The Kia Optima is a mid-size car produced by South Korean automaker Kia Motors since 2000, over four distinct generations.

The Optima started life as essentially a rebadged version of the Hyundai Sonata, evolving into a more distinguished product over subsequent generations, although the two are still very much related. The current fourth-generation model line first appeared for the 2016 model year, carrying forth the same sleek, sporty design philosophy debuted by the previous-generation Kia Optima. If it looks vaguely German to you, that’s because the design sort of is; both the third- and fourth-generation Optima models were penned by Peter Schreyer, who formerly designed cars for Volkswagen’s Audi brand.

The mid-size sedan segment in which the Kia Optima competes is heating up, with Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen all completely redesigning their own entrants between 2017 and 2020. The Optima can’t possibly get by on German design sensibilities alone, and while sales have generally been healthy over the past few years, the car has never quite managed to catch up to its Hyundai-badged sibling.

That’s not to say that the Kia Optima is lacking merit; it’s a well-engineered, feature-rich sedan more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the rest of the pack. Whether it can remain relevant in such a highly competitive segment as Kia’s rivals continue to pump out their own praise-worthy products is yet to be seen.

In the North American market, the Kia Optima is assembled at Kia’s West Point, Georgia plant, alongside the Sorento and Telluride mid-size crossover utility vehicles.

Kia Optima Fuel Economy

A diverse array of available powertrains means that EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2020 Kia Optima vary quite dramatically from one extreme to the other. At one end of the spectrum is a 245 hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic, the combination of which yields 24 miles per gallon on the combined testing cycle. That powertrain is handily outperformed by a 185 hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder with six-speed auto, EPA-rated at 27 or 29 mpg combined, depending on trim. And then, there’s an available turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 178 hp and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, capable of delivering 31 mpg combined.

Additionally, the Kia Optima offers not one, but two hybrid-electric powertrain options: a conventional hybrid, rated at 42 mpg combined, and a plug-in hybrid, rated at 41 mpg combined, or 101 “mpg equivalent” between both hybrid-electric and pure-electric operating modes. Both powertrains utilize a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission.

Miles per gallon equivalent is a metric introduced by the EPA back in 2010 to compare the efficiency of plug-in hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles to that of traditional internal combustion engine cars. It’s a useful metric, but real-world results can vary drastically from the EPA ratings depending on myriad factors, including the length of the drive.

Kia Optima Safety Rating

The 2019 Kia Optima offers superb safety in its class, with top marks in every single crash test category appraised by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—even in the notoriously difficult small-overlap frontal crash tests. It’s also one of an astonishingly small number of vehicles to offer “Good”-rated headlights, and its standard frontal crash prevention system is rated “Superior”.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Kia Optima has been selected as a Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS for 2019, the nonprofit group’s highest vehicle safety honors. In the mid-size sedan category, only the Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry can make the same claim.

Kia Optima Features

The highly competitive nature of the mid-size sedan segment demands that automakers load their entrants up with high-tech features without ballooning the sticker price, and the 2019 Kia Optima adheres to this. The base LX trim features standard blind spot monitoring, reverse parking distance alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, and forward collision warning with automated collision avoidance assist. An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also standard.

At the high end of the trim hierarchy, with the turbocharged SX model, you get all of the aforementioned equipment in addition to distance-pacing cruise control with stop and go, premium ten-speaker Harman Kardon audio, satellite navigation, auto-leveling LED headlights, heated steering, heated and ventilated front seats, and a great, big panoramic moonroof. At that trim, leather seat upholstery also comes standard, along with power adjustability for both front seats: 12-way on the driver’s seat, and 10-way on the front passenger’s. A 360-degree camera and heated outboard rear seats are available as options.

Kia Optima Pricing

The Kia Optima is neither the cheapest nor the richest model line in the U.S. mid-size sedan segment, with pricing starting at $23,190 before destination for a base 2.4L-powered LX sedan. The next higher model in the lineup, the Optima S, costs an extra $1,500, with an MSRP of $24,690 before destination, while the EX and EX Premium will set you back $26,990 and $29,990, respectively. Both EX models are powered by Kia’s turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder, bestowing them with the best fuel economy in the Optima range outside of the two hybrid models.

Finally, at the very top of the trim hierarchy is the SX model, powered by a relatively punchy turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. That model starts at $31,990 before destination, swelling to $34,910 with all the options boxes checked – $34,935 with options.

Kia Optima Competitors

Kia Optima vs Volkswagen Passat

The Kia Optima competes head-to-head against the likes of the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat—other competent, affordable, well-equipped mid-size sedans with broad market appeal. Although still relatively young, the fourth-generation Optima is far from the youngest of the bunch; the Accord and Camry were both completely redesigned for 2018, and the Altima for 2019. Brand new versions of the Sonata and Passat are launching for 2020, and like the Optima, the current Malibu was launched for 2016.

This makes competition for the Kia Optima quite stiff. However, the impending discontinuation of the Ford Fusion—a giant in the segment—could present an opportunity for the rest of the pack, including the Optima. Granted, in a segment that includes recognized all-stars like the Honda Accord, Mazda 6, and Toyota Camry, it’s tough to put together a truly compelling argument for the Kia Optima, as competent as it is.

Read More 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Review
Read More 2017 Ford Fusion Review
Read More 2018 Honda Accord Review
Read More 2020 Hyundai Sonata First Drive Review
Read More 2017 Mazda6 Review
Read More 2019 Nissan Altima Review
Read More 2018 Toyota Camry Review
Read More 2020 Volkswagen Passat First Drive

2016 Kia Optima Review

 

By Sami Haj-Assaad | Oct 20, 2015

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.

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

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

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.

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

 

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.

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

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.

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.

Detailed Specs

Engine / 2.4L 4-cyl / 1.6L Turbo 4-cyl / 2.0L Turbo 4-cyl
Horsepower / 185 / 178 / 245
Torque / 178 lb-ft / 195 lb-ft / 260 lb-ft
Transmission / 6-speed automatic (2.4L, 2.0T) / 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (1.6T)
Drivetrain / Front-wheel drive

Our Final Verdict

The Kia Optima represents a perfectly reasonable option within the mid-size sedan segment—no more, no less. It’s somewhere near the middle of the pack, offering an inoffensive ride and a so-so interior, although we’d argue that its exterior styling might be a big draw if you’re into handsome, well-proportioned, square-jawed vehicles.

Nonetheless, the Optima is a very important vehicle for Kia, and that the current fourth-generation model picks up just where its predecessor left off, rather than departing radically from the established formula, is no accident. The Optima seemed to hit its stride in the third-generation, becoming Kia’s best-selling vehicle in North America for three consecutive years and cracking the 150,000 annual unit sales mark.

However, whether its conservative redesign can continue to carry it forward in such a hotly contested vehicle segment remains to be seen.

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