Best 2016 Mid Sized Sedan?: Kia Optima Review and Test Drive

The 2016 Kia Optima is the best car for you
if you want to drive the automotive equivalent of a middle manager. This is the all-new Optima — and it seems
designed to please conservative bosses higher up the Kia line but keep the visual edge that
made the outgoing model a hit. It’s a tightrope walk familiar to any middle
manager. But with more tenuous styling comes additional comfort, better road manners, and higher fuel economy. Question is, does this midsize sedan gain
more than it loses? I’m Chuck Giametta, join me for a CarPreview video review of the 2016
Kia Optima. [music intro] Kia outsells such brands as Dodge, Volkswagen
and Mazda in the U.S. and Optima is its most popular model. This front-wheel-drive four-door
became a breakout hit with a 2011 redesign that created a counterpoint to the car that
shares its underskin engineering, the Sonata from Kia’s corporate parent, Hyundai. Sonata had undergone its own radical remake
the year before. Its curvy sheetmetal shook up the staid midsize-car segment. Industry
scuttlebutt, however, said some corporate bigwigs back in South Korea found the wavy
Sonata too wild, and favored Optima’s blockier shape. Sure enough, the redesigned Sonata
emerged for 2015 looking less curvy than its influential predecessor. Meanwhile, this third-generation Optima, is
visually softer. In fact, it and the new Sonata seem to have converged on some generic middleground. With Kia’s tiger-nose grille, the front end
is still pretty distinctive, if a little overstyled. SX and SXL models introduce to the brand steering-linked bi-xenon headlamps. And the automaker says these outer-lower vents function to aid aerodynamics. There’s still a confusion of cutlines at this
roof pillar. And the tail is busier, to no aesthetic advantage. But with less drama comes more sophistication.
The structure is stiffer, the suspension revised, the interiors upgraded. And there’s an interesting
new engine choice. While competitors like the Toyota Camry, Honda
Accord, and Nissan Altima still offer V-6s, every Optima again uses a four-cylinder. The
two returning engines lose horsepower for 2016 in exchange for better fuel economy.
Base LX and better-equipped EX models account for about half of Optima sales and they drop
7 horsepower. Acceleration remains perfectly adequate, though, while fuel-economy ratings
increase one mile per gallon in city, highway, and combined driving. The sporty turbocharged SX and SXL models
lose 29 horses, but now deliver most of their torque at lower rpm so they actually feel
a little more responsive than before. The only Optimas with steering-wheel-mounted
paddle shifters, they’re a good match for the acceleration you get with most rival V-6s
– though they don’t beat the sixes for fuel economy. Kia and Hyundai pioneered the modern era of midsize cars relying solely on four-cylinder
engines and Optima adds a new one for 2016. It’s a turbocharged one-point-six liter marketed
in base LX trim as the T-Eco – for economy. It’s a surprisingly lively performer with
excellent mileage. It uses an automated manual transmission that doesn’t shift as smoothly
as the conventional automatic in the other Optimas — but don’t let that stop you from
considering it. And true fuel-economy fans can look forward
to the spring 2016 introduction of both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of this new Optima. Upgrades to the suspension and steering, along
with additional sound insulation, give the new Optima more confident handling, better
bump absorption, and a quieter cabin. LX and EX models emphasize a comfortably controlled
ride over sporty cornering, mimicking mainstream cars like the Camry for overall road manners. SX and SXL get stiffer suspension tuning,
larger tires, red brake calipers, even their own special steering systems. They change
direction with fine balance and good grip. All Optimas provide normal, economy, and sport
settings. Selecting the last adds weight to the steering, but these Kias still lack real
road feel. For true connected-to-the-pavement handling
— in this class, the Accord and Mazda 6 remain our picks. Things improve inside, too, where there’s
a cleaner more contemporary look and more padded surfaces than before. The redesign brings modern, horizontal lines
and a wider center console that would look at home in an Audi. All Optimas have Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Unusual at this price point, even the entry-level LX is available with a power memory driver’s
seat and a height-adjustable front passenger seat. All but the LX get keyless entry and pushbutton
ignition. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay streaming are
available. Embedded navigation is standard on SX and SXL, optional on all but the non-turbo
LX. The display is a generous 8 inches in diameter
and the graphics first rate. Response to voice commands is generally good, but Kia should
have copied Mazda and supplemented that with a physical controller rather than compelling
you to poke the screen. Standard leather upholstery and heated front
seats and steering wheel begin at the EX level. Cooled front seats are optional on EX and
SX. They’re standard on the SXL, which also gets
diamond-pattern Nappa leather and wireless phone charging. It comes with a panoramic
moonroof, too. That moonroof is optional on EX and SX. This new Optima is an inch wider than the
old, rides a half-inch-longer wheelbase, and it’s a little taller too. Growth that’s evident in outstanding rear-seat
room and comfort. Built at Kia’s plant in Georgia, Optima still
offers a nice range of features for the money. Base prices track a few hundred dollars more
than those of comparable Sonatas, though LX and EX versions run about a thousand dollars
less than similarly equipped Accords, Camrys, and Altimas. At more than thirty grand, SX and SXL models
are priced like six-cylinder versions of those rivals. The SXL is actually one of the most
expensive cars in the competitive set, though it does come with the blind-spot and rear
crosstraffic alerts that are optional on other Optimas. It also includes a surround-view monitor,
lane-departure warning, and emergency braking that can automatically stop it to avoid a
frontal collision. Those driver assists are in forty-eight-hundred-dollar
option package for the SX but are unavailable on other Optimas. Kia expects SX and SXL versions to combine
for about 40 percent of Optima sales, but the best value here might be a T-Eco optioned
with packages that include navigation and rear- and crosstraffic alerts. It would sticker
for just over twenty-nine-thousand dollars. Ok, it’s lost that visual tension, but the
redesigned Optima is a better all-around car. It satisfies the stodgy higher ups and probably
won’t disappoint shoppers looking for a family sedan with some sporty flavor. Pleasing everyone: isn’t that the job of a
good middle manager? For more on this and other cars, trucks, and
SUVs, go to and please subscribe to our CarPreview YouTube channel.

16 thoughts on “Best 2016 Mid Sized Sedan?: Kia Optima Review and Test Drive

  1. I don't understand why this car does not sell better than tenth place. I would take this any day over a Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata. It must be the lack of Mazda dealerships and minimal marketing. This car is excellent in every way.

  2. Yes, I'm a part of that 7% of buyers who refuses to drive automatic. I think I'll wait until the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid, and even the new Civic Si before I make a move.

  3. New grill seems to be on the 2016 grand touring only . My new 2016 touring (built in 5/15) has the older style grill with center emblem circled by top bar.

  4. i hoped they revamped the suspension and took care of the road noise… My 2012 SX is pretty bad.. i feel every bump and the wind noise is horrible… this looks pretty good..

  5. If you drove the 1.6T version, I'm interested to know if you found the Optima DCT's performance bothersome in any way. More than one journalist/reviewer commented negatively on what they found to be an Optima DCT tendency to be unresponsive ( delay in shifting? ) in certain situations.
    I have experience with dual-clutch transmissions ( own a '12 VW TDI Wagen ) so I realize they are different from a standard auto-trans.

  6. I find that the Optima is quite a large car. If the Optima is mid-sized, what is large-sized? Keeping in mind we're talking about a sedan.

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