2016 Kia Optima SX Limited Quick Spin
America Loves An Underdog, So Why Isn't It Selling Better?
EngineTurbo 2.0L I4
Power245 HP / 260 LB-FT
0-60 Time6.7 Seconds (est)
Curb Weight3,594 LBS
MPG22 City / 32 HWY
As Tested Price$36,615
Best Deal Price$18,860
That last one that floated through our heads as we tested the refreshed 2016 Optima. Kia sold just under 160,000 Optimas in 2015, while Ford sold 300,000 Fusions, Honda shipped 355,000 Accords, and Toyota moved 429,000 Camrys. The Optima's low numbers didn't make sense then, and they certainly won't make sense when sales figures for the refreshed 2016 model roll in.
For the third-generation Optima, Kia applied its trademark exterior design to a segment-leading interior and one of the most comfortable driving experiences in the segment. The result is a damn fine family sedan that really ought to help Kia find its way into a lot more driveways.
- We can debate the value of top-trim family sedans until we're blue in the face, but in the case of the Optima, you want the SX Limited that we tested. It's one of the only ways to score Hyundai/Kia's stout 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine (the other is the $30,515 SX). At 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, it's down on output for model year 2016 – the 2015 model had an extra 27 hp and 9 lb-ft of torque – but gains two miles per gallon in the city and one on the highway, for a total of 22 and 32 mpg, respectively.
- Should we lament the loss of power? That's what we did when Kia first showed the 2016 Optima at the 2015 New York Auto Show. On the road, though, it's tough to pick out the drop in output. Nine pound-feet is negligible, and unless you're regularly playing in the high part of the rev range, you won't miss the extra power. The Optima pulls hard from a standstill, developing peak torque between 1,350 and 4,000 rpm. It'll get to 60 in what we guesstimate is the high six-second range. Yes, that is slower than both the six-cylinder Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, two sedans that are also lighter than the 3,600-pound Kia. Let's remember that these are family sedans, though, and the broad torque peak (and improved fuel economy) will be more important to your average consumer than the stopwatch figures.
- The Optima is more fuel efficient than the Japanese V6-powered competitors. Barely. And only in the city. That means the 2.0-liter's fuel economy has improved incrementally, not massively. It beats the Camry by one mpg in both environments, and it's up a single digit on the Accord in the city. The Honda, though, destroys the Kia on the highway, returning 34 mpg. And as we know, nailing EPA estimates with turbocharged engines is notoriously difficult. That, and our heavy foot, might explain the 18-mpg average we returned while testing the Optima.
- The only transmission choice for the SX Limited is a six-speed automatic. Not exactly cutting edge – especially alongside the 1.6-liter turbocharged Optima's seven-speed dual-clutch – but it's quick enough to shift in both automatic and manual modes and has good instincts on downshifts. Kia offers separate driving modes that tweak the transmission performance and steering weight, but the difference between the three settings wasn't dramatic enough to keep us interested.
- Where the Optima really comes in for praise, though, is with its interior. It's gorgeous, possibly class-leading in SX Limited trim. The focal point is the seats, which are finished in soft, high-quality Nappa leather and bear a handsome, quilted design. You can get them in three shades – the black shown here, as well as Ivory and Aubergine (red), if you prefer more flash. Beyond the seats and door inserts, the cabin is finished in black with faux-metal accents. Fake the leather dash and accents may be, but the overall effect gives a sense of quality and solidity. The dash materials are soft to the touch, and the unpleasant, scratchy plastics are limited to low-traffic areas, like the sides of the center console and parts of the doors.
- As we mentioned in a brief review of the 2016 Optima, the SX Limited is quiet for the segment. Road and wind noise are heavily muted, and the only engine noises that get in are the good ones. The engine note itself is smooth and refined, which isn't surprising based on our experiences with Hyundai/Kia's 2.0-liter.
- The UVO infotainment system is still not intuitive, requiring too many inputs to complete different functions. Still, it's responsive enough, with eye-pleasing graphics. As we mentioned in our previous test, Android Auto is available, but at this writing you're out of luck if you're an Apple user (like your author).
- Tweaks for 2016 include new geometry for the multi-link rear suspension that focuses more on comfort than handling ability. Even though the Optima SX and SX Limited feature a "sport-tuned suspension," neither are sporty in any sense we're used to. The Optima isn't as sharp or dynamic as the Mazda6 or Honda Accord – but it's also less harsh-riding than either, and so we doubt most buyers will take issue. Where it excels is over bumpy, broken pavement, where it is quieter and more stable-feeling than other competitors.
- Prices for the Optima SX Limited start $36,615 ... and stay there. There are no extra options to be had, so you'll just be picking trim and colors. That price is higher than the competition, but only slightly – a loaded Accord V6 is $35,515, a maxed-out Camry is $34,775, and an equally-equipped Fusion Titanium is $35,980. We wouldn't worry much about the price difference, though. Aside from the Fusion's active park assist – which you don't need – the Optima matches the competition on equipment and comes with a quieter, more refined cabin and ride.
So much attention is heaped on the popular kids of the midsize sedan segment – the Camry, Accord, and Fusion – that it's easy to forget that Kia builds a remarkably compelling family car. In many ways, it's like the Mazda6, a vehicle that has received heaps of critical praise but doesn't command a commensurate amount of attention of buyers. The Optima bleeds excellent design both in and out with a comfortable, quiet driving character, making it a prime choice for customers that need a vehicle for traditional family duties but want a package that straddles the near premium and mainstream without breaking the bank.
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