Bottom line: History often turns on chance. At the moment, history seems to be favoring Kia and Hyundai. The South Korean companies have the right business plan at exactly the right time: Turn out high-quality, sporty, fuel-efficient automobiles, such as the 2012 Kia SX T-GDI, at a price that beats rival products. Sell quality, as opposed to a “car that is good for the money.” Innovate. The SX T-GDI, for example, has every communications and safety technology available in considerably more expensive luxury cars.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent marks in all three. Handling is exceptional. Credit Kia’s knack for turning the ordinary into something special. Four-wheel independent suspension (McPherson struts up front, multi-link rear, with front and rear stabilizer bars).
Head-turning quotient: Sporty, attractive.
Body style/layout: The SX T-GDI is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive midsize family sedan with a traditional notchback trunk.
Engine/transmission: Standard equipment includes a turbocharged, 16-valve gasoline-direct-injection in-line
2-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (269 foot-pounds of torque, 274 horsepower). The engine is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually.
Capacities: Seats for five people. Cargo capacity with rear seats up is 15.4 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 18.5 gallons of gasoline. Regular and mid-grade are okay, according to Kia engineers — Kia’s attempt to keep everything affordable. But the Optima T-GDX has a turbocharged engine, which normally requires premium. I’d ignore what I think is Kia marketing and use premium.
Mileage: In real-world driving, I got 19 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway, three miles less than advertised in each case.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance and electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; side and head air bags; fog lights; and Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps.
Price: The base price on is $26,500. Dealer’s invoice price is $24,760. Price as tested is $30,200 including $2,950 in options (onboard navigation, backup camera, premium sound system, power-operated panoramic glass roof, satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats) and a $750 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $28,145. Compare with Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Volkswagen Jetta.