Korean car makers are creating huge waves in the industry, and the Kia Optima is a perfect example of this automotive tsunami. Just a few short years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find such a car in their lineup (the awfully poseur-like Kia Amanti didn’t exactly qualify).

We always end up tooling around in ridiculous rides, but there are plenty of accessibly priced cars that are still driver focused — and the Kia Optima is one of them. We got Behind The Wheel of this new looker from the Korean manufacturer to see just how much things have changed.

We drive the 2013 Kia Optima SX T-GDI after the jump.

First Impressions

Our 2013 Kia Optima SX T-GDI is delivered in high gloss Ebony Black, and it looks impressive, with a distinctly European look. The design is clean and unique, and nice design touches like the gloss black and chrome grille, beautifully tapered headlights and taillights and a sculpted body make the car look more expensive than it is. Of course, the tester was optioned out: the price came to $31K, a number that, at least to me, seemed high for a Korean car (given that I last looked at Korean car prices in the 1980s). The 18-inch wheels are unique and specifically intended to complement the look of the SX. You can decide whether they look good on the car or mimic the spinning disc of death from the Predator movies.




The jury’s still out on the wheels. Pie, anyone?

Technical Rundown

The interior is well appointed, almost shockingly so. The black leather and sport-cloth-trimmed seats are comfortable and decently supportive. Real carbon fiber lines the center console and the door armrests, a nice touch to communicate the car’s sporty intentions. Ferrari-like carbon fiber it is not, but it still looks pretty good. Options like XM Sirius Satellite Radio, Infinity 8-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, intelligent key/push button start and rear camera take this mid-sized sedan to the next level. Overall, it’s comfortable place to be. The interior leg room, shoulder room and head room for driver and front and rear passengers isn’t lacking at all, something you can’t necessarily tell from the outside.




The cabin is nicely appointed. Is that real carbon fiber? Indeed, it is.

Power is impressive but not mind-blowing. A 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder GDI, direct injection aluminum alloy turbo engine delivers 274 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm. It pulls to 60 in just under six seconds; you don’t feel it in your back as much as you feel pulled forward with substantial force. The other technical bits are also cut from good cloth: six speed Sportmatic transmission, independent front (MacPherson struts and anti-roll bar) and rear (multi-link, anti-roll bar), four-wheel ABS with vented front discs, traction and stability control, HID headlamps, LED taillights and nifty power retractable side mirrors. It is, simply, a lot for the money.

The 18″ wheels are unique and specifically intended to complement the look of the SX. You can decide whether they look good on the car or mimic the spinning disc of death from the Predator movies.

The Drive

We took the Optima SX T-GDI on some local Chicago roads and freeways and confirmed that the car is, indeed, fast. Moving four passengers rapidly isn’t that hard, but the four cylinder turbo sounds like it’s working overtime, and because of the front-wheel-drive setup and the powerful engine, the SX tends to lift its front end too much under hard acceleration. After take-off, though, the car accelerates smoothly and quickly. The sport-tuned suspension handles turns well, though you tend to fight with the steering wheel a bit when coming out of the turn — something we could’ve done without. Unfortunately it’ll never be rear wheel drive, which would be a game changer for this car in the realm of driving dynamics.

In the end, we weren’t overwhelmed with the ride quality, but the car is intended for those desiring a modicum of sportiness, so it comes as no surprise that the high horsepower delivery to the front wheels and uneven pavement can make the Optima SX slightly unsettling. As an everyday driver, it does incredibly well — it’s a comfortable car. Well-bolstered seats, plenty of rear seat room and a trunk big enough to hold four golf bags would suit the family man well, and he could still enjoy the solo drive without sacrificing his masculinity.

The SX received plenty of compliments in the grocery store parking lot, and people on the freeway certainly gave the Optima its fair share of positive looks. We appreciate what Kia has done — taking its designs out of the “cheap look” category, while still providing a good amount of design originality. It’s not in the ranks of the Europeans, but we appreciate the Optima SX T-GDI for what it is, and for making other cars in its price point look slightly boring.