns the standard recently introduced  all-new 2011 Optima into a genuinely hot model.

The 2-liter engine is in the $24,495 Optima EX Turbo and the $25,995 SX Turbo versions. The standard front-drive, mid-size Optima sedan—covered elsewhere in this auto site–has a non-turbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 200 horsepower. Non-turbo Optima list prices start at $18,995 with the standard 2.4 engine. 

While the regular engine provides good performance, the Optima Turbo engine is a pistol. It has very efficient direct fuel injection and other nifty features, such as a .turbocharger with a unique twin-scroll design that offers better combustion efficiency and  more available low-end power, compared to more traditional single-scroll turbo systems.


The Turbo engine is relatively small for the 3,385-pound Optima, but kicks out 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. That’s a goodly amount of power and torque for a 2-liter. Engines of that size once were considered OK if they produced 90-100 horsepower.
I tested the Optima SX Turbo during a media preview in the Miami area and found it to be surprisingly fast. It not only gave the Optima quick 65-75 mph acceleration, it was still providing strong acceleration beyond the 80 mph mark, when freeway traffic caused me to back off. A fellow auto writer easily topped 100 mph.


One of the most impressive things about this engine is that it has smooth, linear power delivery from 1,750 rpm  all the way up the speed range. There is no torque steer—which yanks the steering wheel to the left or right when moving from a stop. There also are no “flat spots” in throttle response on the way up the speed curve.

The quiet, well-mannered Turbo engine works with a new six-speed automatic transmission that has virtually seamless upshifts and downshifts. It’s perfectly mated to this engine and can be efficiently shifted manually via the console shifter or, in the top-line SX, via steering wheel paddles. Kia says no manual-transmission is offered for the Turbo versions because it feels there would be little demand for it. 


The Optima Turbo, in fact, has the same engine/transmission as the new turbocharged Hyundai Sonata 2.0T model, although KIA says there are a few minor changes for the KIA. Hyundai and KIA are affiliated, but Kia says it still considers Hyundai a rival.

Another impressive thing about the  KIA Turbo engine is that it delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and an impressive 34 on highways. That’s nearly equal to the 24 and 34 figures provided by the less potent 2.4-liter four-cylinder with an automatic transmission.

The Optima Turbo SX has a rather firm, sporty ride and quick, heavy steering. It tracks beautifully—you feel as if you could take your hands off the wheel on a freeway for miles and it would keep going in a straight line. Its firm-riding 45-series tires on 18-inch wheels were very noisy on some Miami freeway and secondary road pavement.


I briefly drove the EX Turbo and found it has slightly lighter steering, wider, smoother-riding 55-series tires on 17-inch wheels, but less responsive handling than the SX.

The new standard Optima is racy looking, and the EX Turbo has a unique grille design. The seductive SX Turbo also has a unique grille, besides HID headlights with auto leveling, sculpted side sills, aero wiper blades, rear lip spoiler and larger front disc brakes with black calipers.

The SX also has unique black leather woven seat trim and black interior trim with carbon insert film, a “Supervision” cluster with an LCD display, center fascia and meter housing, soft trim with French seams, the paddle shifters, metal pedals and lighted metal door scuff plates. However, I found a few of its gauges washed out under certain sunlight conditions.

KIA has designed the much-improved 2011 Optima to be a serious challenger to such cars as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, which have dominated the mid-size car market. The Optima Turbo promises to help boost sales.

On the recommendation scale of:

Buy it

– Lease it

– Rent it or

-Forget it

  I give the Kia Optima Turbo a 



Prices: Estimated $19,500-$27,000


Dan Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a busines news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times–far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008. For of Dan’s thoughtful and insightful reviews please visit his web site HERE.


If you like the KIA Optima you may also like the all new Chrysler 200. Check out our first drive shootout review below:

Follow on twitter @TFLcar or watch latest car
review videos on YouTube.