2016 Kia Optima Test Drive: Racier Style, Improved Interior, New Engine [Review]

Automakers are breaking the bank with crossover and medium-size SUVs, but know that they need a solid mid-size sedan to be considered a full-line outfit.

And so we have the redesigned 2016 mid-size Optima sedan from Kia, which some may remember as being a producer of dull economy cars. Optima rivals, such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, have more familiar names and shinier reputations.

2016 Optima SXL 2.0 turbo

The new fun-to-drive Optima, however, is a worthy competitor to established, popular mid-size sedans. Its new chassis is shared with the Hyundai Sonata, which is a good starting point. It has a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, at 110.4 inches, and width has been increased 1.2 inches to 73.2 inches. That allows a roomier interior for four tall adults. Long doors with big handles make it easy to get in and out.

Trunk room is impressive, increased to 15.9 cubic feet, and rear seatbacks fold flat to provide crossover-vehicle-style cargo room.

But it’s the styling of the longer, wider and slightly taller 2016 Optima that likely will first attract many folks. An aggressive front end “pulls” body sheet metal taut over the wheel arches, and swept-back headlights reach deeply into the fenders.

While it’s a four-door sedan, the Optima has a coupe-like roofline that adds to the car’s sporty look without robbing rear headroom. Eye-catching dual chromed exhaust tips help complete the sporty look. I like the new deep red paint that gains depth from the use of aluminum pigments.

2016 kia optima interior

The roomier interior has more soft-touch materials throughout. Attractive stitching is along the dashboard and doors, and the cabin has been simplified with a cleaner, more unified design.

The redesigned center console has easy-to-reach cupholders and creates a greater sense of space. The number of functional keys and buttons have been reduced and grouped to improve ergonomics. A deep console storage bin, storage pockets in all doors and a large glove compartment provide a decent amount of interior cargo space.

The interior is quieter partly because engine mounts, body panels and wheels are stiffer, reducing vibration and engine and road noise.

Kia’s UVO touch-screen infotainment system has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, letting you operate select apps from iPhone and Android phones through a touch screen.

2016 kia optima interior

Redesigned front seats are supportive and have a stiffer frame to reduce vibration. Importantly, backlit gauges are easy to read in sunlight.

Optima provides a fairly wide range of models, with list prices ranging from $21,990 to $35,890. Offered are LX, EX, SX and SXL models.

There’s a new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that develops 178 horsepower and a stout 195 pound-feet of torque at just 1,500 rpm. It works with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission — a first for Kia.

Two carryover engines are a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. My test car had the 2.0-liter turbo engine.

2016 Optima SXL 2.0 turbo

Estimated fuel economy of this approximately 3,300-pound car ranges from 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on highways for the 2-liter turbo to an impressive 28 miles per gallon in the city and 39 on highways for the new 1.6-liter turbo engine. The “2.4” delivers 24 and 35.

The carryover engines work with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Kia says they can use 87- (or higher) octane gasoline.

I’d opt for the smooth, quiet 2.0-liter turbo, which provides fast acceleration off the line and swift merging and passing in fast traffic. The tachometer needle doesn’t even reach the 2,000 rpm mark at 65 mph, showing that the engine is fairly loafing at that speed.

I tested the $29,690 SX Turbo model. Its features include dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton start, power driver’s seat with memory, heated front seats with leather trim, navigation system with an 8-inch rear-camera display and 4.2-inch color TFT-LCD meter cluster.

2016 Optima SXL 2.0 turbo

Nobody knows for sure when the completely driverless car will go on sale, but the new Optima’s available Autonomous Emergency Braking system will bring the car to a complete stop under certain conditions to avoid a collision.

Adding to my test car’s price was a $2,700 SXT Launch Edition package with items in addition to, or in place of, my test car’s standard features. They included a panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon premium surround sound system, power front passenger’s seat, heated outboard rear seat cushions, blind-spot detection system, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist system.

That package seems worth the money, although I’m no fan of sunroofs.

My test car’s steering was fast and precise, with decent road feel. A modified suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels (up from standard 16-inch alloys) helped make the car agile. It has a nicely composed ride. For one thing, moving suspension points outward optimizes suspension geometry for a smoother ride over uneven pavement.

2016 Optima SXL 2.0 turbo

The chassis is lighter and stiffer, resulting in nearly 60 percent more torsional rigidity than the previous model. This contributes to improved steering response, high-speed stability and handling.

Traction and electronic stability control systems, along with Vehicle Stability Management, help out if a driver gets in over his head. The anti-lock brakes stopped the car quickly and surely, with good pedal feel.

Kia looks like it has a winner with the new Optima, which should further help the automaker erase its rapidly disappearing old stodgy image.

  • Lease itOn the TFLcar scale of:
  • Buy it!
  • Lease it!
  • Rent it!
  • … or Forget it!

The well-equipped 2016 Kia Optima earns a “Lease it!” rating for being a sophisticated, mid-size sedan that combines sportiness with practicality. A couple points were deducted because of its low front-end and lack of status compared to the more established nameplates.

In this TFLcar first drive review Roman gets behind the wheel of the new 2016 Kia Optima and finds out just much the sedan has been improved.

Read more of Dan’s reviews at DanJedlicka.com