When it was redesigned in 2011, the Kia Optima pitched its bland, unremarkable past and went for broke. The gamble paid off handsomely, and today’s 2012 Kia Optima isn’t just one of the best family sedans for economy, it’s also one of the best-looking cars of its kind–and some other kinds, too.
It’s squarely in the same class with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and a host of other family four-doors, but there’s very little square in the Optima’s arresting profile. Kia’s distinct styling direction is a polar opposite of the exuberant, sculptural look that’s all over the Hyundai lineup and the Optima’s fraternal twin, the Sonata sedan. The Optima contrasts with a sporty, European-tinged look with a lower roofline, stretched headlamps, and a nifty upkick in its rear quarters. It’s exciting–focused, clean, laid-back, with an athletic stance and flashy chrome wheels. The interior’s a fine match, with a big set of gauges and a wide rectangular bank of controls canted toward the driver, ersatz Audi with almost all of the sophistication and less clutter.
In performance, the Optima caters to three types of drivers. Base cars have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, 200 horsepower and just a touch of unremarkable noise and vibration when it’s wound out. A manual six-speed is offered; we’ve tested the six-speed automatic, which teams expertly with the four. A turbocharged SX variant whistles along with 274 horsepower and paddle controls for the automatic, upconverting the Optima’s personality into something authentically sporty, along the lines of the latest Buick Regal or the VW CC.