For 2016, Kia redesigned the midsize Optima, but that's almost misleading. Sure, it's the fourth generation of the sedan, but it still bears a huge resemblance to the previous iteration that rolled out as a 2010 model. And why not? The Optima is still one of the most stylish sedans in the segment. If it ain't broke . . .
Appearance: The uncluttered design is attractive but not flashy. Credit that to chief design officer Peter Schreyer, who has had a similar influence with Volkswagen and Audi. The changes are minimal: The chassis of the Georgia-built Optima is now slightly wider, longer and stiffer. With its sporty profile and tapered roofline, it would be understandable if you mistook the Optima for a European sedan. The grille, too, is sleeker and covered with a dark-chrome 3D-mesh that houses Bi-Xenon HID headlights. (Dynamic Bending Light models with Auto-Leveling also are available.) Chrome window trim, laser-cut 18-inch alloy wheels and chrome dual exhaust tips further enhanced the look of our SX Limited model.
Performance: There are three engine choices: a base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, a 1.6-liter turbo 4, and our tester's 2.0-liter, 245-horsepower turbo 4. In the SX Limited, the engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic that can be shifted in manual mode using (plasticky) paddles. (Oddly, this trim doesn't come with the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that accompanies the smaller turbo engine. We wish it did.) Kia says it has retuned the engine for improved fuel economy, but the acceleration is still peppy if not that of a European sport sedan. Because of a stiffer chassis, the handling feels tighter and more sure-footed than past Optimas we've driven. The ride is firm but not uncomfortable, and the steering is well-weighted if a bit numb. There are three drive modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. (Shocker: We prefer Sport.)
Interior: This is where Kia has really started to set itself apart, especially in its upper trims. First, it's almost luxury-car quiet. That level of refinement extends to the quiltlike stitching of the comfortable perforated and heated leather seats, which adjust 12 ways for the driver and 10 for the front passenger. The rear seats have plenty of space for adults. Our cabin felt even roomier because of the large panoramic sunroof. Other nice touches included lots of soft-touch cabin materials, real metal trim and mesh sunshades for the rear door windows. The focal point of the cabin is an 8-inch angled touchscreen with the UVO infotainment system that always has been one of our favorites. Rearview camera is standard. The top trim also has surround view, which is great for tight parking spaces, and a Harman Kardon premium surround sound system. As with other Kias, the controls are well-placed, with an intuitive combination of dials and large buttons; on-screen interfaces have easy-to-clear icons. Lyra, however, found the voice command didn't always recognize some of the addresses she tried to enter for the navigation system.
Our 3 favorites
Seats: Quilted leather? Can this be a Kia?
Style: The Optima will never be called boring.
Tech: Splurge on the Premium Technology package and you get an entire suite of safety features and premium audio.
Are you like Kevin Hart? For concerned parents, there are geo-fencing, speed alert, curfew alert and driving score.
Plush cabin: Premium materials including Nappa leather seats and Harman Kardon audio system.
Safety tech: Driver assist features you see in high-end cars.
The bottom line: The Kia Optima has been one of our favorite midsize sedans, and this new model only reinforces our appreciation of it.