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2016 Kia Optima LX 1.6 Turbo Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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Economical and fun to drive

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Kia Research and Buyers Guide


Kia Optima Turbo? Didn't I just test one a few months ago? Is it summer rerun time already?

That's pretty much what I said when I saw "2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo" on the list of cars I'd be getting from the distributor. I'd had the `16 Optima SXL 2.0T just before the end of 2015. But this one was the other Optima with forced induction, the LX with the new 1.6-liter engine.

The 2.0-liter, 245-horsepower engine in the SX and SXL has been around for a few years, as has the naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter, 185-hp one in the LX and EX 2.4 models. With maximum 178 horsepower (at 5500 rpm), the new 1.6 turbo seems a little weaker than the 2.4's 185 hp, developed at 6000 rpm. Torque tells a different, and more useful, story, with the 1.6T making 195 lb-ft between 1500 and 4500 rpm, where it will spend the vast majority of its life. The 2.5 is good for 178 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. The 1.6T wins there, with more torque over a wider rev range. The 2.0T and 2.4 use a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission to get power to the front wheels; the 1.6T utilizes a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT). There's plenty of state-of-the-automotive-art technology in the new Optima LX Turbo, a surprise given that it's the one step up from plain model. What's with that?

Fuel economy. A turbocharged engine makes power when that power is needed, when accelerating. At a steady speed, there is less boost, so less power (as not much is necessary to maintain a steady speed) and less fuel use. Direct fuel injection further improves efficiency by allowing more precise fuel delivery, directly into the engine's combustion chambers, and greater compression of the fuel-air mixture. The 1.6T engine is EPA-rated for 28 mpg city, 39 highway, and 32 overall. The 2.4 is rated at 25/37/30. (The 2.0T is 22/32/25.) If a couple of miles per gallon doesn't seem like much to you, manufacturers take far more seriously as those miles per gallon add up when computing corporate average fuel economy ratings. The DCT is used for the same reason -- such a transmission is more efficient than the familiar torque converter automatic, and in use can feel little different.

The 2.0T was a replacement for a 3.0 to 3.5-liter V6. The 1.6T is a replacement for a 2.0 to 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Not completely, yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if the 2.4 quietly disappeared in a few years.

Other differences from the SXL 2.0T? That's at the premium end of the lineup, with luxury-level appointments. The LX 1.6T is a step above the basic LX -- but 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. Besides the upgraded drivetrain, the 1.6T adds heated power folding outside mirrors, auto up and down acoustic front side windows, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, pushbutton start/stop, and other more minor cosmetic upgrades. Upholstery is cloth and trim is plainer than higher levels, but everything you need and most of what you want is standard or available.

I enjoyed my week with the new Optima LX turbo. No, it doesn't have the luxury aspiration of the SXL, but it does boast a significantly lower price while still having all of the necessities and comforts of contemporary driving life and then some. With sprightly performance, good manners on the road, and a minimal thirst for gasoline what's not to like? I didn't get the EPA 32-mpg average, merely 30 -- but I didn't do all that much long-distance, slow-speed highway driving either. And 30 mpg from a roomy midsize sedan with good performance is nothing to be ashamed of.




APPEARANCE: Other than plainer trim and higher-profile tires on 16-inch instead of 18-inch wheels there are few differences between the LX 1.6T and the higher-level 2016 Optimas. As with all, nearly every panel is different from the previous generation but the car is still instantly recognizable as a Kia Optima, from its tabbed "Tiger nose" grille and complementary upper windshield shape through its near-fastback roof line to the tail.

COMFORT: Compared to the SXL, the LX 1.6T is "downscale", with cloth upholstery instead of quilted leather and, in standard trim, manual seats. But it still has the same Euro-inspired styling and first-class fit and finish, and the optional LX Technology Package adds a power driver's seat and memory settings for that and the outside mirrors, dual-zone climate control, a navigation system, and USB chargers and a 12VDC power point in the console to its interior specification. Front seat comfort is comparable to the higher levels. The rear seat is spacious for the Optima's size, and a central fold-down armrest with cupholders, 60/40 folding seatback, and HVAC vents on the end of the console add comfort and convenience. Audio choices are all current modes. Access here, with the Technology Package, is through the touchscreen used for the navigation system. Hard buttons on the stack control infotainment functions. Unlike in a premium luxury car, climate controls are not through the screen. Just simple knobs and buttons. The trunk is usefully-sized. A "tire mobility kit" under the trunk floor means a bit more storage space. I'd put a space-saver spare in instead.

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. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop quickly. The LX Technology Package adds Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Rear Parking Assist.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Greater use of high-strength steel in the new Optima's unibody structure aids structural rigidity and strength, and improves crash protection and vehicle dynamics. Increased insulation and revised engine and suspension mounts decrease interior noise 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: The new 1.6-liter turbo plus seven-speed DCT is too entertaining to be the "economy" choice. There's no need to suffer boredom in service of good gas mileage here. The 1.6 has the same engineering features as the 2.0 turbo in the SX an SXL -- aluminum alloy block and head, dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, and turbocharging -- in a smaller size. Maximum output is less -- 178 hp at 5500 rpm and 195 lb-ft from 1500 through 4500 rpm vs 245 at 6000 and 260 from 1350 through 4500 -- but with fewer luxury features and no sunroof, the LX 1.6T weighs about 375 pounds less than an SXL. 0-60 acceleration is about half a second longer, but still under 7.5 seconds, so quick merges and avoidance maneuvers should be no problem. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission helps economy and performance too. Like others of that type, it can be slow and klunky to shift when cold, but once up to operating temperature it shifts as smoothly as any torque-converter automatic, and more quickly. There are three modes -- Eco, Normal, and Sport -- plus manual shifting via the lever on the console. Normal is fine most of the time, with Sport or manual for quickness and Eco for highway cruising. EPA mileage estimates are 28 mpg city, 39 highway. I saw 30 with mostly city and backroad driving and short highway trips. More highway driving and less enthusiastic use of the turbo could easily improve that.

CONCLUSIONS: In the Kia Optima lineup, the "economy" model LX 1.6T is the fun one.




SPECIFICATIONS

2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo

Base Price $ 23,990

Price As Tested $ 27,415

Engine Type turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection

Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97 cu. in.

Horsepower 178 @ 5500 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 195 @ 1500-4500 rpm

Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch automated

Wheelbase / Length 110.4 in. / 191.1 in.

Curb Weight 3224 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.1

Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 205/65R16 95H Michelin Energy Saver A/S 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

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 28 / 39 / 30

0 to 60 mph 7.4 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

LX Technology Package -- includes: dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, navigation system with 8-inch display, power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, memory for driver's seat and mirror position, center console USB chargers and 12VDC outlet, blind-spot detection system, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking-assist system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, LED taillights $ 2,600

Destination Charge $ 825


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