2015 Kia Optima Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 29, 2015

The 2015 Kia Optima meets all your needs in a sensible four-door sedan, but exceeds expectations for more flair and features.

The 2015 Kia Optima carries over for one more model year in its current form, as a strong entry in its field in most respects, with good performance, a roomy interior, and an impressive value-for-money factor.

Although its Hyundai Sonata cousin receives a full redesign for 2015, the Optima was always an advanced student of design, so it still fits right into the market remarkably well. Kia got this design right from the start; a mid-cycle revamp last year really didn't mess much with the Optima's already attractive attributes. Altogether, that's saying a lot up next to contemporary, rakish models like the Ford Fusion and Mazda 6. Recent changes were 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. And this year there's a new dark-cloth interior for the base LX. 

The cabin of the 2015 Kia Optima keeps it sporty and clean, with a classy, minimalist cockpit look that reminds 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.

Review continues below

There are three different performance flavors of the 2015 Kia Optima. All three deliver responsive, economical performance. But what might come to a surprise to some who haven't been on the market for a car for several years is that there isn't a single V-6 to be seen; it's only four-cylinder engines under the hood—well, that and some other special hardware like turbochargers and hybrid systems in some versions. At the base level, and on all but the SX model, you get a 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection. It's a little coarse when you need to access its full potential, but it works well with the six-speed automatic transmission because it's plenty perky in the mid revs. Those who would have chosen the V-6 in the past will not be plenty satisfied with the sporty SX model and its 274-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. And with the new Drive Select system that's included in the SX model, you get several modes that command different transmission shift points and steering weighting.

Anyone who wants to make a big change in their petroleum habits will be quite pleased with 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). Last year the company made some subtle (but meaningful) changes that add up to far better drivability -- and up to 36 mpg city, 40 highway. 

We wouldn't by any means call the Optima a sport sedan, but with its rather firmly tuned suspension and reasonably good body control, the Optima has a lean, confident feel on a curvy road, with steering that's on the firm side but better weighted than some models in this class -- like the Optima's Hyundai Sonata cousin. 

The 2015 Kia Optima has one of the more usable, comfortable interiors in its class, even if the numbers might say otherwise in some respects. 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. In previous years we've noted that the Optima is a little noisier inside compared to most rival models; although for 2015 Kia has added a noise-isolating acoustic windshield to the entire model line.

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). 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. 

Value for money remains the focus; but in recent years Kia 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. At the top of the line (or optionally), there's an 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. And through an eServices suite, you can get a number of different app-based extras or concierge services. 

8

2015 Kia Optima

Styling

The Kia Optima remains one of the most distinctive mid-size sedans; and it's been refreshed just enough to keep looking sharp.

The Kia Optima isn't quite the trend-setter it was just a few model years ago. Since then, most of the mid-size sedan set has been redesigned -- everything from the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord to, this year, its own platform-mate, the Hyundai Sonata. And even though the that makes the Optima one of the oldest designs in its class, it remains one of the sharpest-looking. 

By proportions alone, the 2015 Kia Optima isn't that much different than most of those mid-size rivals. But look a little closer and you'll find more of a sporty side, in a set of details that add finesse to the profile, along with crisp, edgy details. The design as a whole does have a lot of charm, and it simply pops, in a way that few other spacious sedans do. It's sharp yet restrained, sporty yet with just the right amount of formality.

Last year the Optima received a round of changes, mostly cosmetic, that helped keep the look up to date. And considering the success of the current design, it kept those changes to minimal trim and detail tweaks. Front and rear fascias were redesigned, and new LED fog lamps and running lamps, along with LED rear lamps, were subbed in. Some versions got a new chrome strip along the side rocker-panel area, and in front the airdam is a little more pinched and tapered, avoiding the full-width 'grin' of the previous version.

One exterior detail that we've found a little cheesy ever since this generation's introduction hasn't been changed, however: just behind the front fenders, there are little plastic-insert 'vents' that look tacky, as they're ill-placed for any practical reason (and an odd detail to fixate on, if you don't find rest of the design charming).

If it's contemporary on the outside -- more of a 'modern fit,' some might say -- the Optima takes a more business-like theme inside. Like Audis past, the Optima has a big set of gauges and a wide rectangular bank of controls canted toward the driver amount to a simple, elegant yet cockpit-like look. You now get a 4.3-inch TFT display as part of the instrument cluster, while models with the navigation system have a big eight-inch touch screen.

Review continues below
8

2015 Kia Optima

Performance

With strong powertrains and rather responsive handling, the Optima has a lot of driver appeal.

There are three different performance flavors of the 2015 Kia Optima. All three deliver responsive, economical performance. But what might come to a surprise to some who haven't been on the market for a car for several years is that there isn't a single V-6 to be seen; it's only four-cylinder engines under the hood -- well, that and some other special hardware like turbochargers and hybrid systems in some versions.

At the base level, and on all but the SX model, you get a 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection. It's a little coarse when you need to access its full potential, but it works well with the six-speed automatic transmission because it's plenty perky in the mid revs.

Those who would have chosen the V-6 in the past will not be plenty satisfied with the sporty SX model and its 274-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. You get steering-wheel paddle-shifters for the automatic, along with suspension settings that altogether make it feel a step more aggressive than the V-6 models of the Camry or Accord, in light-footedness if not brute-force acceleration.

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 still haven't been able to experience this system but will update this section as soon as we do. 

Anyone who wants to make a big change in their petroleum habits will be quite pleased with 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). Last year the company made some subtle (but meaningful) changes that add up to far better drivability. 

Getting to numbers, the hybrid has a lithium-ion battery mounted just under/behind the rear seats, 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. While it's not as flawless in its torque delivery as the Honda Accord Hybrid, it's smooth and delivers impressive mileage (36 mpg city, 40 highway according to the EPA).

We wouldn't by any means call the Optima a sport sedan, but with its rather firmly tuned suspension and reasonably good body control, the Optima has a lean, confident feel on a curvy road, with steering that's on the firm side but better weighted than some models in this class -- like the Optima's Hyundai Sonata cousin. 

Review continues below
8

2015 Kia Optima

Comfort & Quality

Kia keeps making the Optima's interior more comfortable and welcoming; this year a new acoustic windshield should help keep the cabin quieter.

The 2015 Kia Optima actually has one of the most spacious interiors in its class -- for real passengers. Advertising and official specifications might say otherwise, but among mid-size sedans you need to mind the swoopy rooflines and how front-seat passengers really tend to position themselves. And here, it really adds up to good space for five.

Last year Kia upgraded the seats in the Optima, and gave them better contouring. EX versions now include power controls and greater adjustability. And at the top of the line, in the EX-L model, you get plush Nappa leather upholstery.

On EX and SX models, you can get heated and cooled front seats—as well as heated back seats. They're all pleasant-surprise features not typically found in this sort of affordable mid-size car.

As for the back seats, they're wide enough to fit three across, provided your passengers aren't too tall or wide; taller adults will find just enough headroom, but keep in mind that you'll need to get used to ducking around one of the more obtrusive door cutouts. 

Although the Optima's instrument panel, which is canted slightly toward the driver, gets a new TFT instrument panel display and eight-inch navigation system in some models, there's still a lot to like about its simplicity -- as it doesn't resort to a complicated controller or system of menus.

Trims and materials can be a bit drab at the base model, but that's the case in this entire class. Move up even to EX models and you get leather trim and wood interior accents.SX-T models get brushed metal trim and metal pedals, while top SX-L (Limited) models get more supple Nappa leather that's truly a class above.

In past model years, we've appreciated the way the Optima rides -- firmly, but with just enough damping to filter out most bumps and coarse surfaces. And one further addition for 2015 -- a new acoustic windshield for all models -- should help keep the interior even more isolated from wind and road noise. 

Review continues below
9

2015 Kia Optima

Safety

With optional blind-spot detection and good crash-test scores, the 2015 Kia Optima is a strong safety pick.

The Kia Optima is one of the better-performing mid-size sedans in U.S. crash tests, and with availability of some advanced features like blind-spot detection not limited just to a top model, the 2015 Optima does well in keeping everyone safe.

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). Front crash prevention is not available, the IIHS notes.

Front active headrests are standard in the 2015 Kia Optima, along with front seat-mounted side airbags and side-curtain bags. So is Brake Assist, and Hill Assist Control, which helps avoid rolling back when starting uphill, and electronic stability control. A Blind Spot Detection System and rear parking sensors are available on all but the base LX model, although the Optima doesn't yet offer any frontal collision prevention technologies.

Review continues below
9

2015 Kia Optima

Features

Throughout the 2015 Kia Optima lineup, you get a lot for your money; and the up-to-date, user-friendly infotainment is part of the appeal.

Kia has, over the past several years, made its products more stylish, better-performing, and more appealing in just about every way. And while it might no longer need to rest on the value-for-money formula that got some shoppers considering the brand, it's still loading its cars with features -- and a competitive price.

The base Optima is still a strong value, with Bluetooth hands-free control, cruise control, a USB port, satellite radio, and power windows, locks, and mirrors all included. Even mid-level EX trims get things like dual-zone climate control, push-button start, and a smart-key system, along with leather trim. A panoramic sunroof and Infinity audio are available as options. A Supervision meter cluster, sport suspension, larger alloy wheels, LED front and rear lamps, steering-wheel paddle-shifters, lighted scuff plates, and leather sport seats are included in the SX. SX-T models include HID headlamps with auto-leveling.

Top SX-L models include LED fog lamps, red brake calipers, a new electronic parking brake, chrome side sills, and new premium Nappa leather upholstery. Separately, heated-and-cooled front seats, and a heated back seat, are available in EX, SX, or SX-T trims.

Optima has also 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.

Last year, as part of a mid-cycle refresh, Kia took care of the one inadequacy in the lineup: infotainment. At the top of the line (or optionally), there's an 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. This year, the eServices suite includes Geo Fencing, Driving Score, Speed Alerts and Curfew Alerts; and even if you get the slimmed-down version on the LX trim you get My POI, eServices Guide, 911 Connect3, Car Care Web, Parking Minder and Vehicle Diagnostics. 

Review continues below
9

2015 Kia Optima

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Kia Optima Hybrid wows with its 38-mpg EPA Combined rating.

The 2015 Kia Optima gets reasonably good fuel economy, although it isn't anything that far from the norm, among mid-size sedans.

The exception to that is the Optima Hybrid; if you value fuel-efficiency and are willing to spend a little extra for it, it's the way to go, with its 36/40 mpg, or 38 mpg Combined, EPA rating

Models with the base engine earn as high as 35 mpg; and even if you go for the Turbo you're not losing much, with EPA ratings at 22/34 mpg.

On those non-hybrid models, the Eco mode button makes a difference for hotfoots -- softening accelerator inputs changing shift points.

Review continues below
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June 5, 2016
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

Exterior looks classy, however, on the interior, the passenger seat is way too low and non-adjustable.

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With the exception of the passenger seat, the car is excellent quality for the money. Gas milage is really good, pick up is better than average, and we love to take trips in this car. However, if Kia does not... + More »
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November 5, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

Very good looking and nice to drive.

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Just bought this and so far Im loving it. Its very sporty looking and I was surprised at the features for the price. I usually drive a Cadillac but i find myself wanting to drive the Optima instead. Feels like... + More »
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October 22, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

ONE AWESOME CAR FOR THE PRICE

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HAS ALL THE FEATURES IN A CAR I LIKE COMFY INSIDE AND SHARP LOOKING OUTSIDE DASH AND CONTROLS EASY TO USE AND UNDERSTAND HANDLING AND PERFORMANCE IS EXCELLENT IT IS MY KIND OF CAR
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October 15, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

so far everything is good.

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I've only had for 7 days and I love my 2015 optima!!! The only thing that concerns me is when engine is at an idle the engine makes a ticking sound. Normal???
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September 11, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

awsome car but tires too low

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I have the turbo one,its a wonderful car except the tires.I have had three replacement in 6 six month because they are too small and any hole in the road you got a knew tire have to buy.
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August 30, 2015
For 2015 Kia Optima

Steering g

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Beautiful car. However the steering is reminiscent of the Sonata. Wandering g is an issue
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June 23, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

I love everything about this car!

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The gas mileage alone is worth it but this sporty looking sedan has lots of room for kids and adults. The seats are comfortable and the sound system is awesome. I would highly recommend.
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May 27, 2015
For 2015 Kia Optima

Very comfortable car to drive long distances

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I rented a 2015 Kia Optima (2.4L AUTO) in Houston for a 960 mile drive home to Greenville, SC after my flight was canceled. Did the drive in one day (16 hours) and felt great--could have gone further. Let my... + More »
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May 20, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan EX

Great family car

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comfortable. sleek. quiet. Reliable and trendy. Comfortable. Good sound system and navigation.
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May 12, 2015
2015 Kia Optima 4-Door Sedan LX

Dollar for dollar, buy another car.

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Interior features located poorly, adjustments are disappointing. All the anti-skid and automatic drive train stuff performance is terrible especially in the NE winter weather. Gravelly rural roads are also a... + More »
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