2011 Kia Optima Turbo
Power: 274hp, 269 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 34 hwy/22 city
Engine: 2.0 Turbo inline four-cylinder
Price as tested: SX trim, $26,690
kia.com

The Kia Optima Turbo has been getting itself into some crazy situations. From alien-piloted joyrides to getting used as a dunk prop by Blake Griffin, it seems you can’t go anywhere without seeing the dramatically restyled sedan. But when all is said and done, is it a car you’d actually want to drive on the daily? Well if you’re the type that needs the practicality of a midsize, but is blessed and cursed with that non-conformity gene, the answer’s a resounding yes.

From every angle, the Optima Turbo, another crowning jewel in Kia’s recent design overhaul, turns heads. In fact, remove all the emblems and you’d be hard-pressed to identify its port of origin. OK, so nobody would pin it as a BMW or Audi, but would anyone guess that it came from a Korean brand that was, up until recently, known for being an ultra-economy brand? Highly unlikely. A nondescript grille up front and panoramic moonroof over its cabin, the Optima manages to appear pricey without the typical overindulgence factor. HID headlights and LED tails (on SX trim-level) deliver added curb-appeal, but overall, the car’s exterior vibe exudes elegance on an attainable level.

Inside, the ambiance continues on. Though the leather could stand to be of a slightly thicker grain, it’s cut neatly and pairs well with the rest of the smartly mapped controls. Simple yet chic, the Optima’s core is roomy, functional and most importantly, far from boring, a milestone, considering the segment its in.

But what really makes the Optima ripple in a sea of vanilla is what’s under its hood. Rather than go the typical route of cramming in a six-cylinder, Kia’s decided to go the lighter, more efficient and just plain fun route of delivering power through a turbo. Using a snail-shell whose turbine housing is integrated with the exhaust manifold, the Optima’s Turbo taps its efficient design to deliver power with hardly any noticeable lag. Mash the well-trimmed throttle, and its aluminum-block engine pumps out 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque like its no big deal, all while maintaining an impressive fuel rating of 34 mpg highway and 22 city.

While its power is more than adequate, the Optima Turbo leaves a bit to be desired in terms of handling. Carve through the canyons, and it becomes apparent that it’s no “sport sedan”, as much as it may appear to be. Still, it’s nothing a tighter suspension and additional tweaking couldn’t solve. Do we see a performance edition down the line? Don’t hold your breath, but given the other choices in the typically bland midsize segment, maybe it’s time that you do believe the hype.