2016 Kia Optima SXL Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
For 2016 the Kia Optima is a different, more exciting choice for a family sedan
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Kia Research and Buyers Guide
Kia's Optima is not one of the best-known mid-size sedans, but it should be. Its combination of distinctive style, space, comfort and convenience, and a lineup with something for nearly everyone, from value on a budget through near-sport-luxury is unusual in a class comprised of family transportation appliances. Perhaps that's not all that surprising, considering that the Optima is more international in flavor than its major competitors -- Kia is Korean, but its president and chief design officer is German, and the Optima is assembled at Kia's facility in West Point, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta.
If, at a glance, the 2016 Optima looks like a slightly-freshened 2015 model, it's not. It's a touch longer and wider, all the better for interior space and comfort. Styling is recognizable and familiar, but ever so slightly changed. And drivetrain choices are greater than ever before, with a new 1.6-liter turbocharged engine matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch automanual as the high-tech fuel economy choice joining the existing 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated and 2.0-liter turbocharged models, both with six-speed torque-converter automatics. All engines are twincam four-cylinder, with direct fuel injection. With 245 horsepower from the 2.0 turbo, there is no need for a V6.
Trim levels are LX 2.4, with the 2.4-liter engine, LX 1.6T, with the new 1.6 turbo, EX 2.4, and SX 2.0T and SXL 2.0T with the two-liter turbo. With standard equipment including alloy wheels, solar windshield glass, cruise control, variable-speed intermittent wipers, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, a trip computer, and audio choices including AM, FM, SiriusXM radio, auxiliary and USB inputs, and USB charging, the LX is no bare-bones appliance for the rental market. The ante is progressively upped to the SXL, which has features not long ago considered property only of luxury brands as standard equipment. Soft, stitched Nappa leather seating, fronts heated and cooled and memory for the driver's seat and mirrors, the full suite of audio choices and navigation, auto-leveling HID headlamps with cornering movement and LED tail lamps and running lights, a panoramic sunroof, and a full suite of electronic safety systems including front collision warning, blind spot and rear cross traffic alert, lane-departure warning, rear parking assist, autonomous emergency braking, and smart cruise control are all included. As is the Surround View Monitor system, which used video cameras at the front, rear, and under the outside mirrors to synthesize an "overhead" view of the area around the car, useful in tight parking spots or tricky driveways.
A full suite of features is no guarantee of a good car. But in the Optima's case, the car itself is first-rate without any of the gilding. If you're looking at a middle-class midsize sedan, it's worthy of consideration. Upscale, if you need the status of a premium European brand, you can pay for that. If you merely want a comfortable and capable entry-luxury sedan with surprisingly good performance and fuel economy, take a look at a 2016 Kia Optima SXL. My test car returned 26 mpg overall for the week, with more than usual highway driving and plenty of wet, blustery weather. It was solid and secure through all of that, and with a strong, flat torque curve and 245 horsepower on tap, quick maneuvers and merges were never a worry.
APPEARANCE: Continuity is good. The new Optima is readily recognizable, and you'll likely just think it's a minor restyling of last year's car. The shape is definitely familiar, especially the gently-arched, near fastback passenger cabin. The fractionally-increased dimensions are not apparent, but nearly all exterior bits have been changed, and the look is more European than Asian. The grille and front bumper fascia are the most readily apparent bits, with a revision of the "tiger nose" tabbed grille to now incorporate the headlights. The lower intake is flanked by two functional aero ducts for a sport-oriented look. The roofline may be familiar, but small windows in the C-pillars visually lighten the car. The rear is subtly revised, with new taillights and changes to the lower "diffuser panel".
COMFORT: Inside, the Optima is as Euro-inspired as outside, with a simple, flowing design and cohesive shapes. Materials and fit and finish are of high quality. The quilted leather seats look inviting, and are. Power adjustability for both, and on a cold winter day the heated cushions and steering wheel rim were most appreciated. Comfort and support are very good. The steering wheel adjusts manually for tilt and reach, and has audio, cruise, and information system controls. Shift paddles are found behind the horizontal spokes. The main instruments are brightly-lit and easily visible in all lighting. The touchscreen at the top center of the dash is controlled by marked hard buttons below, or by voice. Audio choices are all current modes plus (when available) Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A panoramic moonroof adds airiness when closed and fresh air when open. At SXL level, outboard rear passengers get heated cushions and plenty of space. A comfortable back angle and 60/40 folding capability add comfort and convenience. The trunk is reasonably-sized, and there is a space-saver spare tire under its floor.
SAFETY: In addition to the mandated safety equipment and features -- airbags, antilock brakes, backup camera, and such -- 2016 Optimas with the UVO connectivity system now have Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, and Driving Score eServices. Other electronic safety systems include Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Parking Assist, Front Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning System, and Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can bring the car to a stop automatically under certain conditions. The 360-degree Surround View Monitor helps in tight situations and hostile lighting.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Greater use of high-strength steel aids structural rigidity and strength, and so so crash protection and vehicle dynamics. Increased insulation and revised engine and suspension mounts decrease interior noise levels to nearly luxury-car levels. A near-full undertray helps lessen aerodynamic drag and wind and road noise. The fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension is tuned for comfort, with soft but correctly-matched spring and damper rates. The new Optima is a pleasant and stable car at speed on the highway, even in adverse conditions, and is also enjoyable on the backroads.
PERFORMANCE: With 245 horsepower developed at 6000 rpm and, more importantly, 260 lb-ft of torque from 1350 through 4500 rpm, the 2.0-liter turbocharged in used in the Optima SX and SXL is perfect for its job. It's lighter in weight than an equivalently-powerful V6, for better chassis balance and road manners. Direct fuel injection allows a high 10.3:1 compression ratio for increased efficiency, further increased by turbocharging. The result is plenty of instant torque for quick acceleration when desired or needed, and economical operation during low-load steady-speed cruising, as on a mostly-level highway. An under-seven second 0-60 time means no fear when merging from a short onramp, and the lack of demand for turbo boost in moderate or steady-state driving means 30+ mpg easily on the highway. As is increasingly common, the six-speed automatic transmission has multiple shift modes. The default is fine nearly all of the time. Eco lessens throttle response and maps shifting for optimum economy, perfect on the highway. Sport showcases the engine's ability, and manual shifting can be useful when you absolutely must get up to speed as quickly as possible.
CONCLUSIONS: Why go for bland? With plenty new for 2016, the Kia Optima is a different choice for a family sedan.
2016 Kia Optima SXL
Base Price $ 35.790
Price As Tested $ 36,615
Engine Type turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection
Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower 245 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 260 @ 1350-4500 rpm
Transmission multi-mode 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 110.4 in. / 191.1 in.
Curb Weight 3594 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 14.7
Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline or better
Tires 235/45R18 94V Michelin Primacy mxm4 m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS. ESC, VSM standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 32 / 26
0 to 60 mph est. 6.8 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Ivory Nappa Leather interior $ N/C
Destination Charge $ 825