2016 Kia Optima vs Volkswagen Passat

The family sedan segment is full of safe choices.

The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are solid yet unadventurous picks, but for people who want something a bit different, there are other comparable yet not as popular family sedans that have a lot to offer. The 2016 Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat are two of these picks.

These two sedans seem to be forgotten cars in their segment, but they are both solid alternatives to the more mainstream picks. They are both good at different things and appeal to two very different types of buyers, but have their outsider status in common. 

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Starting in the Style Department

Put side by side, it’s obvious that the Kia wins in the style category. A more modern-looking sedan, the Optima’s high beltline and sculpted front end makes the car look more dramatic. In comparison, the Passat’s look is quite bland, though it is not ugly.

And that style carries over to the inside as well. The Kia’s quilted leather seats, brushed aluminum trim, and flat-bottomed, dimpled leather steering wheel really makes the interior look upscale. The Passat’s interior design, on the other hand, while luxurious and classy, gives off some old man vibes. The wood trim, analog clock, and typical VW styling really make this interior look uninspired in comparison. The Kia’s interior is more visually interesting and more youthful.

Kia Optima

How Do the Drives Compare?

Again, this young versus old theme repeats itself in the driving dynamics of both sedans. The Optima’s steering is much more heavy and direct, where the Passat’s steering has a dead zone in the middle, so it doesn’t have a solid on-center feel and isn’t as responsive. The Optima also has selectable driving modes and aluminum pedals, two things that emphasize the focus on driving.

The Optima is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which comes online early at 1,300 rpm. 

The Passat, on the other hand, is motivated by VW’s ubiquitous and award-winning turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 170 hp and 184 lb-ft or torque. If you did want to match the Optima’s numbers, you would have to upgrade to the 3.6-liter V6, which puts out 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

Volkswagen Passat

There is a big power disparity between the two sedans on paper, but on the road, the difference doesn’t feel that drastic. The 1.8L turbo is well-suited to the Passat, and even though it seems like such a small engine for a car this size, its performance is decent and it doesn’t feel any slower than the Kia, probably because the Passat is a couple hundred pounds lighter. The Passat is also much more fuel efficient, with the VW rated at 32.6 mpg while the Optima gets 27.6 mpg. I prefer the VW engine because performance feels comparable to the Kia’s, but is much more fuel efficient and feels more refined.

Compare Specs

Kia Optima
Volkswagen Passat
Vehicle Kia Optima Advantage Volkswagen Passat
Engine 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder - 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder
Horsepower 245 HP Optima 170 HP
Torque 260 lb-ft Optima 184 lb-ft
Transmission 6-Speed Automatic - 6-Speed Automatic
Weight 3,594 lbs Passat 3,263 lbs
Rear Legroom 35.6 inches Passat 39.1 inches
Trunk room 15.9 cubic feet - 15.9 cubic feet
Fuel Economy (US) 22 MPG city, 32 MPG hwy Passat 25 MPG city, 38 MPG hwy
Starting Price (US) $21,990 Optima $22,440
Starting Price (CDN) $23,495 Passat $23,295
As Tested Price (US) $36,740 Passat $35,090
As Tested Price (CDN) $37,596 Passat $33,795

Comfort, Practicality, and Value

One of the first things you notice driving the Passat after the Optima is how much quieter the cabin is. The Passat is like a vault inside, with barely any wind, road or engine noise making its way into the cabin. It’s also much softer sprung than the Kia, so it is smoother and more comfortable when driving over rough roads. The Kia’s ride is harsher, but that also means it stays flatter in the corners.

The Kia officially has more passenger volume, and head, shoulder and leg room in the front seats. The Passat has a roomier rear seat, however, and the trunk looks bigger, but they measure out at an equal 15.9 cubic feet. Features-wise, the two are pretty well matched for the price, but the Kia has a few features the VW doesn’t come with like a 360-degree camera, ventilated seats, heated seats in the back and a huge panoramic sunroof. The VW is, however, less expensive and offers self-parking feature, but the Kia has it beat in terms of features.

The Verdict: 2016 Kia Optima vs Volkswagen Passat

Kia Optima vs Volkswagen Passat

The Kia Optima and the Volkswagen Passat definitely aren’t the first cars that pop into your mind when you think of mid-sized family sedans, but they both have more than a few redeeming factors that make them worth mentioning in the same breath as the top dogs in its class.

If you’re looking for a spacious, smooth and quiet car, then the Passat is perfect. It feels more mature and more geared toward an executive who wants a comfortable car, but it does blend in to the background.

But if what you want is something that stands out and has a sportier feel, the Kia is the better pick. The Optima has a better drive, a more exciting interior, and feels more youthful. You won’t get old man vibes driving the Kia, and it definitely makes a bolder statement.

Kia Optima

Volkswagen Passat


Tim says:

When you compared their fuel efficiency you should have mentioned the Optima gets 39 MPG with its optional 1.6 liter turbo 4 cylinder that on top of being more efficient, has more power than the Passat’s bigger 1.8 liter, and this Optima also gets a 7-speed DCT.

Robert Ostrowski says:

Why didn’t you compare both cars with their base or optional engines? It seems you mismatched models and put out a comparison.

bd says:

Wouldn’t exactly consider the Optima to be “forgotten” – Kia sells all the Optimas it manufactures at its GA plant – 160k/yr.

The Passat sold 78k last year.

And yeah, not exactly an apples to apples comparison with regard to engine choices.

Crownie Royal says:

My ’16 Passat SE w/ Tech has heated rear seats!

Isend2C says:

One of these is a wholly new car with up-to-the-moment tech and powertrain while the other is years old, dull, boring and a watered down version of the version for their domestic market…

Remember back in 2011 when EVERYBODY was raving about the Sonata/Optima? I never understood why anybody would buy a Passat except for the TDI (and I worked at a VW dealer, though very shortly).

Michael Borufka says:

My KIA has self-parking, too.I drive the 1.7 litre diesel version with 136 HP and get very good fuel efficiency. In ECO mode I get about 37 MPG with 6-speed automatic transmission.