We drive Kia's top-end, turbocharged Optima, and find remarkable similarities to Audi's current offerings.
Over the last few months I’ve been behind the wheel of a fair number of big hitters in the midsize sedan category. I tested the segment’s newest competitor, the 2016 Chevy Malibu, out in Northern California, while sedans from Hyundai and Toyota have been parked in my driveway.
Most recently though, I was loaned a fully tricked out version of the 2016 Kia Optima – that is the SX Limited trim with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine providing the power. It didn’t take long to see that, at least at the top of the price class, the Kia is as good as any of them.
A quick note: the weather was awful the week I drove this Optima, quite snowy. There's a lot of falling snow in the photo set you'll see here, which is less than ideal. But hey, at least you know they're real!
- Put simply: the turbocharged four-cylinder is excellent. This engine makes 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, and delivers it all to the front wheels without unseemly tire spin or unpredictably turbo lag. Kia teams this engine with a six-speed automatic, with paddle shifters for individual gear control. I basically ignored the paddle shifters, as the shift logic had no problem kicking down a gear when I asked for some scoot.
- One look at the face of the Optima with those prominent LED elements in the headlights, or inside the redesigned cabin, and you’ll understand why Kia poached designer Peter Schreyer from Audi. I know that there are whole teams of artists lending their talents to any one car design, but the sharp shapes on the dashboard and quilted leather on the seatbacks reminded me instantly of the last A7 I drove. Outside and in, the Optima is quite technical and fresh looking, if not an out and out beautiful car. Certainly, it looks and feels a world more premium then the boring Camry or the nerdy Accord.
- I like the look of this flat-bottomed steering wheel, as well as it’s chunkiness and thick rim. But mostly, since the temperature has been hovering around the single digits here in Michigan, I liked the way it heated up quickly and hotly.
- Yeah, the turbo engine is powerful and the transmission is smooth, but that doesn’t exactly translate into a car that’s fun to drive. Steering response is a bit soft and dull of feeling. The chassis is clearly stiff, but the suspension rolls under active provocation. None of that is surprising, or really disappointing considering the segment norms, but it’s clear that the Optima isn’t the “driver’s choice” here.
- For all the sharp design elements and initial wow factor, there’s slightly more style than substance to the Optima cabin. The leather on those quilted seats isn’t nearly up to the luxury-car snuff, even though they look the part. Detailing of the instrument panel is nice on this high-end trim, with the large infotainment screen, but if you move into the lower level cars its not so nice.
- Unless you've fallen for the styling (not unreasonable), or are in it mainly for the excellent warranty, the Optima is still mid-pack just about everywhere. Malibu is the newest, 200 the most powerful (until the new Fusion Sport hits), Passat has the most near-luxury cachet , Accord and Camry have the bulletproof reputations.
- Chevy Malibu
- Chrysler 200
- Ford Fusion
- Honda Accord
- Hyundai Sonata
- Nissan Altima
- Toyota Camry
- Volkswagen Passat
|Engine||Turbocharged 2.0L I4|
|Output||245 Horsepower / 260 Pound-Feet|
|EPA Fuel Economy||22 City / 32 Highway / 25 Combined|
|Cargo Volume||15.9 Cubic Feet|
|Estimated Lease Price (As-Tested)||$630/Month|