Solid all-around value.

Starting MSRP: $22,840

Above Average: Combination of likable qualities

Below Average: Performance driving chops

Consensus: A standout in room and cargo space

600 Miles in 118  Words

We named the 2016 Kia Optima the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy award-winner in the midsize sedan category based partially on the amount of equipment it brought to the market at a palatable price. We’re pleased to report that the high-volume version of the car that we tested for this comparison, which lacked some of the showy bells and whistles of the previous test vehicle, didn’t cool our admiration for the Optima but, instead, reaffirmed our choice. The Optima isn’t the flashiest of the competitors in any area, unless you consider trunk space to be flashy. But the Optima offers a high-value package of looks, comfort, equipment and value that put it squarely in the middle of the best vehicles in the segment.

A Closer Look

It’s probably simplest to start with weaknesses here, because the Optima doesn’t have many. It isn’t as sporty as some of the other contenders. As a highway cruiser, several models topped it, and it turned in the poorest (but still good) fuel economy. In terms of available equipment, the only major deficiency in this comparison is the lack of adaptive cruise control, a feature several others in the test offer.

The plus side includes almost every other aspect. The rear seat comfort is especially good, and we applaud the trunk space and low lift-over height. We also give kudos to the infotainment system, which at first glance doesn’t look as formidable as others, but in the long run it proved itself to be the easiest to use while driving, and that’s a big plus. Another plus is the straightforward instrument panel. The design doesn’t bowl you over, but it transmits the information easily.

Highway Driving 
The Kia Optima is not the top choice in this comparison when it comes to highway/Interstate driving, but even with the base engine it was just fine. The SX Turbo version gives you more passing power, and it might be a better choice if you feel the need to zip past others frequently. In terms of interior noise levels, they weren’t obtrusive in the Optima but the interior isn’t the quietest either. Those who rely on in-car navigation will appreciate the UVO system and its easy-to-operate nav functions. Highway driving is also enhanced by safety systems that include automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.

City Driving  City driving is about easy-to-handle dimensions and the ability to park with a high degree of confidence. The Optima scores well in each of those measures, and it placed mid-pack among our midsize competitors in this test. The surround-view camera system is a welcome aid to the parking process, and it makes one wonder how parallel parking was done before this tech feature was introduced. (The answer: badly.) In urban sprawl the Optima should more than hold its own.

Sporty Driving  The Optima is well down the list of competitors when it comes to sporty/performance driving. Its base engine is out-powered by several others we considered, and its overall handling is certainly competent but not especially inspiring. The Kia engineers obvious had other priorities -- comfort, interior space, trunk volume -- and it seems to us they went the right way. The Optima isn’t a BMW 3 Series, and we’re fine with that. We think its buyers are, too.

The 2016 Kia Optima Eco comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder connected to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, while Optima LX and mid-grade EX models are equipped with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine delivering 185 horsepower. The higher-level Optimas (SX and SX-L) models are better suited to sporty driving thanks to the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 245 horsepower.

Interior Appeal  While the Optima’s interior style tends to the conservative (okay, way conservative), it also works well. The seats are comfortable, easy to adjust, and the controls are straightforward. While many competitive vehicles have a wide array of touchscreen-operated items, the Optima has a comforting number of dedicated buttons. Further, the interior is both roomy and airy. And it’s not just the amount of space that impresses, but how it's laid out. Controls and switchgear are easy to see and use, whether you're tuning a station on the HD Radio with the twist of a dial or toggling drive settings between Normal, Sport and Eco with the touch of a button via the standard Drive Mode system.

Infotainment  We like the audio system for both what’s old (dedicated buttons) and what’s new (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.) In standard trim the Optima’s audio system includes Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth and Auxiliary and USB inputs. For audiophiles in the crowd a 10-speaker, 630-watt Harman/Kardon audio system is available among the options on selected trims.  One of our testers notes had this to say regarding the Optima’s infotainment: “Among best of the bunch, easy to figure out with real buttons for some controls, no glare issues, easy to pair Bluetooth devices, very good sound quality, better than average graphics.”

Rear Seat  The rear seat in a midsize sedan can be sacrificed to style, but not so in the Kia Optima. Most testers said it was best in class in a near dead-heat with the notably spacious VW Passat.  One differentiator is the center position, which can be painful in many midsize sedans, but was reasonably palatable in the Optima. The seatback folds in 60/40 fashion to accommodate long cargo.

Cargo Utility  A medium-sized trunk lid provides easy access to the 15.9-cubic-foot cargo bay, which expands to a much larger and more versatile area with the rear seatback folded. The trunk area offers a lower liftover height, a boon if you are loading heavy suitcases, and the seatback releases are at your fingertips in the cargo compartment.

Fuel Economy  The turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine delivers the best fuel economy, likely why Kia fitted it into its Eco model. It delivers an EPA 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. Less frugal with fuel is the 2.4-liter four cylinder that offers 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway in the LX trim level. The uplevel powertrain in the SX Turbo model is the thirstiest -- 22/32 mpg in city/highway.

Resale Value  Korean cars once were doomed to poor resale value performance, but times have changed. In this comparison the Optima is one of the leaders in resale value, and that leadership is founded upon laudable quality.  Owners like the Optima’s combination of features and reliability, giving the model high marks. Only the iconic Honda Accord bests it among the competitors in this comparison test.

Inside and Out: 2016 Kia Optima


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