2016 Kia Optima SX LimitedPosted on March 14th, 2016
Redesigned midsize sedan builds on winning formula
By Nina Russin
The redesigned 2016 Kia Optima is less revolution than evolution: the logical strategy considering the outgoing model’s success. Peter Schreyer’s team refined the sedan’s aerodynamic exterior, adding new technology and luxury materials inside.
The 2017 car is slightly larger with a redesigned grille based on the K900 sedan and new headlamps. Designers maintained the body’s sharply raked A and C pillars. Inside the sporty SXL grade features diamond stitched leather seating, a cleaner instrument panel with updated infotainment features and flat bottom steering wheel that’s a nod to the OEM’s racing program.
The SXL comes with the larger of two available turbocharged engines and a six-speed automatic transmission. Base price is $35,790 excluding the $825 destination charge. Unlike some competitors in the midsize segment, the Optima is available with front-wheel drive only.
The SX Limited is fully loaded with standard safety and convenience features, including keyless entry and start, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, Nappa leather upholstery and a very large panoramic sunroof.
Active safety technology includes adaptive front HID headlamps, rearview and surround view monitors, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. While the Kia Optima is by no means an inexpensive car, the automaker packed a lot of content into a sub-$40,000 package.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week I drove the Optima throughout Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley and the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Since engineers made significant changes to the body’s torsional rigidity, suspension and steering systems, I wanted to spend some time on a two-lane winding road to test all that.
The most obvious difference between the new Optima and the car it replaces is steering that is vastly improved. Although the OEM continues to utilize electric power steering, a more rigid body structure and remounted EPAS unit makes a big difference in on-center response. Gone is the slightly numb feeling at higher speeds. The system is indistinguishable from a hydraulic unit in terms of performance.
The two-liter turbocharged engine is carry-over from the former model. Producing 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of maximum torque, it gives the Optima excellent low-end acceleration with enough top-end power to easily pass slower vehicles on the highway. I passed multiple vehicles on the two-lane Bush Highway with ease, despite that road’s rather short passing zones.
The six-speed automatic transmission is well matched to the engine, providing linear shifts throughout the power band. Fuel economy during my test drive was slightly better than the 25 mile-per-gallon EPA average.
Engineers replaced the dual suspension mounts on the former model with four-bushing suspension mounting system for both subframes. Doing so makes the suspension more responsive on the pitchy hills and sharp dips the rural test road is known for.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear, providing supple yet sporty performance. I took some decreasing radius turns at a pretty good clip and noticed no tendency towards leaning or understeer.
Eighteen-inch wheels with low-profile tires provide a fat, stable footprint for high speed performance. Ventilated disc brakes up front and solid rotors in the rear deliver firm, linear stopping power.
Visibility around the car’s exterior is good. I was able to adjust the power driver’s seat high enough for a clear forward view. Although the B pillars are thick their location is such that they do not interfere with over-the-shoulder visibility.
The surround-view monitor gives the driver a view of the entire perimeter: a boon when maneuvering through crowded parking lots. A rearview camera with lines superimposed over the image to show steering inputs is also standard.
High intensity discharge headlamps provide long bright beams of light after dark. Headlamps swivel according to steering inputs to better light dark intersections in rural and suburban areas.
Blind spot monitoring is a godsend in rush-hour traffic, illuminating LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. Standard adaptive cruise control maintains a preset following distance between the Optima and the vehicle in front, reducing driver fatigue and improving fuel economy in stop-and-go traffic. Autonomous braking stops the car if the driver fails to recognize and react to a stopped vehicle ahead.
Increasing the amount of sound insulation around the floor pan has improved NVH inside the car. There is no obvious road, wind or engine noise, enabling both rows of passengers to converse on the highway.
Increasing the Optima’s dimensions translates to more headroom and second-row legroom as well as a more spacious trunk. The keyless access system automatically folds the mirrors when the driver locks the car and unfolds them when he unlocks, preventing a type of damage common in crowded parking lots.
Nappa leather is one of the nicest materials available for car upholstery. I found the seats comfortably firm and appreciated the adjustable lumbar support. Standard front-row heated and ventilated seats keep those occupants more comfortable in temperature extremes. Dual-zone climate control is also standard.
A split screen image on the center stack screen enables the driver to monitor audio channels when utilizing the navigation system. Both the center stack screen and gauge cluster are easy to read in bright sunlight and after dark. An information screen in the gauge cluster allows the driver to monitor driving range, fuel economy and tire pressures at all four corners.
The Harmon Kardon surround sound system incorporates a new file decompression feature that enhances the quality of symphony music and acoustic jazz. Available Android Auto and Apple CarPlay give drivers better access to apps via their smart phones.
The Kia Optima comes with seven airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, hill start assist and tire pressure monitoring. Kia’s ten year/100,000-mile factory warranty includes five years of roadside assistance, up to 60,000 miles.
Kia builds the Optima at its West Point, Georgia assembly plant.
Like: A solid, stylish midsize sedan with a high level of standard safety and convenience features.
Model: Optima SXL
Base price: $35,790
As tested: $36,615
Horsepower: 245 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 260 lbs.-ft. @ 1350 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 22/32 mpg city/highway