Optima experience

Kia sedan is coming on strong

Competing in the midsize segment is quite a challenge. There are so many quality vehicles in this segment, many with loyal customers. That’s why it’s refreshing to see the Kia Optima go through a redesign for this model year.

Former Wheels editors Dave Mikesell and Jimmy Dinsmore get behind the wheel of the 2016 Optima and see how it stacks up against the lofty competition.

JIMMY: I’ve been a huge fan of the Optima for a long time. The brand has followed Honda’s successful playbook for many years. Now that the Kia brand, and especially the Optima, has become established, it can expand further. The Optima is offered in three different ways, a regular, a turbo and a hybrid - each with their own merit, and each worthy of consideration. Kia doesn’t just offer one turbo, but two turbos! Dave and I both drove the smaller turbo. What did you think of it?

DAVE: Yes, I had the smaller of the turbo engines, which says something about what Kia is offering right there. The one I tested was a new 178-horsepower, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder. With 195-lbs.-ft. or torque and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, this particular model got going quickly with little of the old-time noticeable turbo lag. I can only imagine – sigh, dream – of how the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo performs with its 245 hp. For those less spirited among you, there is also a traditional 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 185 hp on the menu.

JIMMY: As good as the engine is, the looks are even better. Redesigned for 2016, the Optima has a classy, luxurious look, with a sleek profile. The front end is pristine; not garish or overly stylized, but a good, clean, timeless design. This year’s model is slightly longer and wider than the previous incarnation. This five-passenger vehicle is a head turner that surpasses most within a crowded mid-size sedan segment. And the impressive design doesn’t stop on the outside, as it is found throughout the interior, right Dave?

DAVE: Kia really went to work inside. No revamp is more greatly appreciated than the front-seat bottom cushions that are extended for extra thigh support. The seat’s side bumpers also provide more of a cockpit feel. The Optima’s dash has been reconfigured with a horizontal line that cuts across and less of an angle toward the driver. The controls for audio and climate functions remain within easy reach of the driver. Back-seat passengers might not rejoice like the riders up front as the roofline slopes toward the rear, taking away some head space, and the seats do not get the upgrades of those in front. Oh, well.

JIMMY: The Korean car maker has loaded the Optima with plenty of technology. As part of the LX Technology package, there’s an eight-inch touchscreen display that manages Kia’s Uvo infotainment system, two charge-only USB ports and rear air conditioning vents - a feature that is uncommon for this segment. Also, there’s a 360-degree parking camera and sensor-based technology like blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. All of this is a $2,600 add on to the base price $23,990.

DAVE: The smaller turbo engine comes with a significant increase in mileage ratings compared to the other two engines. With EPA-rated 28 mpg/city and 39 mpg/highway and an 18.5-gallon fuel tank, the driving range computes to between 518 miles and 721.5 miles. That will get you to a warmer climate without any stops. The drive to get there will leave you impressed.

JIMMY: Kia manages to continue to improve the Optima, not just to stay viable in the ultra-competitive mid-size segment, but to be an actual leader. With handsome styling inside and out and a choice of turbo engines to boot, the Optima certainly raises the bar for its competition.

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