Making its world premiere in New York, the all-new 2011 Kia Optima combines style, amenities and technology in ways destined to dramatically raise its profile in the mid-size sedan set. An international effort with input from Kia's facilities in Irvine, California, and Frankfurt, Germany, the next-gen Optima reflects the most aggressive implementation yet of design chief Peter Schreyer's approach to creating a distinctive visual presence for Kia. Beneath those smartly chiseled contours lies a new platform that promises to elevate the dynamic game of this mid-size front-driver in an equally profound manner.

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"The all-new Optima is a new strand in Kia's growing design DNA with a blend of simple and fluid lines and elegant but uncomplicated shapes that draw the attention of the eye in much the same fashion as a perfectly-tailored fine Italian suit," said Schreyer, in characterizing the package. "From the distinctive sweeping chrome accent that stretches through the C- pillars to the sleek greenhouse and flared wheel arches, every inch of the Optima projects a distinguished and refined style and extreme attention to detail."

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That kind of fastidious approach extends well beneath the surface. Structurally, the 2011 Kia Optima is based on a far stronger and more rigid unit body than its predecessor. Slightly longer, lower, and wider than the car it replaces, it also gains a substantial 2.9 inches of wheelbase. The new Optima's fully independent suspension received a focused retuning to accommodate its more potent powerplants, and is duly complemented by Electronic Stability and Traction Control Systems and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Hill Assist Control.

The 2011 Kia Optima will offer buyers three distinct powertrain choices, all spun from the latest iteration of Hyundai/Kia Theta II engine architecture. Opening the lineup in LX and EX models is a Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) 2.4-liter four rated at 200 horsepower while the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter GDI in the sporty SX is tuned to make 274 horses. Both of these will be available in the fall when the 2011 Optima goes on sale, and will be matched with either a six-speed manual transmission (LX only) or six-speed Sportmatic automatic.

Early in 2011, they'll be joined by a new Optima Hybrid with a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine. While details were few about Kia's first-ever gas-electric model, we suspect the hardware will be shared with the new 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that also debuted in New York. If so, it will be a full parallel setup that pairs a port-injected version of the Theta II with a 30-kWh electric motor/generator fed by an advanced Lithium-Polymer (Li-Poly) battery and linked to the six-speed Sportmatic autoshifter.

Whether LX, EX, SX or Hybrid, all 2011 Kia Optima variants continue to boast a lengthy roster of standards. Key among the shared items are a full range of power assists, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with SIRIUS Satellite Radio capabilities and three months complimentary service, AUX/USB/Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted voice activation controls and a 60/40 split/folding rear seat. Stepping up through the model hierarchy brings even more of the right stuff, from Kia's UVO powered by Microsoft1 infotainment system and dual-zone automatic air conditioning with rear vents to Smart Key and push-button starting. At EX and SX levels, the 2011 Kia Optima moves into genuine entry-lux territory, offering options like leather upholstery, heated/cooled power front seats, heated rear seats, an Infinity 5.1 Surround Sound premium audio system with HD Radio, and a voice-activated navigation system.

Pricing info will have to wait until closer to on-sale dates, but even with its new persona, the 2011 Kia Optima will almost certainly stay true to its value-oriented roots.

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