When I last tested a Kia Optima I thought it among the best mid-size sedans I’d driven, plus it got 39.5 miles per gallon. Wow! But that was a hybrid model.
Well, the refreshed 2016 Optima is even more impressive. My one major hesitation with the previous model, a passenger’s seat that sat low in the car and was not adjustable, has been fixed. And the tested LX Turbo model got 37 mpg with its 1.6-liter I4 turbo. Sweet!
No car is perfect, but for ride, comfort, value and looks, Kia’s Optima is a winner on all counts.
First, there were just minor tweaks to the exterior because, honestly, the Optima has been the best-looking midsize car for several years. Unlike some car companies, Kia didn’t mess up what already was a success.
Second, this small turbo engine is as silky smooth and quiet as you’d expect in an entry-level mid-size luxury sedan. It generates a generous 178 horsepower and 195 ft.-lbs. of torque and will scoot the front-drive sedan to highway speeds in a hurry. A new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic perfectly puts the power to the pavement too, and no, the small turbo didn’t scream for mercy under heavy acceleration.
Third, ride is smooth and well controlled on all road surfaces. Much credit to the 110.4-inch wheelbase and a retuned Kia suspension system. A stiffened body and chassis also helps the suspension better cushion the ride. Again, the previous model was good, so credit Kia for improving an area that most folks would have thought fine before.
Fourth, some critics had been disappointed in the earlier Optima’s handling. I thought it fine, but this seems even better with a fairly precise feel, yet requiring moderate steering effort. The whole experience here is quiet, smooth and fluid.
Note too the Kia includes Drive Mode Select, which allows you to pick Sport, Normal or Eco via a button on the console. Normal is perfectly fine, while Sport will hold lower gears a bit longer to boost acceleration. I rarely found it necessary. And Eco? Well, barely using it in about a 50-50 mix of highway and city driving I managed 37 mpg. The EPA rates this model at 28 mpg city and 39 highway, so I doubt you’ll need Eco.
Inside the dark gray test car (any color would be better) was a handsome black over tan interior with tan sturdy cloth seats, a black leather steering wheel, satin chrome trim and graphite trim on the dash and console. The headliner was tan too, giving the car a light feel and look.
Kia has created a masterfully designed dash with all buttons large and easy to read, a clean instrument pod with digital trip computer and an easily viewed 8-inch navigation/radio screen. That is part of the $2,600 LX technology package that pretty much provides every electronic add-on most drivers will want, but not the unnecessary items that simply add cost.
It includes dual-zone automatic climate control, the navigation system, a power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment and two memory settings. It also adds USB chargers in the large useful console, a blind-spot warning system, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, auto-dimming rearview mirror and snazzy LED taillights.
Standard on the car is push-button start, a passenger’s seat that you can boost the height to help shorter riders feel more comfortable, and manual tilt/telescope steering wheel. The rearview camera is standard, as are Bluetooth, automatic lights, 60/40 split rear seat, inside trunk release, and overhead visors that slide.
Seats are cloth, but it’s a strong heavy-duty material likely to wear well, yet is comfortable to sit on. Seats are well shaped too and several back-seat riders (not drivers) praised the massive legroom in back. The trunk also is bigger than in most mid-size, and some full-size cars, making this a primo family hauler.
I can’t say enough though about how comfortable and quiet this interior is, considering the price of this mid-size car that not only competes, but puts the industry leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, on their heels.
The LX Turbo lists at $23,990 with an $825 delivery fee. Optima is made in Georgia. The test car hit just $27,415 with the all-inclusive tech package, so well below the average new car selling price. This is an outright bargain.
Buyers can go slightly lower still with the base LX model at $22,840, including freight. It’s powered by a 2.4-liter I4 that creates 185 horsepower, but lower torque than the turbo. LX also uses a 6-speed automatic and is rated 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
Those who prefer leather interiors and all the bells and whistles can move up to the Limited model, which starts at $36,740 including delivery.
Note too that Kia has a new engine for its SX and SX-L models. This 2.0-liter I4 turbo pumps out an amazing 245 horsepower and has a 260 torque rating. Gas mileage falls off, but not horribly. The EPA rates this one at 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. A new hybrid and plug-in hybrid are coming too, probably by fall.
If I were about to buy a mid-size sedan, the Optima would be atop my shopping list.
FAST STATS: 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo
Hits: Smooth power, nice ride, good handling, quiet interior at a low price. Excellent dash layout with big screen, big buttons, well-shaped seats, room for four or five adults, big trunk, many electrical outlets, plus automatic lights, back-up camera, blind-spot warning system, 2-memory driver’s seat and height-adjustable passenger seat. Oh, and Excellent gas mileage.
Made in: West Point, Ga.
Engine: 1.6-liter, turbo I4, 178 hp
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Weight: 3,219 lbs.
Length: 191.1 in.
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
MPG: 28/39 (EPA)
MPG: 37.0 (tested)
Base Price: $23,990
Invoice: $23,511 (includes delivery)
LX technology package (dual-zone auto. climate control w/rear vents, nav. system w/8-inch screen, power driver’s seat/lumbar, driver’s memory seat, console USB chargers, blind-spot detection system, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, auto-dimming rearview mirror, LED taillights), $2,600
Test vehicle: $27,415
Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage