2012 KIA Optima SX

by on December 23, 2011

2.0L I4 Turbo


274 HP


269 lb-ft


6-Speed Automatic with Sequential Mode



Editor Rating





Fuel Economy







Total Score


For most of you out there, KIA is a manufacturer of ugly, cheap and uninspiring-to-drive cars. A good percentage of you didn’t even click on the link to this article only because the word KIA is in it. Well I am sorry to say, you will never know what you are missing out on.

There is no doubt that KIA vehicles are now getting very attractive to look at. Look at the SOUL, or the Forte Koup. Absolutely cool looking cars. Today though, all eyes are on the 2012 Optima SX.

AJAC members have gone crazy the last couple of months and have been using the Optima as a Christmas tree decorating it with awards as ornaments. Have they gone mad? Well, we had to find out but instead of choosing an EX, LX or Hybrid so we went for the full fat one, the Turbo charged SX.

At $33,600 it is not cheap, but at the same time the list of features put in a straight line, could hit a pedestrian from the top of the CN Tower. It is that long. It comes with stability control, cruise control, dual 12V power outlet, Aux in, USB port with IPod compatibility, Navigation, rear view camera, front and rear heated and COOLED seats, all round electric windows, dual sunroof, six airbags, ABS with brake assist, independent suspension, front and rear vented disk brakes, arm rest with a storage compartment, chilled glove box for your drinks, two cup holders, electric mirrors, compass integrated to the auto dimming rear view mirror that also has three programmable garage door remotes, Xenon headlights, smart key keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and a high-end Infinity sound system which alone is worth the money and the list goes on and on.

The 2012 KIA Optima SX is simply beautiful. It has all-around sporty skirts, side grills like an M3, 18” alloys that look like they were nicked from some kind of prototype, a slick and curvy body with thick rear pillars, LED tail lights and HID headlamps, even the windshield water sprayers are nicely tucked under the hood. All these features compose a sexy sports sedan with attention to detail many other manufacturers would like to have in their fleet.

The interior is no disappointment either. The dash is driver-centric forming a cockpit, since it is tilted towards the driver and somehow it reminds me of older SAABs and BMWs. The huge LCD display for the SatNav in the top middle of the dash is an eye catcher and the number of buttons around it are a temptation for everyone to play with. The instrument panel is nicely designed and hosts another smaller color LCD display for the trip computer. It illuminates in a very fancy way but surprisingly the lower part where the light indicators are looks like it’s a part from the 80’s.

The steering wheel is fat and wrapped in soft leather and mounted on it are the controls for the radio, the cruise control, the Bluetooth phone controls, the trip computer and finally the ECO mode button which when pressed, decreases the throttle response and helps you save on gas. The most impressive controls though, are behind the steering wheel and are the floppy paddle gearbox levers.

The quality of the materials found inside the cabin can be divided into two separate categories. The upper materials used from the door panels all the way across the dash are high quality soft to the touch materials and there is even a part around the main console that is covered with stitched leather. The rest, are hard, cheaper plastic panels that are well put together though and the finish between them is not bad at all. The ergonomics score pretty high in this KIA too.

The seats look great with the combination of vented fabric and leather, they are very comfy to sit in but they do not offer as much side support as needed for this edition. Other very nice details inside are the integrated compass in the rear view mirror, the three garage remote control buttons, the dual 12V power outlet and the hook to place your toll road pass on the sun visors.

It is not common to make a separate mention to the sound system, but dear Lord this time we ‘ll make an exception. The 2012 KIA Optima SX comes equipped with a 500+ Watt Infinity Sound system with Satellite radio and a small subwoofer in the back. Up the volume and combine it with bone braking beats and you will put to shame many teenagers with beefed up tunes in their ‘96 Civics. This stereo can play so loud that there are moments you have to lower the volume to be able to see through your mirrors! If the mirrors had pennies in their pockets they would be flying out, I swear.

All this in a family car with a cabin that provides enough space for four or conditionally five people and combined with the nice view through the dual sunroof makes this KIA a very pleasant long distance cruiser.

The all-round independent suspension is tuned towards the sporty side and has teamed up with stronger anti-roll bars for this occasion. It remains very smooth and very comfortable on the road, a price you pay once you decide to go hard on the gas. Torque steer makes an appearance like a Hollywood star at low speeds and understeer with the stability control off is like herpes; you just have to learn to live with it. When on, the stability control is so aggressive it leaves absolutely no room to play but the result is a very safe car, I must say. The electronically variously assisted steering provides good feedback and is well weighted, but the variability becomes noticeable at some points and can be a little annoying. Overall, the suspension controls the body adequately, there is no drama in the corners and all remain safe as long as the stability control is on. I do get the feeling that the Optima’s handling is a bit let down by the mediocre NEXEN tires that it came with.

The brakes work very progressively, there is no ON or OFF feeling as there used to be with previous Korean made cars and they are very capable of stopping the car under any circumstances. One thing we did notice during the harsh part of our test was brake fade but in the real world you will never do a 0-120-0 test, three times in a row. For the record though, it did it a lot faster than a current Mercedes C300.

All that is due to the sweet power plant under the hood. This alone is one of the reasons to buy this car. The Turbo charged 4-Cyl direct injection 2.0 liter engine. It requires regular 87 octane fuel, around 7.7lt of it on the highway and 10.9lt in the city per 100 km, it produces 274 BHP and 269 pound ft. of torque and launches this KIA from a standstill to 100 in 6.7 seconds while the top speed is near 255km/h (estimated). The engine is quiet and refined, pulls well from low revs and turbo lag is very slight. The powerful motor that spins the front wheels is combined with a very smooth six speed automatic gearbox which also has a sequential mode. This can be achieved either by pushing the lever back and forth or via the paddles we mentioned before.

So this was a very pleasant surprise, KIA really has made a brilliant family car which is definitely worth looking at, especially since it wipes most of the competitors away and costs significantly less for what it offers.


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The Bird says

The 2012 Kia Optima SX offers hot performance and a very long list of features but costs a pretty penny. At least it looks good inside and out.