Today on Extreme Makeover: Automotive Edition is a homely Korean midsize sedan best known for, well, nothing at all. Previously, the Optima has been so nondescript in both styling and attitude that you would have thought Kia designed it specifically for rental fleets or maybe even the witness protection program. But thanks to an extreme makeover, the 2011 Kia Optima has emerged from its anonymous cocoon to be a striking butterfly of a family sedan. With sleek styling, substantial power and plenty of value, the latest Optima is an instant standout among its many rivals.
The redesigned Optima is based on the same platform used for the equally made-over Hyundai Sonata. While Kia tuned the suspension and steering to its own sportier specification, the Sonata's engines have carried over into the Optima virtually unchanged. That's just fine by us, as it's an all-star cast. The 200-horsepower four-cylinder achieves an estimated 34 mpg on the highway while the 274-hp turbo-4 incredibly gets the same highway figure. Meanwhile, the 206-hp 2011 Optima Hybrid model gets superior fuel economy, though not quite as excellent as its 35 mpg/40 mpg highway EPA estimates would indicate.
Unless you've read up on the Optima and Sonata relationship, you probably wouldn't suspect the two are related. Each car's design (both exterior and interior) is unique, with the Kia taking a more premium, European look. And when you take a look around the Optima's interior, you'll find yourself thinking you're in a more expensive car.
Despite this extreme makeover, the 2011 Kia Optima has maintained the previous Optima's lengthy warranty and strong value. The Optima packs in a ton of features for a price that undercuts most competitors, while offering things that others do not such as ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. All together, the Optima has been transformed from an anonymous also-ran for bargain hunters and rental fleets into one of the best (and best-looking) midsize family sedans. Ty Pennington would be proud.
The 2011 Kia Optima comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, side airbags, side curtain airbags and hill start assist. A rearview camera is optional.
In government crash tests, the Optima earned a top five-star rating for overall safety performance, with five stars awarded for both frontal and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has similarly awarded its top "Good" rating to the Optima for its performance in frontal-offset and side-impact tests. In Edmunds brake testing, an Optima EX came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet -- a good performance.