When Kia introduced the redesigned Optima as a 2011 model, its dramatic styling immediately set it apart in the uber-competitive midsize sedan category. Now, for 2013, Kia rolls out the new top-of-the-line Limited trim. After driving the SXL, we're not hesitant to say: This is one of the most stylish sedans on the road — at any price.
Appearance: The core design remains unchanged, but the Limited trim — that's the "L" in SXL — brings the bling. You get lots of chrome — bordering the black-gloss mesh grille, in trim pieces such as the rear-tip spoiler, in the dual chrome-tipped exhausts and in the 18-inch wheels. Add in LED daylight running lights, saucy red brake calibers and shimmering Snow White Pearl paint (one of only three SXL colors, along with Ebony Black and Titanium Silver) and it's quite the visual statement.
Performance: The 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder GDI with turbo pumps out 274 horsepower without a hint of turbo lag or torque steer in the front-wheel-drive Optima. It's enough to make you check under the hood to make sure it's not a bigger V-6 engine. The sport-tuned suspension and other SXL chassis tweaks produce a refined ride and taut handling. The 6-speed Sportmatic transmission shifts smoothly and also has paddle shifters.
Interior: It doesn't suffer from Bland Sedan Syndrome. In appearance, it seems lifted from a more expensive car, with an angled console and lots of leather and wood accents. The fit and finish are good, with soft-touch materials and, where there's plastic, still a quality surface. Our SXL came with comfortable white Nappa leather seats that are heated and cooled for the front and heated for the rear. There's also white leather in the door panels and center console. Is this really a Kia? The dual-pane panoramic sunroof, along with all that white leather, brightened the cabin. We liked the leather-wrapped steering wheel with wood accent at the top; a luxury touch, but some may find it too slick. The head- and legroom are generally good, although taller passengers will feel cramped in the rear seat because of the sloping roofline, which is part of the price you pay for styling and aerodynamics. Our tester came with the upgraded navigation with Sirius Traffic — which replaces the standard UVO infotainment system — and with it a rearview camera. The SXL also has a Smart Key remote with push-button start; keep your keys in your pocket or purse.
Our 3 favorites
Paint: White used to be boring. No longer. Kia's pearl finish is one of the nicer whites.
Styling: A friend likened it to a Jaguar. It just looks expensive.
Cabin: Stylish inside, too, with details like a cooling glove box.
Lights: LED running lights with bright HID auto-leveling headlights.
View: The rear panel of the sunroof tilts up.
Head-turner: One of the sharpest looking cars on the road.
The bottom line: In the SXL trim, the loaded-with-options Kia Optima is luxury within reach. How many family sedans are head-turners? We think even parking valets will be impressed.