New & Used Kia Optima: In Depth
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The Kia Optima is the South Korean automaker's four-door family sedan. Most recently revamped in 2011, the Optima is now one of the better-looking, better-equipped vehicles in its segment--though it's a tough crowd, with rivals like the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Nissan Altima, as well as its cousin, the Hyundai Sonata. A new version of the Optima arrives for the 2016 model year.
MORE: Read our 2015 Kia Optima review
With the first-generation Optima, Kia reached beyond its usual crossover and hatchback offerings to take on the mainstream mid-size sedan market. From 2000 to 2005, Kia was still in its infancy in the U.S., and as a result, the Optima was substantially the same as the Hyundai Sonata, save for some cosmetic differences. It was offered with a four-cylinder engine, and wore a small grille that differentiated it from the Sonata.
For the second generation, the 2005–2010 Kia Optima had styling that more distinctly separated it from its Hyundai cousin. In 2008 it received a revised look influenced by new design director Peter Schreyer, as well as updates to equipment including Bluetooth and satellite radio. It remained a compact to mid-size sedan, but in the second generation it added a V-6 option.
These models came with either a 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 194-hp, 2.7-liter V-6. The four-cylinder returned better fuel economy, while the V-6 didn't offer much more power, so we did recommend sticking with the base engine. While this Optima wasn't a style leader, it did have a spacious interior and an airy feel, with good outward visibility. Safety ratings were quite good; front side airbags came standard, along with side-curtain airbags covering both rows, and active headrests for front-seat occupants.
The current Kia Optima
The 2011 Kia Optima was an all-new, third-generation car. The new sedan is longer, wider and lower than before--and much more attractive, with some of our editors liking the Optima's look better than that of the Sonata. The Optima shares the Sonata's powertrains, including a 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine, a 274-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, and a new Hybrid model. Fuel economy ratings for the base engine are as high as 35 mpg highway, and up to 40 mpg for the Hybrid. Though thrifty, the gas-electric model's behavior leaves it a tier below the more refined performance of Toyota and Ford hybrids.
Today, the Optima shares an assembly plant in West Point, Georgia, with the Kia Sorento, though Optima Hybrid sedans are made in South Korea.
The Optima's standard and optional features lists are stronger than for those of most other mid-size sedans in this price range. Bluetooth and a USB port are included even on base models, the mid-level EX trim gets dual-zone climate control and a smart-key system, and top options include Infinity audio, full leather upholstery, and heated rear seats. A navigation system is available, as is UVO, an enhanced system for smartphone connectivity.
No major changes were made to the Optima for 2013, although late in the model year the Hybrid model saw some drivability updates and mileage improvements, with its EPA numbers now coming in at 35 mpg in the city and 39 highway. In 2014, the four-door was given a small revamp that included some aesthetic tweaks up front, upgrades to the infotainment offerings, and cross-traffic alert as well as blind-spot monitoring.
The 2011–2013 Optima Hybrid was one of a group of cars that have been found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 35/40 mpg and 37 mpg combined to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Optima Hybrid's actual tested fuel economy to be 34/39 mpg or 36 mpg combined. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
For 2015, the Optima received the latest version of Kia's UVO infotainment system.
The next Optima
A new Optima is due for 2016. Styling for the new Optima is less aggressive, counter to the Sportspace concept that made its debut at this year's Geneva auto show. The 2016 model is slightly wider, with a touch of extra wheelbase length.
Kia promises much-increased torsional rigidity and improved NVH characteristics. The new 2016 Kia Optima benefits from the dual-clutch automatic transmission offered in the Hyundai Sonata Eco model. Like the Sonata, the new Optima offers a normally aspirated 2.4-liter four as well as two turbocharged four-cylinders, one displacing 1.6 liters and the other measuring 2.0. On the infotainment end, the car will offer both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
A new Optima Hybrid is likely to debut in a year, as Hyundai recently showed a second-generation Sonata hybrid and a new Sonata plug-in hybrid model.