Kiaís mid-size sedan everything you want

When I receive a test vehicle to review, I drive it for a week and write a column.

Usually, I wait to look at the sticker price until just before I write my review because I want to evaluate the vehicle on its merits, not by what the price tag indicates.

Sometimes Iím surprised ó most of those times it is because the price tag is a lot more than I thought it would be.

Every once in a while, Iím surprised for the opposite reason.

This weekís review of the next generation 2011 Kia Optma is one of those occasions.

First of all, the new Optima mid-size sedan is an amazing vehicle available in three powertrains including a turbo and hybrid.

The five-passenger, front-wheel drive Optima is also available in three very nicely equipped trim levels ó LX, EX and SX.

This week I had the chance to test drive the 2011 Optima EX equipped with the base 2.4 -liter I-4 engine.

I had to check the loan agreement twice to make sure I didnít have the wrong paperwork.

I was convinced that my test vehicle couldnít have been the mid-level trim with the base engine.

With the level of equipment and luxury in the test vehicle, I was sure it had to be the top of the line Optima SX.

I drive a lot of vehicles and this car could easily compete in the premium luxury segment. It is that nice.

And from the carís spirited performance, I also thought I was test driving the Optima turbo.

I was wrong on both counts.

When it came time to check the sticker price, I was absolutely shocked.

Based on my weeklong test drive, I had estimated my Optima test vehicle would cost in the low to mid $30,000 range.

The actual MSRP was $22,495. Even with the optional navigation and premium package added in, the list price came to $26,745 ó much, much lower than what I had expected.

The new Optima has everything you could want on a mid-size sedan at a price thatís impossible to beat.

It looks good.

The ride and handling characteristics are superb and it has all the amenities and features you want ó as well as a long list of standard safety features including six airbags, front active head restraints, anti-lock brakes, traction control system, electronic stability control system and downhill brake/hill-start assist control, to name a few.

Oh, I forgot to mention the base engine, rated at 200 horsepower and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, has an EPA fuel economy rating of 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway.

Iím looking forward for having a chance to drive the Optima hybrid, which has an EPA fuel economy rating of 36 mpg city, 40 mpg highway.

Iím also looking forward to driving the Optima turbo. If the base Optima powertrain is this impressive, I can only imagine how much fun it will be to drive the 274 horsepower version.

With a base price starting at $18,995 (for the Optima LX), the 2011 Kia Optima is without question one of the best values in any segment.

Luxury, style, performance and safety, the new Kia Optima has it all.

For those in the market for a mid-size sedan, the new Optima is an absolute must for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

MODEL:

2011 Kia Optima

5-seat mid-size sedan†

Front-wheel drive

Trim packages:

LX, EX, EX Turbo, SX

PRICE RANGE:

$19,000-$29,000

ENGINE:

2.4-L I4 (200 hp/186 torque)

2.0 Turbo (274 hp/269 torque)

2.4-L I-4 Hybrid (206 hp/195 torque ó combined gas engine and electric motor)

TRANSMISSION:

6-speed manual

6-speed auto w/Sportmatic

EPA: 24/22/36 mpg city, 34/34/40 mpg highway (2.4-L/2.0-L turbo/Hybrid)

TRACTION CONTROL:

Electronic stability control with traction control

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 190.7 inches

WHEELBASE: 110 inches

WIDTH: 72.1 inches

HEIGHT: 57.3 inches

WEIGHT: 3206-3490 lbs.

TRACK: 63/63 inches

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 18.5/17.2 gallons (gas only/hybrid)

TIRES: 16-, 17-, or 18-inch

CARGO: 15.4 cubic feet