2019 Kia Optima First Review
- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems now standard on all Optimas
- Updated UVO Telematics
- Euro-style sport seats
Ever since its debut as a 2013 model, the Kia Optima has been among the company’s best sellers. With good reason. The Georgia-built Optima is an impressive midsize sedan, to many a better-looking car than its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Sonata. What’s more, the 2019 Kia Optima -- on sale in late June and priced similarly to the current model -- represents a strong value proposition, backed by laudable quality ratings and Kia’s superb 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
To help spur (or at least maintain) sales in a world infatuated with crossovers and SUVs, Kia has given the 2019 Optima sedan a midcycle refresh. Although the styling tweaks (revised front and rear fascias) are minor, the nose now hints at the Kia Stinger sport sedan’s. More significant: Kia has decided to equip all 2019 Optimas with a standard suite of advanced safety technologies.
Safety tech for all
That’s right, every 2019 Kia Optima sold in the U.S. is equipped with standard Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Foremost in this safety-enhancing suite of technologies is Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), which automatically applies the brakes to prevent a frontal collision (or at least minimize the severity of the impact). FCA, of note, works in tandem with Forward Collision Warning, which sounds an alert when a collision is deemed imminent. Other standard ADAS technologies on the new Kia Optima include Driver Attention Warning (which provides visual and audible alerts if the car senses reduced driver attention); Lane Keep Assist (which makes minor steering corrections if the Optima starts to drift out of its lane); Lane Departure Warning (which beeps if the vehicle deviates from its intended lane); and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning (which is your new best friend in the crowded parking lot at the mall).
Note: If you want Smart Cruise Control (with full stop and go functionality), it’s standard on the 2019 Kia Optima EX. This model, fitted with a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, is the most fuel-efficient Optima that Kia sells, returning 37 mpg in the EPA highway test.
Further updates continue inside the Kia Optima for 2019, with updated UVO telematics designed to make it easier for owners to interact with their vehicles. UVO is now broken into what Kia calls “understandable” tiers, and each we’re happy to report is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. UVO play, standard on LX, tethers the driver’s smartphone to the audio system via USB, and it allows the use of voice commands to help the driver stay more focused on the road ahead. UVO link, standard on Optima S and EX, adds on-demand vehicle diagnostics and maintenance alerts. The top telematic offering is UVO link with Navigation -- it’s optional on the 2019 Kia Optima EX with Premium Package, and it includes Points of Interest and Map Care, plus two free map updates per year.
Driving the 2019 Optima
On roads near Kia’s manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia (where Optimas and Sorentos are built), we sampled a 2019 Kia Optima SX 2.0T. It’s the sporty Optima, fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that sends 245 horsepower to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles mounted on the back side of a new flat-bottom steering wheel.
While some newer cars benefit from additional gear ratios, the Optima’s 6-speed automatic works just fine, shifting smoothly at expected times and downshifting quickly whenever the driver dips into the throttle to make a pass or merge onto the freeway. In Sport -- one of the Optima’s four electronic driving modes -- gearbox response is snappy and immediate, but not jarringly so. With some turbocharged engines, power production feels delayed as boost pressure builds; in the Optima SX 2.0T, it ramps up smoothly the moment you depress the throttle.
Although the SX 2.0T has a sport-tuned suspension, the ride quality is good, particularly on the smooth Georgia highways near the Chattahoochee River and Alabama border. The suspension is well damped and controlled, neither too firm nor too floaty. Low-profile tires, size P235/45R-18, are quiet on the highway, and they mount on attractive new aluminum-alloy wheels that reveal the SX 2.0T’s red brake calipers front and rear. The Optima’s electric-assist steering requires a light effort but has a natural feel.
Thankfully, we didn’t have a chance to test some of the new safety tech, but we did learn that the Optima’s Smart Cruise Control works well, but is still nowhere near as smooth as a good driver at maintaining a distance to the car ahead. And while Lane Keep Assist was fun to experiment with, keeping the Optima in its lane around highway bends, the car kept barking at me to put my hands back on the steering wheel. Some of the new tech I like (blind-spot warnings, for example), and some I don’t (lane-keep assist programs, in which the car steers itself).
Our Georgia test drive also provided a chance to soak up the 2019 Kia Optima SX 2.0T’s interior. It’s a handsome and quiet place, for sure, with high-quality soft-touch materials, a huge glovebox, easy-to-read gauges and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system that fills the cabin with glorious sounds. The front seats -- Euro-styled buckets with large side bolsters -- are unique to the SX 2.0T. Trimmed in black leather with perforated seating surfaces done in red leather, these heated and cooled power seats offer great support in corners, but proved to be quite comfortable over the long haul. Headroom front and back, even with the giant panoramic moonroof, is excellent, and there’s enough legroom for the Optima to accommodate four six-footers comfortably.
Which brings up my final point: After our test drive, four of us shared a 2019 Kia Optima for the trip to the Atlanta airport. With any number of other midsize sedans, there would have been wrangling for one of the front seats, and a legitimate concern that all our luggage might not fit.
But that didn’t happen with the 2019 Kia Optima. Rather, the airport run underscored just how capable it is as a sedan. The four of us fit well inside, the roomy trunk swallowed our baggage with ease, and all the while the turbo engine never felt strained. Moreover, the heavily loaded Optima felt plush and controlled, not overwhelmed, handling that duty with an impressive aplomb and reminding us that you don’t always need an SUV or a crossover to carry people.
In short, the 2019 Kia Optima is an impressive everyday sedan. It’s well built, quiet and composed, with good driving manners and easy-to-use interior controls. Moreover, the Optima occupies a sweet spot in overall size -- it’s large enough to carry four full-size adults comfortably to, say, dinner, but not so big as to feel ponderous or ungainly on a curvy mountain road. And now, for 2019, the Optima is even better, blessed with some standard advanced safety technologies that complement its slick style and outstanding powertrain warranty.
In other news: Kia hasn’t announced pricing for the 2019 Optima yet, but said it would be very close to current 2018 pricing. For the record, a 2018 Kia Optima SX Turbo carries an MSRP of $30,600, plus a destination charge of $895. A 2018 Optima SX Turbo, fully loaded, can reach about $38,000. The Kia Optima Hybrid and Optima PHEV, two models built in Korea (as opposed to Georgia), will receive these new 2019 updates for model year 2020.