2016 Kia Optima 2.0T front 3/4 view
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T rear 3/4 view
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T side view
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T front view
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T rear view
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T grille
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T headlight
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T badge
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T rear details
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T taillight
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T engine
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T engine
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T interior
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T interior
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T steering wheel
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T instrument panel
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T climate controls
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T shifter
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
2016 Kia Optima 2.0T collision sensor controls
  • Image Credit: Michael Austin
  •   Engine
    Turbo 2.0L I4
  •   Power
    245 HP / 260 LB-FT
  •   Transmission
    6-Speed Automatic
  •   Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  •   Engine Placement
    Front
  •   Curb Weight
    3,594 LBS
  •   Seating
    2+3
  •   Cargo
    15.9 CU-FT
  •   MPG
    22 City / 32 HWY
  •   As Tested Price
    $36,615
  •  
Kia might live under the corporate shadow of parent company Hyundai, but don't confuse the Kia Optima for a rebadged Hyundai Sonata. That hasn't been the case for years, and the new 2016 Optima is more of its own car than ever before.

Yes, both cars share a 110.4-inch wheelbase and 191.1-inch length, two engines, and under-the-skin hardware components. But you wouldn't know they were related just by looking – or by driving. In addition to the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, Kia offers a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four on the base end, and a 1.6-liter turbo-four aimed at higher fuel economy. For more on those powertrains, stay tuned for our full First Drive story coming in a few days.

My drive time in the Optima focused mostly on the 2.0-liter turbo-equipped version, in loaded trim. Sure, I drove the fancy one, but this car feels so refined that Toyota should be worried.

Driving Notes

  • 2.0-liter turbo models use a rack-mounted steering assist motor, compared to the column mounted unit paired to other engines. It's a costly upgrade for Kia, but it offers better feedback and steering feel.
  • Kia firsts include automous emergency braking, and high-intensity discarge headlamps with active cornering and automatic high beams. I didn't have a chance to try either feature, but I can tell you the adaptive cruise control works with minimal frustration.
  • Another new item, first used on the Sorento, is Harmon Kardon Clari-fi digital music restoration, which claims to improve the sound quality of compressed music. I sampled the optional 14-speaker, 630-watt system with some 320 kbps MP3 files over the USB input and was amazed by the clarity and sound quality.
  • The interior layout, with its horizontal swatch of buttons on the dash, is a clean and refreshing. It's a welcome break from more over-styled sedans that sacrifice swoopy contours for functionality.
  • Kia focused on quality materials and feel. The push-button start is metal, models with the panoramic sunroof get ceiling mood lighting with rear LED reading lamps, and top-of-the-line SXL come with nappa leather. It goes a long way to justify the SXL's base price of $36,615.
  • This car is quiet. The roads outside of Las Vegas are smooth, but the desert sun leaves the surface pockmarked. That's usually a recipe for tire noise, but I didn't hear any hum. Kia's product planners gave credit to the Michelin tires. I'll have to sample the car on some worse roads before giving a final impression.
  • Android Auto launches when the car goes on sale, but wasn't available on my preproduction tester.

Fourteen years ago, before selling the Optima stateside, Kia was dead last in the JD Power Initial Quality Survey. Last year the brand finished second, behind Porsche. That's a huge improvement in a short time, and the Optima's evolution is just as impressive. It's easy to say this fourth-generation model is the best one yet. Take notice: Kia doesn't stand in Hyundai's shadow anymore, and the new Optima shows it's ready to look the competition right in the eye.


Related Video:
2016 Kia Optima | On Location

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