- Ride and handling balance
- Wide range of engine choices
- Straightforward infotainment
- Still great value for the money
- Looks like the old one
- 1.6T forces drivability compromises
- Advanced safety tech is pricey
- Fuel economy is good but not great
The Kia Optima is a distinctively stylish and capable mid-size sedan worth serious consideration.
The 2017 Kia Optima offers its own take on the right recipe for a mid-size sedan with its European styling, coupe-like roofline, and wide range of engine choices.
Available in LX, EX, SX, and SXL trim levels, with the 2017 Optima, Kia has created a compelling choice in this crowded segment. We've rated it a 7.3 out of 10 based on its strong value and styling combination. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Underneath its taut lines and coupe-esque silhouette sits a vehicle that's very similar to the Hyundai Sonata. Like the Sonata, the Optima squares off against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, the Ford Fusion, and the Subaru Legacy.
The Optima was redesigned last year, a follow-up to the model that essentially rebooted Kia in the hotly-contested mid-size sedan segment. After spending some time with the latest Optima, we can say that it doesn’t mess too much with the good things its predecessor brought to the table. Instead, it fine-tunes, finesses, and fetters every detail in between—to create an Optima that was all-new but keeps close to the form of the much-loved outgoing model.
For 2017, the Optima carries over basically unchanged aside from 18-inch wheels now standard on SX and SXLs and some minor option package shuffling on other trim levels.
Kia Optima styling and performance
In design and styling, the last Optima was a resounding success, as it pushed the brand’s mid-size sedan entry from faceless to fashionable. As the saying goes, "if you liked the old one..."
The 2017 carries over last year's new look—but if you weren't paying attention, you may not have noticed a full redesign for 2016. From the outside, the Optima continues to embrace many of the design traits that used to be verboten in a sedan—like the swoopier, coupe-like roofline (elongated just enough to assure some back-seat head room), a greenhouse that tapers at the rear, and proportions that are almost like those of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan.
It's a theme started several years ago, but the latest model sharpens the focus with cleaner detailing and a more cohesive look. It's a style that has matured into a more nuanced, grown up look.
Inside the change is much easier to see thanks to better utilization of the space allotted for passengers and their gear. The dash is no longer as segmented and visually canted toward the driver’s seat. Trims, buttons, and switchgear inside improve by leaps and bounds, and you won’t have to look far to see the level of improvement here in the details.
The latest Optima is marginally longer, taller and wider than before, and these changes add up to a slightly roomier and more comfortable cabin, along with more trunk space. All models boast a height-adjustable passenger seat, a rarity in this segment and one that doesn't make the shotgun seat feel like second class. Trunk space stands at 15.9 cubic feet, which is a little on the tight side for the segment, but there's a wide opening into the cabin and standard split-folding rear seat backs.
Kia offers a trio of 4-cylinder engine choices: a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that was new last year and two engines that carry over from the previous generation, a 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated unit and a 2.0-liter turbo.
The 2.4-liter GDI engine available on LX and EX models produces 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 178 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.0-liter turbo generates 245 hp at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 1,350 rpm. Both engines are slightly down in power over the previous versions, but they’ve been retuned for better drivability and fuel economy. All models get a multi-mode switch for Eco, Normal, and Sport settings for the powertrain, while SX and SXL trims add paddle shifters.
The 1.6-liter turbo available for Optima LX comes in at 178 hp at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at just 1,500 rpm. The new engine mates to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which works like an automatic. Kia says the 7-speed DCT delivers a sporty feel without sacrificing fuel economy—although we have mixed feelings about the drivability as it’s tuned and think that the 2.4-liter models are the best bet for most needs.
There's also an Optima Hybrid, which we've covered separately.
Ride quality is leaps and bounds above its predecessor, with suspension mounting points moved outward—on a stiffer body, with new four-bushing mounts. With the Optima feels compliant over the minor bumps yet less bouncy over harsh impacts from potholes and railroad tracks. It's not especially sporty, but the Optima delivers one of the best ride-and-handling balances in the segment.
Kia Optima features and fuel economy
Kia has for years been one-upping other automakers in terms of features and sheer value for money, and the 2016 Optima is no exception. The new Optima starts below the $23,000 mark and includes, even at the base LX level, a rear camera system, satellite radio compatibility, a six-way power seat, air conditioning, cruise control, and keyless entry. All versions also include alloy wheels, while heated sear seats and ventilated front seats are quite widely offered—not just on the single most expensive model.
On EX and SX models you can opt to get heated outboard rear seats and ventilated front seats, and a safety package with forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and available surround-view monitors.
And before you scoff at the nearly $37,000 sticker price of the top-of-the-line SXL, keep in mind that it comes equipped better than many luxury models, with standard advanced cruise control, stitched soft upper door trim, Nappa leather upholstery, and all the aforementioned active-safety features—plus stellar 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio.
The Optima is also one of the first models on the market to offer both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay—connectivity systems that let you interact with your smartphone via the Optima’s UVO infotainment screen. UVO now also includes Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, and Driving Score, with music, messaging, navigation, and voice calls all available via the screen, the steering wheel, or voice command.
The Optima has aced both the IIHS' and the NHTSA's crash testing, which is laudable. We just wish its automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control option was available at a lower price point—you'll have to spec an Optima up above $32,000 to get there.
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine earns EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 mpg combined, while the 2.0T models at the top of the lineup return 22/31/25 mpg. Go for the 1.6-liter turbocharged models in the middle, and you’ll earn the best ratings in the lineup, at 28/37/31 mpg.