Aspen, Colorado, isn't the first place one thinks of when discussing midsize sedans like the 2016 Kia Optima. After all, in a place where $16.5-million-dollar houses are advertised even in the tiny airport, a $28,000 car -- even one as nice as the Optima -- suddenly seems out of place.

But if there was an analogy to be made, it's that the new Kia Optima has been to finishing school, and it's now an equal player in a midsize class where the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are no less than royalty. The impressively well-rounded new Optima boasts the style, features, and driving experience you'd expect from a class-leading midsize sedan. And we're serious about that class-leading part, as the Optima has already scored an upset victory in the midsize sedan category in our 2016 Best Buy Awards

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

Sport sedan prowess

What makes it so good? In short, everything. The new turbo engine sends 245 horsepower through the six-speed automatic transmission; that's a little less than last year, but better torque delivery means that performance balances out. The Optima comes with three driving modes that significantly alter its behavior. Compared to the Normal mode, Eco lessens the car's sensitivity to the gas pedal, while Sport increases it. The upshot is that the former increases fuel economy, while the latter makes the Optima feel sportier. While the Optima isn't a dedicated sport sedan, it does as decent an impression of one as you could hope for in a midsize family sedan, thanks to the new electric power steering in SX and SX-L models. 

Also: See the New and Redesigned Cars of 2016

But as fun as it may be, it's in the day-to-day driving that the new Optima shines. The comfortable driver's seat positions you in ergonomic perfection behind a logically designed dash. It's a great place to conduct the business of driving, and the available Harmon/Kardon audio system makes it a great place to just spend time in traffic as well. The rear seat is plenty big, and even when sitting three-across, kids won't mind. Take the whole family to the grocery store, load up the trunk, and the only argument will be about who gets to open the Oreos.

The funny thing is that there's no single "gotta-have-it" thing that makes the new Kia Optima stand apart. It isn't the most powerful in its class, it's not the roomiest, it doesn't have the best fuel economy. However, there's no Achilles heel, either. Instead, it compares favorably in every task, and is often at least as good as the class-leading Accord and Camry. It's the same kind of effortless exceptionalism that has kept the Accord and Camry at the top of the sales charts for so many decades, except that now, the Kia Optima does it even better.

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