For all those people who have been hyperventilating in anticipation of the new 2013 Ford Fusion, which certainly has a design presence that sets it well apart from anything to come out of the midsize sedan arena by southeast-Michigan located car companies in quite some time, I have one word for them: Optima.
As in Kia Optima.
Without a doubt, this is the midsize sedan with styling that no other car in that class comes close to, the aforementioned Fusion included.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I am not taken with the design of the new Fusion (although they could have done a bit more work on the rear of the car, as it has the new—um, whatever the opposite of face is—of Ford, and while it might work on the five-door Focus and Escape hatch, for a sedan it leaves something to be desired). But I do think that if the name of the game is to provide a car for the growing midsize segment at a price that is affordable, a car that people find to be strikingly appealing, then the bar is set by the Optima (even though there are those who believe that the Hyundai Sonata’s futuristic baroque lines are the ne plus ultra of sedan design today).
Oddly, Kia runs ads for the Optima that show the car as though it is driving in a NASCAR race, which seems to be an exercise in the ad agency finding an opportunity to put a comely young woman in a jumpsuit and handing her a checkered flag. Like NASCAR or not, those cars are pretty much visually more about sponsor decals than style, and the Optima has style in spades. Of course, it would probably be silly to have the car rolling down a fashion show runway, but that is more where it is at than a variant of Gasoline Alley.
And lest I trip all over myself with rhapsodizing about the sleek lines of the car, here’s something you might try the next time you’re in a parking lot: Look at how the line is cut for the rear doors on sedans. Chances are you’ll find that they simply run vertically from the C-pillar, then around the front of the rear wheel arch. Look at the sharp diagonal cuts on the rear door of the Optima. It is in keeping with the overall design. It isn’t something that appears as though it is just there, as is the case with most cars. Someone thought about it. Thought all about it. And this is one of the interesting things about this car. If you look at earlier generations of not only the Optima, but of other vehicles in the Kia lineup, you may come to the conclusion that they were designed not by a person, but by a committee. A committee the members of which never actually met. So the front looks like this and the side looks like that and the rear looks like something else entirely. But with the Optima, there is cohesiveness, from the headlamps to the tail lamps, from the instrument panel to the door handles. And as I mentioned Gasoline Alley, it brings to mind the fact that if you do look at race cars, they are precisely designed, with no wasted shapes or surfaces.
While the car as driven is of the sporty trim (“SX”), and features a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injected engine, that’s a four-cylinder engine. It is peppy enough, but you’re not going to be taking this on your next weekend at Laguna Seca. The SX package (which adds $2,950 to the MSRP of $26,800) brings with it things like a panoramic sunroof, rear camera, heated and cooled front seats, and even heated outboard rear seats. While you want to be in the driver’s seat, if you’re a passenger you might as well be comfortable, too.
Overall, I am probably more impressed with this execution of a midsize car than I am with many, if for no other reason than the stylish, purposeful design that the Optima has.
Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged four cylinder with direct injection
Material: Aluminum block and heads
Horsepower: 274 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 269 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 110.0 in.
Length: 190.7 in.
Width: 72.1 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Curb weight: 3,385 lb.
MSRP (version driven sans delivery): $26,800
EPA: 22/34/26 mpg city/highway/combined