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As a part of its ongoing product offensive, Kia has reworked its popular Optima to keep it in touch with a rapidly evolving segment.
For 2014, the front fascia of the SX Turbo not only earns Xenon headlight LED positioning lights, it gets some very cool-looking quad-pod LED fog lights.
The combination adds a great deal of character and, at night, some serious visual punch.
At the back, there's more of the LED treatment found in the tail lights -- the bright light is diffused through a frosted lens. As a result, the cluster looks more like it has light tubes rather than a traditional row of LEDs.
The revamped interior in the range-topping SX Turbo now features a new flat-bottomed steering wheel. It adds some needed sportiness to the look. It also includes paddle shifters.
The anomaly is the addition of the paddles nixes the heated steering wheel for some odd reason. I want both!
The instrument cluster and centre stack screen have also been updated. The cluster now features a larger 4.3-inch screen nestled between the main dials.
The TFT LCD screen displays its information very clearly -- I am not a fan of the half-baked pixelated screens that dominate this end of the market, so this is a move for the better.
Likewise, the eight-inch screen that takes pride of place in the centre stack is clean and clear. Regardless of whether accessing the phone, vehicle settings, infotainment or navigation functions, the touch-sensitive screen and hard buttons make it very easy to operate.
As for the rest of the cabin, well, it is nicely appointed and features comfortable power front sport buckets that are both heated and cooled.
Factor in the steering tilt and telescopic steering adjustment and the driving position is just about perfect.
The Optima also boasts uncluttered sightlines -- just in case, the SX Turbo comes with a backup camera.
The rear environment is equally accommodating. The seat holds a pair of adults with room to spare and, on the SX Turbo test car, the outboard riders were treated to bum-warmers.
The trunk also accommodated a week's worth of luggage for three very easily.
All of this speaks to the Optima's family orientation.
Where the Optima SX Turbo impressed me most was in its level of performance.
Of course, the 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder and the 274 horsepower it produces (and it does so on regular gasoline!) is not to be overlooked.
However, the fact it twists out 269 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 r.p.m. makes it a delightful mill. More importantly, the turbo blows air into the engine at 17.4 psi, meaning the driver has access to as much as 150 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,000 r.p.m., which eliminates any sign of turbo lag.
During the test, the engine remained quiet and refined across the operating range and it was well-matched to the six-speed manumatic -- hammer the gas, and the box dropped a couple of cogs as the boosted power came online seamlessly.
Of all of the changes made to the 2014 model, it is the addition of a drive-mode button that makes the biggest difference.
Not only are there Normal and Eco modes (the latter softens things far too much), there's now a Sport setting that switches everything to hyper.
It sharpens the throttle response and holds each gear longer, which makes an already powerful ride feel so much peppier. It also firms the steering, which improves the feel and feedback.
While Sport is not the best setting about town because of the stretched upshifts, once out of suburbia it came into its own and very quickly became my mode of choice.
In Sport, the SX Turbo ran from rest to 100 kilometres an hour in eight seconds and accomplished the more important 80-to-120-km/h passing move in a rewarding 5.2 seconds.
The unspoken upside proved to be the overall fuel economy.
Over a test distance of 700 kilometres, I managed to post an average economy of 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres, and this included running the highway stretches at an average of 130 km/h (you have to love the 120-km/h speed limits in Nevada!). For a roomy family sedan, the performance and economy are outstanding.
The SX Turbo is also a sharp-handling ride, family sedan or otherwise.
The sport suspension was taut yet comfortable, while the P225/45R18 tires delivered a ton of lateral grip -- enough, in fact, that the electronic control systems only intervened as I flirted with the limits of adhesion.
Throw in the aforementioned steering setup when in Sport and you have a nimble car that obeys driver input in a fast and predictable manner.
The Kia Optima is a good-looking mid-sized sedan that has the wherewithal to be all things to all potential owners.
In base form, it is a competent, if mildly underpowered, family-hauler that's comfortable, well-equipped and fuel-efficient.
The SX Turbo cranks up the power and responsiveness to driver input without impinging on efficiency. This means it not only fulfils the family obligation, it's a true driver's car, too.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014