That proud feeling you get when you see your kid turn out pretty good after all? That’s what the folks at Kia must be feeling when they look at the 2016 Kia Optima. From our experience with the 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo, it’s well deserved.
Not that we haven’t been impressed by Kia’s midsize sedan in the past. Check our reviews of the 2012 Optima (SX and Hybrid), and 2014 Optima, but the 2016 Kia Optima has matured yet even more, as we noted in our first-drive review. It’s marginally bigger—about an inch wider with almost a half inch longer wheelbase—translating to marginally more room inside. With a 5’ 10” driver at the wheel, a 5’ 10” passenger in the rear was able to stretch his legs almost straight. And Kia did that while making the trunk bigger as well.
But comfort is measured in more ways than with just a tape measure, however, and much of the Optima’s improvement come in areas that can’t be seen. Optima increased the percentage of advanced high strength steel in the body to 50 percent, resulting in a body that’s half again as rigid as its predecessor’s. A stiffer body means less vibrating, less vibrating, less noise.
Beyond stronger steel, Kia uses carbon fiber around the panoramic sunroofs for those so equipped. Additional structural adhesives tighten up the frame, and more sound insulation is used. Some is visible, in fact, inside the front fender, seen with the front door opened. Add to that new bushings, stiffer suspension bits and even a tray under the body to reduce wind turbulence under the body. The 2016 Kia Optima is a remarkably quiet car.
And all this is standard. As we noted in our first drive, the 2016 Kia Optima begins with the LX trim level, and it’s that model—in this case equipped with the new 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injection (Kia calls it GDI) turbocharged four instead of the standard 2.4-liter non-turbo that’s the subject of this review.
The 1.6-liter turbo is rated at 178 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and a substantial 195 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,500 rpm, comparing favorably to the 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 178 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm of the standard 2.4-liter. The 1.6T is a smooth runner, with smaller and lighter internal bits than the bigger engine for less of what automotive engineers call NVH, or noise, vibration and harshness. With more torque, the Optima with the little turbo engine is naturally quicker than with the larger powerplant. The effect is even greater in driving around town. With the torque coming in at such low revs, the engine is more responsive and doesn’t need to be wound out as much for the same acceleration.
The new engine gets exclusive use in the Optima to a seven-speed DCT automatic transmission, a first for the Kia brand. The dual-clutch automatic eliminates the torque converter for improved fuel economy, and the wider range of ratios in the seven-speed allows for easier startup from rest and lower engine speeds on the highway. Altogether the new drivetrain in the new Optima is rated at 28/39 mpg city/highway. Our experience was 29.2 mpg overall in cold weather in a hilly test venue. On the highway we were able to achieve the EPA estimate highway estimate. Who needs a hybrid?
For the record, the EPA estimate for the LX 2.4-liter engine is 25/37 mpg city/highway, and for the EX 2.4, 24/35 mpg, and the 2.0T checks in at 22/32 mpg.
The 2016 Kia Optima comes in five trim levels, LX, LX 1.6T, EX, SX and SXL. The LX 1.6T. It’s the only way to get the 1.6-liter turbo engine, at least for now, and as one might suspect, the LX, regardless of engine, is not the fanciest trim available. But the cloth seats were reasonably comfortable, and looked good and durable at the same time. The interior designers applied a lot of horizontal lines, making the interior look wider. The dash looks like a wave almost ready to break, and the vinyl covering looks like good honest quality plastic…but then there’s imitation stitching along the bottom edge. Really, it would have looked just as good—better—if it were left plain.
Overall, however, the effect is handsome, and the layout of controls improved over the 2016’s predecessor, not easy to do, as the Kia/Hyundai multi-information display and infotainment systems are top drawer. Our test 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo was equipped with the LX Technology package, a $2,800 bundle that includes dual zone climate control with rear vents, navigation with an eight-inch display, power driver’s seat, console USB charger with 12-volt outlet, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and LED taillights. It brings the $23,500 LX Turbo to a bottom line of $27,415, including destination.