2016 Kia Optima Review

Redone, Refined and Refreshing

All new for 2016 (even if it doesn’t look it), the Kia Optima is a big deal for the Korean company. It was the automaker’s best seller for three consecutive years and was the first car from Kia to break the 150,000 units sold mark.

To make a radical change to its mid-size sedan now would upset the momentum that Kia has built up to this point. So instead of introducing a completely new looking Optima, the company gave the car some lessons in the more refined things in life, giving the car more useable torque, fancy features and a quiet demeanor.

Same Great Design

It may be hard to really differentiate the new Optima from the outgoing model, but that’s just fine. The last generation mid-size sedan had a distinct style that was modern and sporty and the new gen Kia continues with this momentum.

It has grown slightly in all directions; the Optima is taller, wider and longer. The size difference is so subtle, I have no doubt Blake Griffin could still dunk over it.

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Kia’s designers definitely showed a sense of restraint, making sure the car still looked respectable rather than overdone with larger grilles, excessive chrome and other tacky add-ons. For example, the roofline is accented by a tasteful chrome strip that runs all the way to the trunk. Around back, a pair of oval exhaust tips stick out from a sporty carbon-fiber looking diffuser. The Optima also is available with slick looking LED tail lights and also offers a great looking headlight design with LED daytime running lights that give the car an easily identifiable light profile. The only questionable exterior design element is the Turbo badges found on the front fender, which seem a bit unnecessary.

Boring Interior

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As slick as the exterior is, the interior isn’t as tastefully done. It looks acceptable, and fit and finish is excellent, but the some materials leave obvious room for improvement. One painful point is the glossy soft touch material found on top of the dashboard, which shimmers in sunlight and can blind the driver and passenger, or create a glare in the windshield.

However, kudos to Kia for the fantastic seats found in the Optima. They’re soft, comfortable and supportive. You sink right in and will not want to leave them. They look even better in higher trim levels, with that oh-so-cool diamond stitched pattern in the leather. These higher end models also come with heated and cooled features. The rear seats are equally accommodating with a ton of leg room and are optionally heated. Cargo space has improved by 0.5 cubic feet to a total of 15.9 cubic feet.

The UVO infotainment system arrives standard with Android Auto, and is responsive, bright and easy to use. Less impressive is the gauge cluster, which feels plucked right out of any other from the past year, which is to say it’s a bit bland.

Refined, Less Powerful Powertrains

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Under the hood, you’ll find some familiar faces that have received a slight makeover. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is found in base models making 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. A 2.0-liter turbo-four was the only powertrain available for testing, a mill that makes 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. New for this generation is a 1.6-liter turbo that makes 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Kia may not be making big splashes with the horsepower numbers of its engines, but the torque figures are impressive. Peak torque in the turbocharged engines arrives at under 2,000 rpm, while the naturally aspirated unit peaks at 4,000 rpm.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Accord Review

Interestingly enough, the 2.4 and 2.0-turbo engines that were available in the last Optima made more horsepower. However in testing, the new 2.0-turbo feels remarkably smooth and was sufficient for making passes on the highway. If anything, Kia took out some of the rowdiness out of the engine, and the result is a very composed, smooth and well-behaved motor.

The 2.4 and 2.0-turbo use six-speed automatic transmissions, while the 1.6-turbo uses a new seven speed dual clutch transmission. The six-speed is smooth in the bigger turbo model, and in higher trim models, drivers can choose their gear via paddle shifters. Also available is a drive mode selector, which modifies the transmission shift logic and steering effort to deliver a sportier drive in Sport mode, or more fuel efficient one in Eco mode.

Driving Dynamics

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Like its exterior design and powertrains, the 2016 Kia Optima is so refined on the road. It’s comfortable and direct without the twitchiness and stiffness of other sport-tuned sedans. Around the canyons and mountain passes of Aspen, Colorado, the car was entertaining enough, but skewed more towards comfortable.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine didn’t feel wheezy in the higher altitudes, and pushed the Optima through the corners and twisty roads. On the road, the car doesn’t feel large, as its longer proportions would indicate.

ALSO SEE: 2015 Hyundai Genesis vs 2016 Nissan Maxima

A number of driver assists are available, including adaptive cruise control and a forward collision avoidance technology. Thanks to the safety feature, the adaptive cruise control can bring the Optima to a complete stop, making it a killer feature when you’re stuck in traffic. Other features like blind spot assist, lane departure warning and a very useful 360-degree camera for parking are all available as well.

The biggest stand out feature of the Optima is how quiet it is. Closing the windows and turning off the fantastic 630-watt harmon/kardon stereo, had the cabin so serene that my passenger and I started whispering to each other. We jumped straight past “indoor voices” territory and right into “library voices” mode.

Pricing

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There are five trim levels of the Optima, with the base LX coming in at $22,675 and arriving with such luxuries as a six-way adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, six-way adjustable front passenger’s seat with height adjuster, a rear view camera and a five-inch touchscreen. Buyers can pay $24,815 for the LX 1.6 model, which arrives predictably with the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine.

The EX 2.4 trim costs $25,715 and includes high-end headlights with LED accents, LED tail lights, power folding heated mirrors, a 12-way adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support and memory system, a heated steering wheel and leather-trimmed heated front seats. Buyers will have to pay $30,515 for the SX 2.0, which comes with the more powerful turbocharged engine, bi-Xenon headlights, and offers up the whole suite of driver assistance technology.

The SXL trim Optima comes standard with all these features and includes the pretty quilted Nappa Leather seats, and costs $36,615. That’s a lot of money, but the fully loaded Optima is packed to the brim with features, technology and premium touches.

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The Verdict: 2016 Kia Optima Review

Stylish, comfortable and refined are the best words to describe the new Optima. It’s no humdrum motoring appliance, instead it offers buyers a real taste of a premium car in a mainstream market, all at a palatable price.

  • Rickers

    It looks a little less round, but otherwise, the same.

  • MrGonk

    Hold onto those ’11-13 Optimas, guys. They’re about to level off on the depreciation curve even more. This look is really unfortunate. With the ’11-13 design, they were in this great design space, where the aggressiveness, stance and very Bavarian cleanliness of the lines made for elegant design, but some of the flashier details (especially on the chromed out SXL) of more space-agey Japanese sport styling sensibilities had it right in this nice Goldilocks zone between refined and sporty. A huge accomplishment for any car in the midsize sedan segment – you could have put four silver rings on the nose and a 300-hp turbo engine in the body of the ’13 SX and sold it for a lot more money with that design. But for the budget-conscious midsize mainstream sedan, the Optima was an absolute triumph.

    This redesign feels like a gross lesson in how small design changes within the same design language can just ruin everything. The lines are chaotic and unbalanced now. Overly noisy and aggressive, lacking any sense of elegance or streamlining. It looks the same in some essential way, but honestly, if you look at this design and think of anything other than a Camry drawn up by an ADHD-addled tween, I would like some of what you’re smoking.

  • Aelwyn

    Couldn’t agree more. I had a 2013 SXL… in black with the chrome package. I’m not one for the blingy chrome stuff, but it was done very tastefully on that car. The Optimas then definitely had a very Audi look to them (which makes sense, given that the design chief is a former Audi guy). I don’t even have a Kia anymore, but I’ve continued to admire the design of many of their cars (the Soul notwithstanding). However this new Optima is a disappointment. The front looks like a cross between a Toyota Camry and a Chrysler 200C… and the back looks like a Honda Accord. Certainly nothing especially *wrong* with it, but it’s utterly unremarkable now. The changes seem forced or contrived. Changes for the sake of change, without much vision for a cohesive whole.

  • Smeliot

    That’s EXACTLY what I was thinking. I’m glad I got my Optima in ’14.

  • Shady N. Janzeir

    On top of what MrGonk said, there still is the fact that it’s a “discount” car – what shape is it going to be in after four years and 100,000 miles is anyone’s guess. It might feel like a quality car on the showroom floor, but it probably will be ready for the junkyard in five years’ time.

  • Ken

    I have a 2011 EX with premium package with a little over 65,000 miles on it. The only problem I have ever had was when the keyless ignition remote battery went bad a couple of weeks ago. Just replaced the front brakes pads for the first time (under $20 and about 15 minutes to install them). It runs and drives pretty much like it did when it was new. I have no reason to replace it and hope to get 200,000 miles or more out of it. I will replace it as a primary car at something over 100,000 to make “Mama” happy.

  • Ted

    Ugly vehicle. REALLY ugly vehicle.

  • Jason Adair

    I have a 2008 Kia Spectra that runs like it’s brand new and has almost 150k on it. Aside from hitting a deer last week, the body is still in great condition. The only thing I’ve ever done to it is replace the belts just because I don’t like the idea of my engine obliterating itself if the timing belt should snap.

  • danwat1234

    How is it that the 2.4L model gets so much better on the highway than the 1.6T or 2T model?
    It beats the 2T in the city too, despite having a torque converter auto…

    Does it have auto start/stop?

  • ChangeThis

    Slick Styling?

  • Astrolpdc

    Fully loaded 2012 SX in Satin metal owner here. This is my wife’s daily driver and she wouldn’t part with it for the world. Just put in a new battery with more CCA than factory and other than the usual maintenance this car is the bomb. The 274Hp Turbo has instantaneous response for cut and thrust and after mission accomplished the car just settles back into steady-ready for what’s next. Never been so pleased with a purchase. We will take this beauty into retirement next year and be very thankful we bought when we did. I cannot believe how screwed up the new interior is compared to the Saab/BMW slanted dash we have. Camry anyone? The long chrome strip must have been from Hyundai corporate. What was Peter thinking?

  • cassmanio

    I will miss that dash that was slanted towards the driver. Clearly Peter Schreyer is no longer calling the shots or has minimal contribution. So the car is getting better, but it is losing its sporting edge which made the difference between a Kia and Hyundai and created a faithful Kia following. I would only buy this if the discounts were too good to pass. Not for passion like the previous one.

  • turnipweed

    Have they improved the awful road noise and lack of power height adjustment in the passenger seat? Those are the only faults I have with my 2013, but they are deal killers for future buys.

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  • MrGonk

    On the value of the car: I have a 2013 Optima SXL, non chrome package, black on black, that I’m selling shortly. I recently moved on to a BMW 335d, not out of any dissatisfaction with the Optima at all – just because I’ve always wanted that beastly diesel and I was in position to get one recently where I wasn’t when I bought the Oppy a few years ago. There are actually things I will miss about the Optima, and to say that when I’m in a premium-segment German car with an MSRP of over $50k is really saying something for the design and engineering of that previous Optima platform. The thing that blows my mind is that I bought it in 2012 very, very lightly used with like 2,700 miles on it for like $26k and change. The KBB is telling me that now, with 21,000 miles on it, it’s still worth about $24k and change. That to me is amazing. I have zero doubt that these cars are likely to hold their value quite well through 100,000 miles, especially now that the successor looks like someone crashed AutoCAD making it.

    Somebody commented on the dash. I cannot for the freaking life of me fathom why they changed that. When I initially went car shopping in 2012, we checked out BMW, Audi, Kia and Volkswagen. At the time, the Kia Optima had the best cockpit experience and dash out of all of them – not relative to price, but period. The new design seriously looks like some intern took the radio console from my e90 bimmer and combined it with the slapdash chaos of my wife’s dual-screen Accord hybrid dashboard. It’s lost all its sense of organization, it’s taken on a button-ey, plasti-chrome-ey look, and most importantly, it’s lost something genuinely nice and special with the abandonment of the driver-cambered dash.

    And yeah, I’m with the rest of you – I have to really wonder if Peter Schreyer is really any more than nominally involved in the Optima anymore. The 2014 facelift was a tiny step in the wrong direction (especially with that tacky chrome fascia – what the f***), but this thing is a disaster. I wonder if his attention has been sucked up by the launch of the K900 and the redesign of the Cadenza. Now THOSE cars look just magnificent.

  • Sami Haj-Assaad

    They 100% dealt with those issues. There’s so little noise in the cabin and the passenger seat is height adjustable.

  • Sami Haj-Assaad

    There is no auto start/stop in any trim levels of the Optima

  • Jeff T

    You raise a good point as I was looking at some 2012 Kia Souls for my sister a few months ago. There was the beginning signs of rust on some spots and some paint chips probably formed by salt. I wouldn’t say they do well in climates such as mine however that is a niche so I would imagine in a place that doesn’t see road salt and have tough winters the buyer would never notice any abnormal wear.

  • danwat1234

    thanks. Maybe in a few years when the EPA starts accounting for it

  • turnipweed

    Thanks Sami!

  • bd

    The “discount” car in this segment would be the Camry – LOWEST average transaction price in the class.

  • Walter Cronkite

    I have a 2012 with 65k. Still like the car but my wife has a honda accord and they are built sooooo much better. If kia was about 5k cheaper than the retail tag they would definitely be the best car on the road. With the pricing, im a little disappointed on how its held up. No mechanicals, but some of the cheap material like the carpet is really showing wear. I have the Kia weather matts too. And BOY are they raiding that design out!!!! Time for a make over!!

  • Walter Cronkite

    I have a 12 and the windows have wind noise and air leaks since they were new. I took it to the dealership many times and they replaced seals and nothing fixed. Needles to say, my next car WONT be a optima

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  • Sailblazer

    I bought a 2012 Kia Optima new, and loved it. Never a minute’s trouble and lots of compliments on the slick styling. At 70,000 miles, I sold the 2012, and replaced it with a new 2015 equipped with a few more whistles and bells. Got a terrific deal on the new one … listed at $29,700, paid $24,000.
    I think Optimas are the best combination of styling, value, and warranty on the road. Not impressed with 2016s.

  • Prototheria

    Start/ stop has no effect on highway mileage, nor does a torque converter, since they’re lock up TCs, which mechanically link the engine to the wheels. I’d imagine the difference lies within the engine as it’s not built for boost, so the components inside are lighter, bearing surfaces are smaller and internal drag is lower.

  • Schroeder

    Optimas are teasing me lately. I drove a 2012 Forte for 4+ months as a rental for work then tried the 2012 Optima. I liked what Kia had to offer, but it’s been the still questionable reliability in the larger mile markers for the first 2-3 years of Kia’s fleet redesign that have prevented me from going all-in on one of these. This 2016 looks excellent, I just hope that these auto manufacturers get away from 3,4 or even 5 trim levels and start bundling more features into fewer trims. I’m an audiophile and that HK stereo sounds quite impressive. I’d love to give it a try in a couple years when I’m back on the market for a vehicle.

  • J.R.

    The engine, chassis rigidity, ride, handling, NVH, safety, steering feel, etc. have been all improved & not one single body panel carried over from the previous one. This is a completely new car with everything improved. You would be a fool to not consider this over the older model…

  • J.R.

    Have you seen the car in person? Obviously not. Stupid.

  • Heartland Patriot

    Yes, I know it’s been months since this was posted, but since Ted said it was ugly, it would have been nice to know compared to what.