We think rather highly of the 2012 Kia Optima, made obvious by its recent win as the Autobytel Sedan of the Year. In just one model cycle, the little South Korean underdog went from tailing most of the entire sedan pack (barring your sister’s '84 Mitsubishi Galant) in style and sophistication to all but domanitating the entire segment.
Though the Optima itself delivers an overall rewarding experience for most economical buyers, the real crowd pleaser is the Optima SX turbo. New for 2012, the Optima SX is powered by a special 2.0 liter twin-scroll, which pumps out 274 horsepower/269 lb. feet of torque. The unit is mated to one of Kia’s own 6-speed automatics and boasts EPA estimates of 22 city /34 highway - which is an incredibly optimistic figure given how tempting it is to really work the spirited four-banger. In real-word testing, we averaged around 19 mpg.
Slight discrepancy aside, however, the SX delivered everything it promised.
Without question, the 2012 Kia Optima SX brings a new level of styling, sophistication, and visual class to a segment that's traditionally offered all the aesthetic appeal of a Big Mac container. Though it draws heavily from popular design trends, the execution is notably more subtle than many of the competition's. The flowing symmetry and vaguely Germanic cues lend it a futuristic look that seems like a natural evolution rather than a forced refresh. It's clearly one of Kia’s finest efforts to date and it's bound to become the stylistic benchmark by which all other entry-level family sedans will be evaluated.
This is where it becomes clear that ex-Audi design chief Andrew Schreyer has been very busy since assuming as head of Kia design. Interior colors, materials, and control layouts are simultanously stunning and easy to use. All of the buttons and switches operate with a dexterity that drips Tier 1 refinement, as do the eye-catching soft-touch surfaces. Our SX was equipped with a metallic carbon fibre perfectly complimented by black suede/leather sport seats, though other models also offer either chrome or wood accoutrements.
To be frank, we're impressed with the way the Optima's interior plastics and trim so completely outshine those found in many of its stable mates. Both the EX and SX offer seats swathed in high quality leather and exceptional comfort during long trips. Such driver luxuries were also extended to the rear seats, which can comfortably fit either two adults or three uncommonly well-behaved children.
Overall, the 2012 Kia Optima SX’s interior really hit the mark in terms of comfort, style, and ease of use. It's a classy design that will age well, which isn't always an easy feat to accomplish.
The biggest competition for the 2012 Kia Optima SX will likely be either the 2012 Camry SE-V6 or the 2012 VW Passat VR6. Although the Optima SX has a floatier, less connected steering than either the Camry or the Passat, it's eventually eclipsed by how positive the driving experience is overall. Of course though sure, yeah, it could benefit from more responsive handling, it's certainly not as numb as Courtney Love. Or some of its Korean brethren.
Our fully loaded 2012 Kia Optima SX turbo sedan came with pretty much every optional accessory available yet barely cracked the $30K mark. With freight and handling the quoted MSRP from Kia is $30,840, which includes dual zone automatic climate control, in-dash navigation unit with back-up camera, panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled front seats, an excellent 8-speaker Infinity audio system, heated rear seats, 18-inch sport alloy wheels, and Bluetooth. Essentially everything that a premium luxury brand buyer would demand at twice this price.
Oh yeah, and no premium brand stands behind their products quite like Kia with their 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty (which we remind you does not transfer to the second owner — not that you'd be tempted to part with it in the first place).
Admittedly, the 2.4 liter 200 horsepower engine that comes standard with more basic Optima models is perfectly sufficient to move this Kia with plenty of verve. But if you want a car with a bit more excitement that doesn’t feel quite so burdened with too much mass then you should opt for the SX with its delicious 2.0 liter 274 horsepower/269 lb. feet of torque turbocharged 4-cylinder. Sure, it takes a moment for the engine to really come to life but once it does you won’t be able to go back to driving any Optima without it. It’s kind of addicting, much like caffeine. And bad horror movie sequels.
In a nutshell, while you could get all the style, sophistication, interior quality and build of any Optima if you buy one with the 2.4 liter engine but the SX really pulls the whole package together into a cohesive whole. The SX turbo, however, adds a needed dose of effortlessly sporty thrust that will have you believing you must have spent way more than you actually did for a car this capable.
Passing power on the freeway is surprisingly strong and the engine maintains a calm demeanor throughout with its serene smoothness (which is actually it's only potential flaw - we prefer a little noise). The cabin, too, is coffin-quiet.
All things considered, a similarly equipped Optima EX would cost about $28,000 but upgrading to the much more powerful and fun-to-drive SX is worth the extra cash. Sure, you might get better fuel economy in the real world with the EX but it'll come at the sacrifice of fun. And shouldn’t a car handle as aggressively as it looks?
What We Loved About the 2012 Kia Optima SX
Interior, exterior build and materials quality is simply outstanding and the car is simply stunning
The optional twin panoramic sunroof that puts an airy glass ceiling over back seat passengers—a must
Huge, nicely shaped trunk is 15.4 cubic feet
Quite fun to drive and a serene family cruiser all in one
What We Didn't:
Noticeable hint of turbo lag off the line with this motor
Uninspiring engine noise at idle and when you rev it out to redline
The thought of buying a $30,000 Kia…but this one is really, really worth the price.
You may also be interested in...
The Kia Optima Goes Racing at the Long Beach Grand Prix
March U.S. Auto Sales: 10 Big Winners
Kia Optima Earns 'Best Value' Award, Debuts SX Limited
Mr. Sandman to Welcome the 2012 Kia Optima SX Limited to Chicago Show
2013 Kia Optima Captures International Car of the Year Honors
2013 Kia Optima Turbo Road Test and Review