By Keith Buglewicz
KBB Expert Rating: 9.1
The 2016 Kia Optima looks a lot like last year's model, but there is a lot that's new under this midsize-sedan's shapely styling: a ton of new technology and features, an upgraded interior, and a new turbocharged engine with better low-end power delivery. Then there's the new steering on the SX and SX-L models, which when coupled to better suspension, makes the 2016 Optima surprisingly fun to drive. The 2016 Kia Optima makes a formidable case for itself against the likes of class leaders like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima, plus similarly fierce new competitors like the all-new Chevy Malibu. Factor in competitive prices and excellent fuel economy, and it's a compelling midsize-family sedan.
If you're looking for a good midsize-sedan value, one with plenty of modern features, sharp styling, good driving dynamics, and a roomy interior – y'know, the works – then the 2016 Kia Optima hits all the right buttons.
Maybe you're a Honda or Toyota loyalist. Maybe you've had three Nissan Altimas in a row and don't see a reason to change now. The point is that blind brand loyalty is about the only reason we can see for not putting the 2016 Optima on your test-drive list.
KBB Expert Ratings
The 2016 Kia Optima is all-new this year, with a stiffer structure, retuned suspension, bigger interior and trunk, improved engines with better drivability and fuel economy, and a host of new technology features. The modestly different styling doesn't capture the extent of the changes underneath.
Midsize sedans like the 2016 Kia Optima aren't sports sedans, but driving dynamics matter even in day-to-day commuting, and it's where the new Kia Optima boasts the biggest improvement compared...
... to its predecessor. There's a new electrical power-steering assist on the Optima SX and Optima SX-L that vastly improves steering feel and feedback, making the new Optima feel much more connected to the road than last year's model. Note that Optima LX and EX models – which we didn't drive – use the same unloved power-steering system from last year. Still, the suspension was nicely sorted, maintaining calm over large and small bumps, and staying composed on a twisty mountain road. The transmission responded quickly to the steering-wheel paddles, and the new turbocharged 2.0-liter engine had an excellent seat-of-the-pants feel, with good low-end torque.
ANDROID AUTO & APPLE CARPLAY
Fully integrated smartphone systems are our new favorite thing. After all, that's what we've really wanted our infotainment systems to operate like ever since the iPhone first came on the scene. Now, it's a reality. Just plug in your Android or iPhone, and duplicate controls appear onscreen.
We're used to seeing harman/kardon audio systems in high-end luxury sedans, but a system like the available QuantumLogic7 surround audio system in a car like the 2016 Kia Optima is a rarity. And it sounds great, too, and audiophiles will appreciate harman/kardon's Clari-Fi system, which gets the most from MP3s.
The new Kia Optima's dash is bisected by a thick metallic band of trim, with the gauges, infotainment touch screen and vents above, and the audio system and climate-control buttons below. It's a clean design, and one that maintains the driver-oriented tilt of the previous car. All of the interior materials felt very high quality, with soft-touch surfaces on the door tops, dash and pretty much everywhere else you'd want them. The seats were plenty comfortable, and the back seat is downright huge, offering ample legroom even for tall passengers. Optima SXL models get Nappa leather and other high-end touches.
One school of thought on the Kia Optima's styling is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The old Optima was still a great-looking midsize sedan, sharp and modern, and the new one carries over much of the same sensibilities. There's a similar grille design, the same sweeping arc of chrome over the roof, and so on. Yet there is so much new about the 2016 Kia Optima that others say that it deserved standout styling to match. Whatever you think, it's still a sharp-looking car, even if it's not very distinct from its predecessor.
The base model 2016 Kia Optima LX comes with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Beyond that, there's a Driver Mode Select system that switches among Normal, Sport and Eco modes. Other Optima LX standard features include manual air conditioning, a 5-inch LCD screen with a rearview camera, and controls on the tilt-telescope steering wheel for the cruise control and audio system, which includes Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth and Auxiliary and USB inputs. The two front seats both adjust six different ways, with power lumbar support for the driver, and adjustable height on the passenger side.
The 2016 Kia Optima Eco comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder connected to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, while the SX and SX-L get a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and a much improved power-steering system. Kia has also made its blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors available on LX and Eco models. Optima SX buyers can add active cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and a surround-view monitor as well. Other upgrade features include dual-zone climate control, a dual-panel panoramic sunroof with a fully opaque power sunshade, and the excellent harman/kardon audio system.
Base Optima LX and mid-grade Optima EX models get a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 185 horsepower connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Optima SX and SX-L models get a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 245 horsepower, also connected to a 6-speed automatic, albeit with steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Note that both engines have less horsepower but more torque compared to last year's similarly sized versions. New to the lineup this year is an Eco model, slotting between LX and EX. It comes with its own drivetrain, a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 178 horsepower, but connected to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Fuel economy is solid across the board, with LX models getting 37 mpg on the highway, SX getting 32 mpg, and the Eco model getting 39 mpg.
185 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
178 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/37 mpg (LX), 24/35 mpg (EX)
1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4
178 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
195 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/39 mpg
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
245 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
260 lb-ft of torque @ 1,350-4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/32 mpg
Prices start modestly enough for the 2016 Kia Optima. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a base Optima LX will run the same as last year, about $22,700 with the $825 destination charge. The Eco model with its fuel-sipping 1.6-liter engine starts at about $24,800, while the EX will run about $25,700. If you want turbo power, the SX starts at $30,500 – nearly $2,000 more than last year's model – while the fully loaded, Nappa-leather SXL starts at $36,600. Those prices all compare nicely to the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and others midsize sedans, being neither the most expensive nor the cheapest. Be sure to check out KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see how much others in your area paid for their 2016 Optimas. Over time, the Kia Optima has become a better and better investment, with resale values in the better half of the segment.