Ordinarily, if you wanted to impress people on a budget, you would need to drive a car that has an expensive brand name, and lots of trendy features that will eventually break. But with the 2011-2015 Kia Optima SX, that’s just not the case. It can impress people with its looks alone, and it’s filled with a ton of luxury accouterments that’ll probably be cheap to fix. Plus, it’s a used Kia, which means you’ll stay on Budget…

When the Kia Optima SX debuted for the 2011 model year, the automotive world was collectively stunned. The previous Optima looked like something you’d rent if you had to fly into Des Moines and attend the funeral of your Amish mother-in-law. But this new version looked good, and it had an upscale interior to match. They’d hired Peter Schreyer, the former Audi Design chief, to create a distinctive new design language for the brand. The idea was to move Kia into a more premium market space, and their new mid-size sedan did just that.

Based on the same basic architecture as the newly redesigned 2011–2015 Hyundai Sonata, the top-spec Kia Optima SX got a bespoke sport suspension, racy 18-inch wheels, and a body kit complete with a discrete decklid spoiler. The reason behind this delicious sport flavoring is because of what’s under the hood. Namely, a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that produces 274 sweet horsepower, and 269 lb-ft of twist. Mat the throttle and your Costco Audi will get to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. That tart suspension and sport tires will whisk you through curves without much body roll. And the standard paddle-shifters will make you feel like a driving god.

The downside is, those gorgeous wheels and tight suspension give the Kia Optima SX a very firm ride. And that sweet engine… doesn’t sound as good as it could. However, this is an authentic sports sedan that can perform admirably. Think of it as sweet & sour chicken from a good Chinese joint in Queens. It’s not as comfortable as a brand-name sport sedan, but it can sure-as-hell keep up with them.

The inside of the 2011-2015 Kia Optima SX is just as impressive as the looks and the performance. There’s a cockpit-style dash that’s canted toward the driver and covered in a soft vinyl material. A big 7-inch touchscreen sits at the top of the center stack, and it can be filled with either a voice-controlled infotainment system or navigation. Plus, there’re other goodies, like heated front & rear seats, air-conditioned front seats, standard leather, and a full-glass roof. Put some tape over the Kia badges, and Jeff from Accounting will think you do drive an Audi.

One of the best things about the 2011–2015 Kia Optima SX is the look, which is still fresh and undeniably upscale. Kia redesigned the Optima, yet it looks so similar to the 3rd-Gen , an untrained eye won’t be able to tell the difference. And at $5k-$15k, this spunky Kia will have you looking good without killing your Budget.

2015 Optima SX

Related: The 2021 Kia Optima | 2018 Kia Stinger | The 2019 Kia K900