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First Drive: Kia Optima SX Turbo

Gorgeous sedan eschews V-6 for lusty little force-fed four cylinder.

by on Dec.08, 2011

Kia's Optima Turbo shows that a small four cylinder turbo can replace the V-6 as the performance option for midsize sedans.

For several years, the engine formula for your basic midsize sedan was fairly well known. The standard model came with a four cylinder, but a V-6 was optional.

But in 2010, Kia – and it’s sister brand, Hyundai – changed that formula by announcing that its new Optima would only come with four-holers. No V-6 would be offered. Instead, the optional performance engine would be a little 2.0-liter turbo.

It’s become a familiar refrain in the auto industry. Redesigned models are ditching larger engines for smaller ones, often with high-tech features, allowing them to make horsepower similar to their larger predecessors.

Turbocharge Your Auto Knowledge!

Kia’s answer for replacing that V-6 is one impressive little mill. Direct injection allows a 9.5:1 compression engine, which is stratospheric for a turbo engine. Pumping out 274 horsepower – remember, this is just a 2.0-liter – the engine also delivers excellent fuel economy. It’s rated at 22 city and 34 highway. We saw a 25 mpg on mostly freeways and rural two-lanes.

But V-6 buyers also paid the premium to gain a little smoother engine. Could a four cylinder really stand in for a six’s creaminess?