Watch CBSN Live

Consumer Reports: Kia Sedan Tops Honda Accord

Until recently, Kia was known chiefly as the automaker with the funny commercials featuring hip-hop hamsters. But now, with its sales surging (up 56% in April), Kia has taken another step toward serious consideration by shoppers: Consumer Reports, after a comparison test, ranks the Kia Optima midsize sedan (top right) ahead of big seller 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, pictured at right, 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.

Volkswagen Touareg: Test drivers also liked the Touareg as a luxurious SUV with a comfortable and roomy cabin. The TDI Sport model ($47,255 list price as tested) is powered by a 225-horsepower V-6 diesel that delivers smooth power. The turbocharged engine is rated at 19 mpg city, 28 highway.

Of the vehicles reviewed in the June issue, only the slightly updated Honda Accord and Toyota Highlander Hybrid appear on Consumer Reports' Recommended list. That, CR says, is because the totally redesigned Kia Optima, Ford Explorer and VW Touareg are too new in the current version to have sufficient reliability data in its reader surveys.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

More from MoneyWatch:

View CBS News In