The previous-generation Kia Optima helped revolutionize the midsize family sedan when it debuted in 2011. Although it was never a top-seller, it did show buyers that a family sedan could be desirable. It could drive well, look cool, and in general be a car you’d be proud of owning. The last Optima and its Hyundai Sonata stablemate are the cars we ought to thank for pushing Ford, Honda, Toyota, and others into revamping their midsize sedan offerings. The last Kia Optima was a risk taker, and it was all the better for it. The new 2016 Kia Optima is less of a daring departure from the norm than the car it replaces.
I imagine most (including myself) will have trouble visually differentiating the new 2016 Kia Optima from the old, but Kia spent a fair amount of time engineering the new Optima to be lighter, longer, and leaner than before. With the new chassis also comes a new engine. Our just-about-base-level 2016 Optima LX 1.6T tester sports a 1.6-liter, turbocharged I-4 under its hood, making 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Only available on the LX trim level, the 1.6-liter turbo slots between the base 185-hp, 2.4-liter I-4, and the optional 245-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged I-4. Paired with a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission, the 1.6-liter engine, which nets an EPA-estimated 28/39/32 mpg (8.4/6/7.3 L/100km) city/highway/combined score, is the fuel sipper of the Optima lineup until the hybrid returns.
Although efficient, the 2016 Optima LX 1.6T doesn’t give up much in regards to performance compared to the more powerful 2.0-liter-powered Optima SX Limited that we recently tested. Despite making 67 less horsepower and 65 less lb-ft of torque, the Optima LX 1.6T accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, just two-tenths of a second behind the 2.0-liter turbo model. The Optima LX 1.6T also isn’t much slower in the quarter mile; it needs 15.8 seconds to complete the quarter mile at 90.1 mph (145 km/h). The 2.0-liter turbo-powered car does the deed in 15.6 seconds at 90.3 mph (145.3 km/h). Things remain close in the figure eight, as well. Our Optima LX 1.6T lapped the course in 27.8 seconds at a 0.62 g average; the Optima SX Limited lapped the figure eight in 27.4 seconds at 0.64 g. You can attribute the parity between the two engines to the wonderful quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox versus the six-speed automatic found in other Optimas—and the fact that the LX 1.6T weighs 325 pounds (147 kg) less than the fully loaded SX Limited.
Around town, the Optima is mostly fine to drive. It accelerates well off the line but struggles a bit when asked to pass traffic in tight gaps; the transmission isn’t the problem here. Rather, it’s just a lack of available power from the small engine in the big car. A little planning goes a long way. Once at highway speeds and with the 1.6-liter’s revs kept down, the Kia offers up a smooth, relatively quiet ride. Dynamically, the Optima is mostly unimpressive and lacking steering feel, though given the car’s target market, I doubt many owners will find anything to complain about here.
The rest of the Optima’s package is hit and miss. Inside, the Optima is a hit. The larger dimensions help Kia offer up a back-seat package that’s plenty roomy for adults; at 6 feet tall, I had ample room to sit behind the driver’s seat set in my preferred driving position, which is more than can be said for many family sedans. Interior materials are generally a mixed bag. I’m not a fan of the fake stitched dashboard, but the instrument cluster was pretty nice, as was the updated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-friendly infotainment system. I rarely touch on styling in a review because I’m a firm believer that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I must say that visually the new Optima is a huge step back from the previous-generation car. It isn’t different enoughâit looks like a face-lift, not an all-new model. I’m not the only staffer to feel this way. Here are some excerpts from the Optima’s logbook:
“The design of the previous-generation Kia Optima made that car a sales success. The exterior styling of the new model is clearly intended as an evolutionary step but falls oddly short. Instead of panache, we have pastiche—a mixture of old cues rearranged in a slightly different manner.”—Editor-at-large Angus MacKenzie
“The exterior is more devolution and evolution; it’s disappointing compared with the outgoing model.”âFormer Detroit editor Scott Burgess
“Big step backward. The last-generation Optima radiated a premium vibe, and sales increased fivefold. The car that Kia built to replace it does not give off a premium vibe and is just middling.”—Senior features editor Jonny Lieberman
Ultimately, the new Optima is one of the most unimpressive new Kias I’ve driven in a while. There’s nothing outright wrong with it, but I’ve come to expect big things from Kia after home runs such as the Soul and Sedona. The new Optima is less distinctive than the old one, doesn’t really drive much better, and doesn’t offer buyers any compelling reasons to buy a new one over a certified pre-owned used one. Although sometimes being risk averse pays off, in the new Optima’s case it doesn’t, and that’s too bad.
|2016 Kia Optima LX 1.6T|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$29,265|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||1.6L/178-hp/195-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,250 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||191.1 x 73.2 x 57.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.8 sec @ 90.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.8 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||28/39/32 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||120/86 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.60 lb/mile|