For years, the first-generation Kia Optima put up a serious argument for the dollars of family sedan shoppers after a long list of features at every price point, a pleasant drive, plenty of selection, and heavy-hitting styling that didn’t look bland and boring ― you know, something Maud Flanders would drive.
The second-generation Optima has recently launched, and the complete redesign of the original advances on all fronts, once again, to take a place as one of the market’s most persuasive choices in a high-style, highly attainable family hauler.
Outside, daring lines, big dual exhaust, plentiful details, and the brand’s signature grille, flanked by bi-xenon headlamps, help set the 2016 Kia Optima apart. My top-line SXL tester wore little “TURBO” decals on its front fender vents so that would-be stoplight challengers know not to mess around. The redesigned Optima is a serious-looking car as it rolls down the road, with numerous styling touches that could easily do double-duty in a far pricier ride.
Drivers are encircled by a world of stitching, quilted leather, modern interfaces, and intersecting trim and materials of various colours, textures, and lustres. Pick nearly any part of the cabin for examination with the eyes and fingertips, and you’ll notice touches of modern flair, quality, and attention to detail. Not long ago, a cabin this well finished cost a whole lot more money. In all, the atmosphere inside the new Optima is formal, high-tech, and uniquely current.
In SXL trim, there’s a massive panoramic sunroof, a vivid and potent Harman Kardon stereo with Quantum Logic processing for crisp playback from all audio sources, and a big central command screen underlined with logical tactile buttons for easy navigation and minimal frustration. Interfaces pour down onto the centre console a la Audi or BMW, with various controls integrated around the shifter plate. Among these is the drive-mode selector, which switches the Optima from a lazy eco-cruiser to a riled-up sports sedan with a click or two.
Highway cruising sees the so-called “sport-tuned” suspension offering a layer of softness thanks to some mildly stiff shocks, enabling responsive handling, a comfortable ride on nearly any surface, and neither attribute cutting the other’s grass. Around town, the 2016 Kia Optima doesn’t float over or smash into bumps and potholes, preferring instead to absorb them with minimal upset, and a feel of durability that’s quiet all the while. And though it doesn’t steer or handle with bowel-twisting intensity, the Optima is unbothered and notably stable when tossed around vigorously.
The electric power steering provides minimal actual feel of the tires, but I found it precise, smooth as glass, and isolated fully from any underfoot abuse directed at the front wheels. No harshness is transmitted back to your fingertips. If you’re a fan of a steering system that’s relaxing, light as a feather, and easy to manipulate, you’ll like what’s happening here. Best of all, that lightness and easiness fades into a touch of heavy stiffness at highway speeds, helping the Kia Optima stay centered within its lane, with minimal need to readjust. So, much like the suspension, the steering supports a laid-back dynamic. Alternatively, click into Sport Mode, where the steering wheel offers a few degrees of easiness in each direction from centre before slamming into a wall of heaviness that enables more confident and stable high-speed corner browsing.
Given the luxury look of the cabin, some drivers may wish for a quieter ride. It is sufficiently quiet, mind you. Elsewhere, look for plenty of room for even generously proportioned adults up front, generous at-hand storage, proper cup holders, and several power and charging ports. Also available is wireless charging, a newfangled form of electronic witchcraft that juices compatible phones by simply placing them onto a surface, no plugging-in required.
The rear seats in the 2016 Kia Optima are wide and very accommodating where legroom is concerned. My SXL tester’s rear windows even offered pull-up shades. On the other hand, at 5’10”, I had adequate headroom and little more. Taller passengers (including one who stood 6’3”) reported just-adequate headroom, as well, provided they kept their head leaned back beneath a notch at the very rear of the Optima’s ceiling. Meanwhile, the trunk is extra deep, wide, largely square, and generous enough (450 litres) to handle a weekend road trip for four or a $500 Costco run with ease.
The new Kia Optima’s top-level engine option is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that provides 245 horsepower (30 fewer ponies than last year’s model) and 260 lb-ft of torque, all sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The detuned engine still scoots when you drop the hammer, though it sees drivers waiting a touch longer for the turbo to get breathing before full thrust comes online. It does sound more pleasing, and passing and merging power reserves are plentiful, with ample hard-hitting thrust available right away and more piling on as the revs climb.
Other notes? The Optima SXL is a confident machine to operate in tight quarters thanks to featherlight steering, a high-resolution around-view camera system, and parking-assist beepers and cross-traffic alerts for added awareness of the driver’s surroundings. Additionally, while navigation and infotainment interfaces aren’t the most visually stunning in the segment, they’re logical and easily learned. The Harman Kardon stereo system is a fantastic travel companion with crisp mids and highs and a kickin’ subwoofer. The nearly noiseless and very smooth power window motors provide yet another subtle hint of the motoring high life. Finally, the repeating of your wiper and light selection in the driver computer screen is a little touch that’s all too fancy.
Mileage on my watch landed at a measured-by-hand 9.5L/100km of regular-grade fuel. The Optima proved particularly thrifty overall.
What about complaints? Keeping context in mind, few presented themselves. Paddle shifting isn’t responsive or quick enough to warrant much use, especially if you’re coming out of a BMW or Volkswagen. Also, the brakes are powerful, but they lack any meaningful feel at the pedal, which itself feels like it’s connected to a cinder block.
At the end of the day, the 2016 Kia Optima is a worthy test drive where feature content, a well-mannered drive, and especially stand-out styling are at the top of your family sedan wish list.