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Comparison: 2019 Kia Optima vs 2019 Mazda 6

Auto123 compares the 2019 Kia Optima and 2019 Mazda 6, two midsize sedans that deliver a ton of quality for the price

Motorists now have the reflex to turn almost automatically to SUVs when they change their vehicles. But it’s always wise to properly evaluate one’s needs; this exercise might just lead to the conclusion that an SUV is not necessary for your daily commute, and that its benefits are outweighed by the convenience, more-positive drive and superior fuel economy of a car.

Today we look at two sterling examples of roomy midsize sedans that offer a number of great qualities for the price exacted.

2019 Kia Optima

Photo: D.Boshouwers

After giving its Optima some visual updates in 2016, Kia added additional standard safety equipment in 2018; now the sedan gets a further design tweak for 2019. This includes improvements to the front and rear bumper designs, new wheels and new headlights. 

Kia also made some interior changes to keep the car up to date in the technology department. The audio system gets an 8-inch screen as standard equipment, with the now-obligatory rearview camera of course. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also standard with EX models equipped with a new UVO telematics system that allows you to connect your car to your smartphone. 

Also boosted is the offering of security features such as forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assist, and high beam assist.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

 The mechanics

The Optima comes with either of a pair of engines including a 2.0L turbo developing 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and a 2.4L base engine offering 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Both come with six-speed automatic transmissions.

Beautiful on the outside, this sedan offers lots of space inside as well. It’s also well equipped, for instance even the basic models get heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. 

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The LX + version adds a heated steering wheel and a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. The EX version comes with leather seats and heated rear and front seats. The SX Turbo models add a sport suspension and turbo engine, plus ambient lighting. The SXL Turbo gets a panoramic vision camera, adaptive cruise control and premium Nappa leather. 

Like Mazda, Kia emphasizes a more-inspired driving experience than typical for the segment. The suspension offers just the right amount of firmness to corner with confidence, and there’s a very efficient and economical hybrid variant available.

2019 Mazda 6

Photo: D.Boshouwers

We continue to believe that the Mazda 6 has never received the credit it deserves. And yet consumers continue to stay away: Canadian sales continued to drop in 2018 with only 2,292 units sold in Canada, down 2.5%, and about 1,000 fewer than the Optima at 3,261.

Overview
After making some changes to its 6 in 2016, Mazda revisited the sedan in  2018 with a third overhaul of this current generation. The company’s designers reworked the grille to give it a more dynamic look, and the fog lamps and halogens have disappeared to make way for standard LED headlights with built-in fog lamps. Many changes are imperceptible, mostly you have to stand in back of the 6 to see that the top of the trunk is raised to make room for a small spoiler. Eagle-eyed observers will also notice slightly bigger exhaust tips.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Overall, there’s little change for this car that maintains a harmonious overall line, and it’S the same story inside. In 2019 the Mazda 6 comes in four flavours: GS, GS-L, GT and the new Signature. The overall quality continues to trend upwards, thanks in large part to the use of softer materials. 

The base version features dual-zone automatic climate control, an HVAC ventilation system at the rear, and an 8-inch centre screen (compared to the 7-inch unit on the previous model). Standard safety features include a blind spot monitoring system, a rear cross traffic alert system and an intelligent city brake assist system. 

The Signature
Mazda estimates that 50 to 60% of buyers will choose a GT or Signature version. In this more luxurious Mazda 6, the only colour of Nappa leather on offer is an aged brown reminiscent of Japanese Buddhist temples.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Also present is real sen wood, used in the manufacture of furniture and drums in Japan. Buyers now also get Apple Carplay and Android Auto, as well as a 360-degree-view screen and a head-up display that projects directly into the windshield, thankfully getting rid of the unloved small plastic popup window that Mazda had. The digital instrument cluster is unique to the Signature version with 7-inch TFT screen as well front and rear parking sensors. 

In general, the space is well conceived and ergonomic, the seats are comfortable, no matter the version, and drivers benefit from an excellent driving position.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The mechanics
While the Mazda 6 retains its 2.5L 4-cylinder engine as a base engine, the Japanese automaker has for the first time added a cylinder-deactivation system that allows, under very precise conditions (less than 105 km/h, at a maximum 59 lb-ft of torque), the engine to operate on two cylinders and further improve fuel economy. 

It should also be noted that the six-speed manual transmission has disappeared due to lack of driver demand.  This engine is the only one available in the GS version. 

Starting with the GS-L version, you can get the new 2.5L turbo engine that pushes output from 184 to 250 hp when using high-octane (Super) gasoline, and 227 hp if not. In a nutshell, Mazda took the CX-9’s engine and installed it in the 6 sedan. 

The big difference in the drive with this unit comes not so much form the increased raw power but from the 310 lb-ft of torque. Taking advantage of a very solid chassis, this power surge adds a good dose of dynamism to a vehicle that already had more than the average. The new turbo V6 comes standard in the GT and Signature versions.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Mazda also took advantage of the redesign to correct some small irritants, such as the noisy cabin of the previous generation that gives way to a quieter interior in this new version. 

While the power of the base engine is more than enough, the turbo adds a new spirit of dynamism that brings the 6 to the threshold of entry-level luxury models like the Acura TLX, Lexus IS, Audi A4 and Mercedes Class C. Already enjoyable to drive, the Mazda 6 now breathes with a good dose of passion that encourages more muscular acceleration.

Advantage Kia Optima

For those prioritizing fuel economy, the Optima offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions that are efficient, fun to drive and very economical. The Optima is also the model that offers the best value in terms of equipment for the price.

Advantage Mazda 6

For those who want to flatter their ego, the 6 is the more pleasant to drive and the most dynamic, and the Signature version brings you closer to entry-level luxury models.

Similarities

Neither model offers full-wheel-drive versions and in both cases passenger space is quite similar (and very generous). Cargo space is slightly reduced in the Optima hybrid and plug-in versions.

Verdict

Try as we might to see any air between at the finish line, we were unable to declare a clear winner here. The Optima remains one of the most interesting hybrid models on the market, in good part because it’s very pleasant to drive with its 6-speed automatic transmission replacing the terrible CVT that we see everywhere else, while the Mazda 6 remains in our opinion the reference behind the wheel in this category. It depends on your preferences.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

2019 Kia Optima

We like

Nice shape
Hybrid offering
Smart ergonomics

We like less

Base engine fuel consumption
Hybrid model’s cargo space
Soundproofing could be better

2019 Mazda 6

We like

Fun to drive
Low fuel consumption
Proven reliability
Better soundproofing

We like less

Absence of a touchscreen
We would like to see an eight-speed transmission

Photo: D.Boshouwers
  Specifications  
 2019 Kia Optima2019 Mazda6      
  TransmissionAuto 6Auto 6
  Drivetrain             FWDFWD
   
 2.4L2.5L
  Fuel consumption (city)9.3L/100 km9.1L/100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway)6.6L/100 km6.7L/100 km 
   
 2.0L turbo2.5L turbo
  Fuel consumption (city)10.9L/100 km10.0L/100 km
  Fuel consumption (highway)7.6L/100 km7.5L/100 km
   
  Engine   
  Type2.4L2.5L
  Output185 hp187 hp
  Torque178 lb-ft185 lb-ft
  Cylinders44
   
  Type2.0L Turbo2.5L turbo
  Output245 hp227 or 250 hp
  Torque260 lb-ft310 lb-ft
  Cylinders44
   
  Capacity  
  Cargo Space450L416L
  Fuel Tank70L62L
   
  Dimensions  
  Length4855 mm4895 mm
  Width 1860 mm   1839 mm
  Height1465 mm1450 mm
  Wheelbase                               2805 mm2830 mm
  Warranty5yrs/100,000 km3yrs/unlimited
  Price$24,795 to $38,845$27,350 to $39,150