Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 24 miles per gallon city, 35 highway, 28 MPG combined
As-Tested Price: $30,615 including $825 in destination fees
These stalwart sedans are safe, fuel efficient and built to last for generations. There’s a reason each company delivers several hundred thousand of them every calendar year; in a way, they’re like security blankets for terrified drivers.
Aside from these two segment-leading models, there are plenty of other midsize family cars to choose from, for the more adventurous among us, at least. The new Chevy Malibu is finally a strong contender, the Ford Fusion is beautifully styled, and then there’s the Hyundai Sonata, which is better than ever.
But there’s another dark horse that sedan shoppers should put on their lists. The Kia Optima has been totally redesigned for 2016.
Now More Than Ever!
Cars, as with Americans, get larger every year; it’s just a fact of life, and the new Optima is no exception to this everlasting rule.
Engineers have both stretched and widened this sedan, which is Kia’s top-selling model. Its wheelbase has been increased by 0.4 inches to total 110.4; width has grown by 1.2 inches and now measures 73.2. These changes make it slightly larger in both dimensions that either the Accord or Camry, though it’s ever so slightly smaller than a Fusion.
Structural changes also provide a more spacious cabin and extra trunk space, nearly 16 cubic feet. Still, on paper, this new Optima may be better than ever, but in the real world, it seems less stylish than its exceptionally handsome predecessor. These designs are nearly identical, but something seems lost in translation here. Ditto for the interior, which now feels more mainstream and, consequently, a lot less special than before.
More than half of the new Optima’s architecture is made of high-strength steel, a change that’s helped improve structural rigidity by 58 percent, which pays major ride and handling dividends. Further helping reduce mass, cars equipped with a panoramic sunroof feature a support structure made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic.
As it rolled off Kia’s West Point, Georgia, assembly line, our Optima EX test car weighed in at a claimed 3,362 pounds; that’s all over the Accord and Camry like Hollandaise sauce on asparagus, though it’s slightly more than the trim Chevy Malibu.
Keeping pace with rivals, the 2016 Optima offers several powertrain options that will be familiar to drivers cross-shopping other midsize sedans. Kia has three different engines available in this family-friendly car.
The mass-market offering is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that’s good for 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. Our test model was equipped with this smooth-running and impressively efficient engine.
For drivers who crave more, there’s an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged powerplant that’s good for 245 horses and 260 units of twist. This engine, along with the 2.4, is matched exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission
However, if you want better fuel economy, Kia also builds Optimas equipped with a 1.6-liter turbo-four and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. This combination’s good for 178 horses and 32 miles per gallon combined.
But if you’re really hardcore about saving money at the pump, a hybrid model is also on the table. This Optima variant is good for a claimed 38 miles per gallon combined. Falling far behind this, the EX model we evaluated stickered at a still respectable 24 mpg city and 35 highway. These scores result in a combined figure of 28 miles per gallon.
Better Living with Electronics
Like other modern cars, the 2016 Optima offers boatloads of technology. And one of the handiest features offered is the brand’s latest UVO system. Appeasing today’s connected consumers, this infotainment array supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for easy – and safe – access to your smartphone while driving.
But in addition to these handy features, it also offers things like a programmable speed alert, geo fencing and a system that monitors your driving performance. These extras are particularly handy for parents of teenagers old enough to get behind the wheel; it even comes with a curfew reminder.
Making things safer, a host of assistance technology is offered. This includes a reverse camera and 360-degree monitor, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and much more. Additionally, the new Optima is Kia’s first model equipped with bi-xenon HID headlights with available Dynamic Bending Lamps, which turn into corners as you steer.
When it comes to listening quality, a 10-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system is available. Included with this is the firm’s Clari-Fi technology, which undoes the damage caused by audio compression, so the MP3s on your iPod or smartphone sound much better. Additionally, this system comes with Harman’s QuantumLogic system, which creates a pretty convincing surround-sound experience.
Underway, the 2016 Optima is quite middle of the road, like one presidential candidate scrambling to be more mainstream than his or her rivals; nothing about the way this car drives will upset a potential voter … I mean customer. Of course, this also means it won’t thrill prospects, either.
Our tester’s 2.4-liter engine was smooth and quiet. The performance it provided was totally adequate, if somewhat uninspiring. It gets the job done without fuss while sipping as little fuel as possible. According to the computer readout, we averaged around 30 miles per gallon during our week in the Optima and we were not easy on the throttle.
However, in chilly weather, this car takes forever to reach operating temperature. On one 14-degree morning, it was at least 30 minutes before the needle even got close to the temp gauge’s normal range. Naturally, all this time, the heater put out borderline cold air as I shivered with the seat warmer going full blast.
Ride and handling are class competitive, if unremarkable. This car’s steering has an isolated feel to it and, while hardly raucous, its cockpit could be a little quieter.
The Optima’s interior is nicely built without any fit and finish issues that I noticed. Likewise, the quality of its materials is quite handsome, though in the cold I did hear a few creaking sounds emanating from unknown parts of the cabin, which is a little disconcerting.
The Verdict: 2016 Kia Optima
The 2016 Kia Optima is perfectly mainstream in every way. It’s aimed at the meaty heart of today’s sedan market and, for the most part, it hits this target. It’s stylish enough, comfortable enough, efficient enough and smooth enough to compete with rivals in its segment, though it’s not quite a knock-out product. In short, it’s entirely competent if not class leading.
As for pricing, you can drive off a dealer’s lot in an entry-level Optima LX for an attractive $22,815 including $825 in delivery fees. Our nicely equipped mid-range EX model cost $30,615 out the door.
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