- Handsome exterior, made even sharper
- Simple dash layout
- Improved seats
- Tough getting in and out of back seats
- A little noisier inside than top rivals
The 2014 Kia Optima is a sensible and spacious four-door sedan, but it moonlights as something a little more stylish and adventuresome.
The 2014 Kia Optima is updated for the new model year with a mild revamp that, well, optimizes things. The attractive exterior thankfully doesn’t change much, keeping it at the head of an attractive class of cars that include the Ford Fusion and Mazda6.
The current generation of the Optima was a turning point for Kia several years ago when it went on sale, replacing a homely, anonymous sedan with a bodacious new look. The look of the 2014 Kia Optima still fits right in, so changes are largely limited to a sharper front-end appearance, revised tail, and some new trims, with LED lighting and new LED fog lamps to be had on some of the model line. As well, there's a new EX-L (Limited) model with a plush Nappa leather interior. Overall, from the outside, the front airdam is just a little more pinched, and avoids the full-width 'grin' of the previous version--making the front end appear a little taller, in our opinion. Some versions also get a chrome strip along the side rocker-panel area.
What doesn't change is that the Optima has one of the most pert silhouettes and an athletic stance, along with flashy wheel designs. Inside, the Optima doesn't make waves in the same way, but it's a classy, minimalist cockpit look, reminding us of Audi's interiors of a few years ago, with a wide rectangular bank of controls canted toward the driver. New TFT instrument-panel displays and a much-needed premium infotainment display occupy some new space, surrounded by some upgraded trims.
As with most mid-size four-door sedans on the market, the 2014 Kia Optima is offered in several different performance flavors--all including a four-cylinder engine under the hood. A 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection is standard on all but the SX model. It's a little coarse when you need to access its full potential, but it's plenty perky in the mid revs and works very well with the six-speed automatic transmission. Those with more of a penchant for performance--yes, those who would have chosen the V-6 in the past--will find plenty of satisfaction in the sporty SX model and its 274-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine--along with paddle-shifters for the automatic. Here the Optima feels a step more aggressive than V-6 models of the Camry or Accord, in light-footedness if not brute-force acceleration. With a rather firmly tuned suspension and reasonably good body control, the Optima has a lean, confident feel on a curvy road. And with the new Drive Select system that's included in the SC model, you get several modes that command different transmission shift points and steering weighting. We'll update this with driving impressions as soon as we can test the system.
The Optima Hybrid, with its electric-motor system and lithium-polymer battery pack that pair with a four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission (not a CVT), has been retuned for better drivability. It now has a higher-capacity lithium-ion battery, with the powertrain providing 199 hp of combined power and 235 lb-ft of combined torque, to yield acceleration that feels about on par with the base four but with better mileage (36 mpg city, 40 highway).New seat contouring addresses one of the Optima's shortcomings to date. The other is that getting in and out of the backseat can be a little tough due to the roofline. But once in, it's wide enough to fit three, with just enough headroom. Heated and cooled front seats available--heated back seats, too--the Optima and the back seats can be heated, too. Ride quality is on the firm side, but comfortable enough, and a new EX-L (Limited) model includes soft Nappa leather seating.
A Blind Spot Detection System and rear parking sensors have been added to the options list, and they're available on all but the base LX model. The Optima earns five-star scores in all tests--including the side pole test--from the federal government. And it gets 'good' ratings in every test category from the IIHS (except an 'acceptable' in the new small overlap frontal test). That altogether still qualifies it for a Top Safety Pick+ rating, however.
The Kia Optima has always offered a high level of features for the money--especially at the base level. But in recent years, the Optima has added sporty SX models and now the SX-L (Limited) model--both of which could be seen as luxury models if you go only by their features lists. For 2014 there's a new eight-inch navigation and telematics system, including a UVO eServices suite (driven off the driver's paired smartphone) plus eight-speaker Infinity sound, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and SiriusXM Traffic.key system, with options for leather trim, a panoramic sunroof and Infinity audio.