2016 Kia Optima

Starting MSRP: $21,840 - $35,790

Estimated MPG: 24 city / 35 hwy

2016 Kia Optima Review

All-new for 2016, Kia's best-selling vehicle improves upon the formula that established the manufacturer as a strong competitor in the crowded midsize segment. Now wider and longer than the outgoing model, the 2016 Kia Optima boasts excellent driving dynamics, plenty of cargo space and a nicely appointed interior.

By Chris Brewer
Last Updated 05/03/2016

In 2011, Kia introduced a fully redesigned Optima that reenergized the company and quickly became Kia's best-selling vehicle. Rather than reimagining the 2016 Optima as an entirely new vehicle, Kia has taken the formula that won favor with so many to the next level. Beyond a simple refresh, the all-new Optima is more refined, bigger and better in almost every way.

The front-wheel drive 2016 Kia Optima is available in five trim levels: LX, LX 1.6T, EX, SX and SXL.

Optima LX and EX models are powered by a retuned and more efficient 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The LX 1.6T model receives Kia's all-new turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine attached to the brand's first-ever seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). SXL and SX models get the refreshed and retuned turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

Exterior

Exterior
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Recognizing the importance of the outgoing 2015 Optima's exterior styling, Kia has worked to retain the new model's best-seller looks while advancing its signature curb-appeal.

Retaining the original's European inspired aesthetics, the 2016 Optima reminds you of that guy in high school who put on twenty pounds of muscle during summer vacation. The wheelbase has grown almost a half inch and the body is 1.2 inches wider, giving the new Optima a slightly more athletic stance.

The Optima's aggressive new front fascia features Kia's signature tiger-nose grille. SX and SXL models take the look to the next level, borrowing a few styling cues from Kia's high-end luxury sedan, the K900. The grille terminates and blends into the front fenders with the manufacturer's first application of bi-xenon HID headlights. The new headlights can be optioned to include technology that moves the lamps to follow steering inputs, as well as automatic high beams, which turn on and off to provide additional illumination when other vehicles are not approaching.

The Optima's swept design begins at the hood and is followed by a raked windshield. A dramatic raised deck lid terminates in attractive available LED halo-style taillights. The result is a natural clean line reinforced by attractive chrome trim, giving the Optima a graceful sense of forward motion, even when it's sitting curbside.

Exterior trim pieces work well to enhance the sport luxury flavor of the sedan. The standard aluminum alloys help tie together Kia's vision, this certainly isn't the Kia Sephia I owned over a decade ago.

Interior

Interior
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The longer wheelbase and wider body result in a roomier interior. Kia's goal was to over deliver with the 2016 Optima and the result is a comfortable, well-appointed cabin that reaches beyond segment expectations. Fit and finish levels are high. Abundant soft-touch surfaces flood the cabin, real stitching augments the dash and doors.

The Optima's redesigned seats are immediately comfortable and only get better as you drive. The cabin exhibits a quietness that is rare for a car in the midsize sedan segment. 

Rolling up the windows and reclining in the optional heated leather front passenger seat provides an environment that beckons your copilot to take off their shoes and take a nap.

The ergonomic driver's cockpit features a bold horizontal plane and a wide center console. Overall the controls are well within reach and simplified over the outgoing model. The steering wheel is a bit cluttered at first blush, but a few hours of pushing the wrong buttons helps to sort out the busyness. Certainly not a Kia specific issue, but overwhelming steering wheel controls seem to go hand-in-hand with new driving technologies. The sarcastic voice in my head often wonders how long it will be until they add additional spokes just to include more buttons.

Performance

Performance
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Driving the 2016 Optima is a treat. The new chassis is lighter and exhibits 58 percent more torsional rigidity than the outgoing model. The increase results in precise steering, especially in models equipped with the available Rack-mounted motor driven power steering.

I was able to drive the SX model across some of the most demanding mountain roads in the United States. Hairpin turns and steep grades were no match for the 2016 Optima's competent driving dynamics. Although the roads were in excellent condition, the few uneven grades that I did experience were leveled out and softened by the Optima's capable suspension.

The all-new Optima is available with three engine choices, including two retuned carryovers and a new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. LX and EX models are fitted with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. When combined with the standard six-speed automatic transmission, the Optima earns up to 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. SX and SXL trim levels are powered by a feisty turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that creates 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque at a super low 1,350 rpm. The wide power band results in maximum accelerating power just off idle, the real test for any daily driver's useful power. Fuel economy, at 22/32 mpg city/highway, is excellent for a midsize family car with near sport sedan performance.

The big power plant news is from the all-new and amazingly efficient turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder found in the LX 1.6T model. The tiny engine produces 178 horsepower and an almost unbelievable 195 pound-feet of tire spinning torque. Coupled with Kia's first-ever seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the fuel-sipping LX 1.6T is EPA-rated at 28/39 mpg city/highway.

Acceleration in my Optima SX review vehicle with the 2.0-liter turbo was strong, especially for the segment. The wide power band means that power is usually there when you need it. Even with a slight loss in horsepower over the outgoing model (a result of retuning the engine for better fuel economy) the Optima always felt eager to please. The 260 pound-feet of punchy torque is mostly tamed by the Optima's chassis, keeping torque steer (the condition where a vehicle pulls to one side under hard acceleration) to a minimum. While I could use a little more power from the top-trim engine, I think Kia has done a nice job balancing dynamic performance and fuel economy.

Technology

Technology
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Kia has built a strong reputation for including essential technologies as standard equipment and the all-new Optima is no exception. LX and EX models are equipped with a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs and Bluetooth connectivity. The 5-inch infotainment screen doubles as the display for the standard rearview camera. The base Optima also includes cruise control, variable intermittent windshield wipers and a convenient auto-down driver's window. Steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls and power door locks with remote keyless entry round out the standard tech features on the base Optima.

LX 1.6T models add push-button start and power-folding heated sideview mirrors with turn signal indicators, as well as a host of optional features not available on LX models. The Optima EX model includes creature comforts like dual-zone automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel and a heated, 12-way adjustable power driver's seat. Two rapid charge USB ports, door mood lamps and LED positioning headlights complete the package.

The SX model replaces the standard audio system display with an 8-inch touch-screen navigation system with real time traffic monitoring. The center gauge cluster gains a 4.3-inch display in the gauge cluster that shows fuel economy and pertinent vehicle information. Lighting is upgraded front and back with bi-function xenon HID headlamps.

The top-trim SXL model improves upon the headlights by adding intuitive high beam assist that automatically turns the high beams on and off when oncoming traffic approaches. Overhead LED front and rear reading lamps, a ten-way power adjustable passenger's seat, and heated second-row seats up the luxury factor.

The SXL's 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system is arguably one of the best sound systems available in a vehicle under $75,000. The 3-D audio technology re-energizes compressed digital audio files into an immersive sound field that needs to be heard to be appreciated. The all-new Optima also showcases Kia's first attempt at Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. I consider myself a bit of an audiophile and I was taken aback by the top-trim Optima's sound stage. I honestly can't wait to experience the system again in the future.

Safety

Safety
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The 2016 Kia Optima comes standard with a rearview camera, a suite of air bags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are available on all trims. The Optima SX is also available with autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and a surround view camera system. The top SXL trim gets all of these features as standard equipment.

My only caveat is that Kia doesn't allow LX and EX owners to opt for the full-blast safety features. Unlike a few of the Kia's key competitors, you will need to climb the trim ladder almost to the top before you can pony up extra money for highest level of safety.

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
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Kia has managed to add standard features and economy, increase the Optima's size and keep the base price exactly the same at $21,840. With stiff competition from long-time favorites like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the midsize sedan market is among the toughest to break into, never mind dominate. The outgoing Optima shook things up in the segment and the all-new competitively priced Optima takes meaningful strides in the journey to the top.

The top SXL trim turns the Optima into a near-luxury level sport sedan, but adds significant cost in the process with a base price of $35,790. 

One step below the top, my SX review vehicle starts at $29,690. Options that include a technology package and driver assistance features, a panoramic sunroof, LED taillights and the glorious Harmon Kardon audio system brought my test Optima's MSRP to a grand total of $35,315 including an $825 destination charge. These additions make the Optima SX a smart choice for buyers looking for top level features without the badging and a few of the extra luxury interior treatments of the top SXL trim.

Overall

Overall
9

If you liked the outgoing Kia Optima, you're going to love the 2016 model. If you've been holding off on investigating Kia's midsize sedan due to a lack of active driving technologies, the new Optima's got you covered.

The 2016 Kia Optima offers excellent driving dynamics, great fuel economy and a competitive price tag. With styling that borrows from much more expensive models, the 2016 Optima looks just as good as it drives. Of course, the Optima is in a segment filled with excellent, time-tested and comparably priced models from automakers that were leading U.S. sales long before Kia arrived. 

Taking a good look at segment leaders like the Accord and Camry will help inform your final purchasing decision. If all things are equal, just remember that Kia offers a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which is almost twice the coverage of the Accord and Camry.