Okay, so the 2011 Optima isn’t quite yet to dealerships but the Sonata is and since it shares a platform with its Kia cousin I figured it’s about time we put their different styling approaches to the ultimate test. Since the 2011 Sonata and Optima are based on the same platform and mechanicals I am going to tell you which one to buy based on interior and exterior styling alone. Yes, my utterly subjective personal opinion based on wild conjecture and snap judgment.
Come on, now. Don’t lie and tell me you don’t judge a car by its interior and exterior styling. Why else would car shows be so popular? And don’t tell me you don’t lose interest in a blind date when they tell you he or she “has a nice personality?”
Hyundai/Kia has always claimed that their brands have separate styling identities and while that has been true in some sectors, the previous generation Optima and Sonata looked very similar. Not this time, though, boys and girls.
This time Hyundai has taken a very forward thinking approach with odd creases in the 2011 Sonata’s bodywork and an interior that looks like something out of a Klingon Battleship. While I have warmed to the overall design of the 2011 Sonata (but only in dark metallics exterior colors), I am not sure if I would buy one. But then I was wrong about Chris Bangle’s last generation BMW 5-Series because all of these years later as it is being replaced I find it to be the best looking car in its class.
That is the main problem with adventurous auto design (especially on mainstream family sedans) because buyers of these cars generally like to play it safe and comfortable. This, unfortunately, is probably why the 2011 Sonata has a bit of a squishy, magic carpet ride suspension setting but I hope that since the Optima is the “sporty” brand that they will imbue it with a bit more handling prowess.
Otherwise the 2011 Hyundai Sonata affords drivers an involving driving experience with a surprisingly peppy and smooth 2.4 liter 198 horsepower engine. Also, kudos to Hyundai for getting an excellent 24 city/35 highway reading and not feeling the need to offer a V6 engine. A turbo and hybrid variant will be added later but this decision to not offer a 6-cylinder shows that Hyundai/Kia is finally ready to lead the class not just follow it.
The 2011 Kia Optima, however, is definitely a family sedan that I could warm up to. Just the interior alone, what with its more classically styled, chrome ringed controls and premium looking materials gives off a far more Germanic air than anything this South Korean automaker has ever made.
The exterior grille also gives the Optima a more menacing presence where the one used on the Sonata just looks willfully wacky. But heck, sometimes when a car is just a little bit wacky you wind up loving it all the more. But if I had to choose I would honestly pick the 2011 Optima. I think Hyundai/Kia may be surprised to find they sell more Optima sedans than they anticipated.
(Note: Since they are both built at a plant in Alabama you can rest easy knowing that your 2011 Hyundai Sonata or 2011 Kia Optima purchase is helping keep an American worker employed. )