If you prefer driving a car rather than a truck or crossover and have been searching for the perfect sport sedan that will fit your budget, yet carry five folks comfortably, look no further.
Kia’s Optima SX Turbo wants to be your playmate. It’s standing next to other makers’ sedans, jumping up and down and yelling, “Pick me, pick me.” And you should.
Rare that I enjoy any car as much as I did the tested Sparkling Silver Optima SX, which is the top of the mid-size Kia lineup. It comes in four trim levels, plus a hybrid model and a plug-in hybrid. There’s something here for everyone, starting at a low-ball $23,915 entry price for the LX, up to the $32,820 for this sporty SX model.
The test car had everything you’d expect on a $40 grand sport sedan, except the price.
Start with power, which is what distinguishes the SX from the LX, S, and EX Optima models. This one comes with a torquey 2.0-liter I4 turbo that cranks 245 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Add to that a Sport driving mode (one of four choices) engaged by pushing a button on the console and Boom, you’ve got a screaming front-drive sport sedan that leaps away from stop signs and gallops up to highway speeds on its low-profile 18-inch tires.
Normally you’d cringe about ride quality on the standard low-pro tires, but not here. Kia engineers have created a sporty suspension that still delivers a compliant ride that the whole family can enjoy, even on a lengthy road trip. Spring driving in Wisconsin can often feel like a jaunt on the moon, but not in the Optima SX.
Handling is good too and the Sport mode not only enhances low-end power it firms the steering wheel to feel more like you’re driving a German luxury sport sedan. It was fun on winding roads, but Normal mode will be most folks’ preferred daily driver.
Putting all that power to the road is the job of a 6-speed automatic. While many makers have moved on to 8- and 9-speed trannies, Kia’s 6-speed seems well suited to the turbo I4. Shifts are smooth and the package delivers good fuel economy. The EPA rates this turbo at 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. I got 25.1 mpg in a fairly even city to highway driving mix, and regular gas will suffice here while many performance-oriented sedans prefer premium.
Yet the SX is top-shelf at a mid-shelf price, the other Optima trim levels are not short of standard features. All Optimas now feature a full safety package, including everything from blind-spot warning and smart cruise control, to Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, which brakes to mitigate a crash if the system detects a slowed vehicle in front of you. There’s also lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist (which can be turned off, a benefit in city driving), plus rear cross-traffic warning, and parking sensors. A stop-go system that turns the car’s engine off at stoplights, or when idling, to save gas also is standard.
Optima models now include an upgraded voice recognition system for the nav system and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities.
The SX has an 8-inch touchscreen too, but it’s not touchy. I mean it works well, even when touched by a gloved hand. And best of all, Kia has figured out what few automakers have, that buttons and knobs are more intuitive and simple to use than a touchy screen with multiple layers for controls.
Optima features a beautifully designed dash with volume and tuning knobs for the radio, plus 16 buttons to adjust it, the screen, nav and dual climate controls up front. All buttons are easy to see and offer simple wording or symbols so a driver can quickly make a selection without taking his or her eyes off the road to fiddle with a central control knob that helps find layer after layer of controls on a screen. Bravo!
Heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats are standard on the SX too, as is a heated steering wheel. All are accessed via buttons on the console, again, no screen interplay is required.
Optima’s interior is roomy too with great head and legroom front and rear. I packed five adults into this car and everyone praised its comfort level and were amazed by its spaciousness. The trunk also is cavernous and rear seats split and fold down.
I loved the seat comfort too, very supportive, but not confining. They’re powered, of course, with a power lumbar support. Two driver’s seat memory settings also are offered and the driver’s seat powers back once the ignition is turned off. Aiding entry and exit is a flat-bottomed steering wheel, which also adds to the interior’s sporty looks.
This one had a black dash and perforated black and dark red leather seats. Red stitching spiffs of the seat edges and there’s similar stitching on the thick leather steering wheel. Brushed metal trims the dash’s air vents and door handles.
Overhead is a giant sunroof that’s standard on the SX and its thick visors both flip and slide.
One other bonus on the SX, a dandy10-speaker Harman Kardon stereo that rocks the interior. I rarely crank up the sound just to enjoy the fine definition of a song’s instrumentation, but did here because it separated the sounds so well.
Now, you ask, wasn’t there anything that bothered you? Of course, but it’s the same complaint I often have, a large A-pillar and side mirror combo that can impair a side three-quarter view for the driver. But the rest of the Optima’s attributes overcome that concern, especially with all the safety features that are standard.
But if you’re on a strict budget, consider the LX or S, which lists at $25,915. They both feature a 2.4-liter I4 that makes 185 horsepower. If there’s more wiggle room in the budget, move up to the EX with a turbocharged 1.6-liter I4 that creates 178 horsepower, but 195 lb.-ft. of torque and is capable of up to 37 mpg in highway driving.
For those wanting hybrid power, that model starts about $27,000 and the plug-in hybrid at about $36,000. The only thing Optima doesn’t offer is an AWD model, but beyond that it’s a stellar choice for a family sedan that offers good looks, value, performance and comfort.
Plus look at that face. Already handsomely aggressive, it now includes LED running lights and a snazzy honeycomb grille. Pick me indeed!
FAST STATS: 2019 Kia Optima SX Turbo
Hits: Excellent power, ride and sport sedan looks, plus good handling, price and gas mileage. Interior is roomy and superbly designed dash and controls with luxury feel. Standard full complement of safety equipment, heated/cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and rear seats, 8-inch infotainment screen, 10-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, flat-bottomed steering wheel, giant sunroof, and sport driving mode.
Misses: Large A-pillar and mirror combo can impair three-quarter side view for driver.
Made in: West Point, Ga.
Engine: 2.0-liter I4 turbo, 245 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,558 lbs.
Length: 191.1 in.
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
Cargo: 15.9 cu.ft.
MPG: 25.1 (tested)
Base Price: $32,820 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $32,820
Sources: Kia, kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage