Consumer Reports: Kia Sedan Tops Honda Accord

 Consumer Reports test drivers gave the Optima the edge over the Accord for its superior handling, although the magazine kept Accord on its Recommended list. They cited these additional attributes for the 2011 Optima (list price $21,885 in the test model), which has had a complete redesign:

The 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine, which delivers strong performance
Good fuel economy, with an EPA ratings of 24 mpg in city driving, 35 mpg highway
Smooth shifting by the six-speed automatic transmission
An attractive interior and plenty of trunk space
Crash test performance - the Optima garnered a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But it was the quick steering and crisp handling that gave Optima the edge over the Accord, long among the top-selling midsize sedans. CR test drivers said the Accord handling was “sloppy with notable body lean” when it was pushed on the magazine’s test track.

Optima ranks sixth overall among four-cylinder family sedans. The top five are Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy and Suzuki Kizashi. The Accord came in at No. 7. The review is in the June issue or available on the CR website if you are a subscriber.

Both Kia and its Korean corporate stablemate, Hyundai,  already sell well,  but the two have benefited further  from tight supplies of Japanese cars and parts after the recent earthquake and tsunami.

In addition to the Optima, sales have been strong for Kia vehicles like the midsize Sorento SUV and the small, boxy Soul (promoted by the hip-hop hamsters). At the recent New York Auto Show, Kia introduced the 2012 subcompact Rio, which is rated for 40 mpg in highway driving. In a separate  round of testing, Consumer Reports looked at midsize SUVs and gave mediocre ratings to Ford’s redesigned Explorer, which has been a strong seller so far. Here’s a closer look at those ratings:

Ford Explorer: Test drivers found the 2011 Explorer improved over the previous generation. They gave the Explorer credit for a comfortable ride and decent fuel economy (rated 17 mpg city, 25 highway). But they found the engine noisy and handling sluggish. The six-speed automatic transmissions is sometimes slow to downshift, they said. And they reiterated their distaste for the latest version of the SYNC system called MyFord Touch as too complicated and distracting. (The test vehicle was priced at $39,725.) Other reviewers have ranked  the Explorer more favorably.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid: CR’s favorite among the three SUVs tested in this round, this hybrid SUV boasts faster acceleration than the standard gas model. It has a 280-horsepower V-6 engine combined with three electric motors and a smooth continuously variable transmission. The combination is rated 28 mpg city and 28 highway; in CR’s own test, the Highlander Hybrid (limited-run test model listed at $47,255) got a combined 27 mpg - closer than usual to the EPA ratings.