New Car Review: 2013 Kia Optima SX

front 3/4 driving shot of white 2013 Kia Optima SX

Kia has come a long way in a big hurry.

From butt of many an automotive joke to low-cost transportation alternative to "as good as what the Japanese were doing five years ago", each step came in rhythmic cadence. The inevitability that Kia would make a fully competitive vehicle was apparent to anyone willing to admit it. It was about a year and a half ago that I admitted not only had Kia arrived there, but with the then all-new Optima, had actually leapfrogged the competition (Ford Focus, Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord) in terms of style.

Now comes the next hurdle. And this one may be tougher.

Is the world ready for...and will it buy...a $35,000 Kia Optima?

You can stil get a base LX for $21,350. The one notch up EX (the subject of our September 2011 review) is $23,650. And the SX, which comes standard with the 2-liter turbo, adding 74 horsepower at a penalty of only two miles per gallon in the EPA city test (24 becomes 22) and one mile per gallon on the highway (35 drops to 34) is $26,800.

But now, the SX can come with different packages...and those throw the price through the imaginary barrier of $30,000 and more than halfway down the field to $40,000. The SX we had recently added three packages and a cargo mat that rang in (with freight and handling) at $35,370...$1,100 more than the loaded, top-of-the line 2013 Honda Accord we'll be reviewing here shortly. Almost $14,000 more than a base Optima LX.

Is it worth it?

Well, you certainly get a lot for your money. Swapping the 2.4 liter four for the 2-liter turbo cuts the time it takes to reach 60 from a dead stop to 6.6 seconds from 7.9. There's a six-speed automatic transmission, all the airbags and supplemental restraints you'd expect, dual-zone automatic temperature control, rear seat vents, an audio system with Sirius, USB and Bluetooth connections, leather trim, keyless entry and pushbutton start, power driver's seat with lumbar control, paddle shifters, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. That's just for the $26,800 base price.

Our tester then upped the ante with the $1,400 Technology Package, replacing the audio system with nav and Sirius traffic as well as HD radio. A nice system, it works well, and in a city where HD radio stations are plentiful and offer largely commercial-free variety on top of what's on AM, FM and satellite, it's nice to have. But $1,400 worth of nice?

Interior view of 2013 Kia Optima SX

Next is the Touring Package ($2,950). That's a panoramic sunroof, power folding outside mirrors, an upgrade to the stock audio system (but remember, that's gone with the upgrade to the Technology Package), rear camera display, a power front passenger's seat, driver's seat memory, heated and cooled front seats, and upgraded 18-inch Luxury Design alloy wheels. Again, all nice...but there's not a single thing on there I couldn't do without and it's 50 bucks shy of three grand.

Red painted brake calipers are part of the SX Limited Package on the 2013 Kia Optima SX

And then the topper: The SX Limited Package. It's $3,350. LED daytime running lights, yet another upgrade in wheels, this time to 18-inch chromes, red brake calipers, chrome accent lower door side sills, Nappa leather seat and interior trim, black cloth headliner and pillar trim, an electronic parking brake, unique interior accents, a chrome accent rear spoiler and a first aid kit. Sorry. Not moved. All really nice to have...but if we're playing with real money (and especially if it's mine), it's not $3,350 worth of nice to me.

Which pretty well leads us to that bottom line of $35,370.

The Kia Optima SX is a great choice in sedans. Stylish, roomy, fast. It's a screaming deal at $26,800. If you wanted to make it $30,000 (the SX Premium Touring Package would do that), I'd still use the term bargain. But above that, the advantages erode fast. When you get with $1,500 of the starting price of a BMW 328i, you've gone a bridge too far. At least that's my opinion. Use the comment link and let me know yours.