With its coupe-esque silhouette still intact from the 2011 model year, the Kia Optima remains eye-catching outside—but not all that changed in well over half a decade.
It's a shame that it takes a discerning eye to differentiate between the 2011 and the 2017 that's totally different underneath. Inside, however, things improve substantially, with a clean and organized look. We've awarded the Optima 7 out of 10 points, granting it two extras for above average looks inside and out. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Outside, the Optima embraces many of the design traits that used to be verboten in a four-door—the swoopier, coupe-like roofline (elongated just enough to give the second row enough head room), a glass area that tapers at the rear, and proportions that are almost like those of a rear-wheel-drive four-door and not a front-wheel drive one like it is.
At a time when every mid-size competitor is trying hard to become more visually interesting, the Optima doesn't quite stand out like it once did. The designers softened its sheet metal and cleaned up its details with a particularly nice front fascia design, but it's like bumping into an old friend you haven't seen in a while. We simply wish Kia had tried a little harder.
It's a look that works on the Optima so well that Kia has nearly copied its own design for the upcoming Kia Stinger. The difference? The Stinger is rear-wheel drive and it earns its proportions.
Inside, the Optima stands apart from both its predecessor and its competitors a little more obviously. Its low dash has been pushed out to the corners and combines with relatively thin roof rails to deliver a terrific view out. The area immediately around the driver doesn’t feel like it’s quite as driver-focused as in the last generation because the instrument panel is not as segmented and visually canted toward the driver’s seat. Instead the dash design feels a bit more linear and horizontal, while an upper crease arcs around the top of the dash and through to the doors, framing the cabin for the front occupants nearly.
Trims, buttons, and switches inside improve by leaps and bounds, and you won’t have to look far to see the level of attention paid to the details. The Optima inherits some of the look, and the upscale, luxury-influenced details in everything from surfacing to brightwork and gauge faces. It’s one very well-coordinated cabin, especially in admittedly costly SXL trim.
A nice evolution of its predecessor, the Kia Optima continues to stand out from the crowd—and it's much nicer inside now, too.
With its terrific ride-and-handling balance, the Kia Optima seems to offer something for just about everyone—as long as everyone is somewhere in the middle.
It's a commendable achievement that should please all but the most sport-oriented buyers, so we've awarded it extra points for its overall balance and for its wide range of engines on offer. It's a 7 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
First, let's talk about the engine room. Three 4-cylinders are on offer—a choice between naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines, all mated to automatic transmissions.
EX and LX variants of the Optima feature a 185 horsepower, 2.4-liter direct-injection inline-4. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, and we’ve found this combination to be responsive, smooth, and perfectly adequate for most buyers’ needs. It doesn’t make its peak 178 lb-ft of torque until 4,000 rpm, however, which means that the transmission will require a downshift more often than with either of the optional turbocharged engines.
The most fun you’ll have behind the wheel of the Optima is definitely with the SXL or SX models and their 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, which makes 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This was reworked last year to deliver its torque lower in the rev range (peak torque arrives at just 1,350 rpm) and more immediately than before.
The 2.0T comes only with that 6-speed automatic, and the combination works well, reading your right foot in more enthusiastic driving and making smooth upshifts and prompt downshifts (and these SX and SXL models get steering-wheel shift paddles). Dense sound deadening has helped quell the old Optima turbo's occasionally grumbly feel.
Then there's the LX 1.6T, which Kia has positioned as its thriftiest offering—but it's not exactly sluggish, with 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque at a mere 1,500 rpm. It feels stronger in most driving than the 2.4, but it's let down buy a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that is hesitant to the degree that it gets in the way of drivability. While it shifts quite smoothly in full-on acceleration runs or passing maneuvers, it seems to struggle on curvy, hilly highways, pausing far too long for shifts. Its low-speed drivability for parking is also frustrating, and it’s clumsier than either VW’s DSG or Ford’s PowerShift—two other uses of dual-clutch technology.
Optima ride and handling
Ride quality is much-improved, too, with suspension mounting points moved outward—on a stiffer body, with new four-bushing mounts. The Optima continues to ride on MacPherson struts and coil springs in front, with a multi-link independent setup in back, but thanks to some very different spring-and-damper settings, the net effect is an Optima that feels more compliant over the minor bumps yet less bouncy over harsh impacts from potholes and railroad tracks. With more predictable body lean, too, it’s a combination that we much appreciate; while not one of the sportiest in this class, it’s one of the best ride-versus-handling compromises, especially in top SX and SXL form.
Throughout the model line brake-pedal feel is quite good, too, and this is far more difficult to fluster than you might expect for a quite economical sedan.
All models come with a Driver Mode Select system that relates to powertrain response. It provides Eco, Normal, and Sport modes, and changing shift points and throttle sensitivity accordingly. We tend to like Normal the best in nearly all the powertrains—except when being driven very rapidly. Eco Mode, especially with the 1.6T model resulted in hesitant shifting even though we liked the softer tip-in.
One other note: Kia offers two different power-steering setups in the Optima. top SX and SX-L models get a special rack-mounted electric power steering system that offers a more precise feel just off-center. We do think the SX tracks slightly better and deals a bit better with crowned back roads. Yet even on the other models, the tuning of the steering is now quite good, with a quite precise feel and good sense of center.
The Kia Optima is quiet and composed, although it lacks some of the verve seen in some rivals.
The trickle-down effect from Kia's larger, more upmarket Cadenza and downright decadent K900 sedans is starting to make its presence known in the Optima.
Its inner trappings are comfortable and posh, even on the LX. We've given it points above average for the choice of materials, its silent demeanor, and the comfort in its front seats. That pushes it to an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Seating comfort is quite good in the Optima, thanks to a design with longer lower cushions and more side support up front. Back support is better than the norm for an affordable sedan and both the driver and passenger have a wide range of seat adjustability. That's something we can't say about so many rivals that don't allow the passenger's seat to be adjusted up and down.
If there's a demerit, it's that the second row's head room is a little tight for 6-footers. The leaders in this segment—the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat—provide a little more space and a bench that sits a bit higher off the floor than in the Optima. Yet to Kia’s credit the long rear doors (and wide cutlines) make getting in and out easier than in most mid-sizers.
Trunk room stands at 15.9 cubic feet with an opening that should be wide enough for most big-box boxes. And as opposed to some models in this class (Accord, nudge), a 60/40-split rear seat setup is standard on all trim levels of the Optima, allowing that added flexibility when you’re willing to trade off some passenger space for longer-item cargo space.
Functionally, the Optima’s interior hits all the marks, with a simple yet elegant interface that includes rotary knobs for volume and tuning, as well as for temperature settings, plus clear steering-wheel shortcut buttons, legible gauges, and relatively intuitive, straightforward touchscreen interfaces. Even the LX doesn't feel like a penalty box, something we can't say about some of its base model rivals.
A high degree of refinement and a nice interior on all models helps the Optima earn points here.
The 2017 Kia Optima has aced its crash tests and it offers a high degree of advanced safety tech.
So what's preventing it from scoring an 8 out of 10 instead of a full 10 out of 10? Automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control require spending big money and the Optima's headlights are subpar, says the IIHS. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The feds have been equally kind. The Optima has earned five stars across the board, which include frontal crash, side impact and rollover safety.
All Optima variants feature a rear camera display, while there’s a great surround-view camera system on SX and SXL trim levels. Standard equipment on all Optimas includes seat-mounted side airbags, side-curtain airbags, a driver’s knee bag, front active headrests, electronic stability control, and hill-start assist, to keep the vehicle from rolling back when starting on a steep uphill grade.
Adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking are available, but at a price. They're bundled with the Premium Plus package on EX models, which pushes the price tag over $32,000. An SX requires the Technology Package to get that important tech, although it's standard on the SXL.
We'd like to see that tech available as a stand-alone option.
The Optima performs well in crash tests, but its advanced safety tech is quite pricey.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(5/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Good|
|Roof Strength Test||Good|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Good|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
From Spartan to outlandish, the Kia Optima comes in a wide range of flavors—and it's a compelling value at every level.
We've given it points above average for its solid base equipment count and for its terrific infotainment system, which puts it at a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Five basic flavors of Optima are on offer: LX, LX 1.6T, EX, SX, and SXL—which Kia sometimes (and confusingly) stylizes as SX Limited.
Even at the base LX level, the Optima includes a rearview camera, satellite radio, a six-way power seat, a height-adjustable passenger's seat, keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, and alloy wheels.
LX models can be optioned up with three packages: the Driver Convenience group adds heated, power-folding exterior mirrors, memory for the driver's seat, and one-touch power windows all around. The Convenience Package includes those features plus a blind spot monitor and rear parking assist. The Convenience Plus ups the ante with a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus all the Convenience Package goodies.
Above the base LX sits the more efficiency-focused LX 1.6T. As its name implies, it adds the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine and dual-clutch automatic transmission plus folding heated side mirrors with turn signal lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and keyless ignition.
The LX 1.6T can be customized with two packages. The Value Package adds heated leather seats in a dark red shade, upgraded projector headlights with LED daytime running lamps, a heated steering wheel, and the 7.0-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Turbo Technology Package, meanwhile, includes an 8.0-inch infotainment with navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, and twin USB ports, plus a few other goodies.
Mid-range EX models, swap in the base 2.4-liter engine and then include leather upholstery, heated front seats, larger 17-inch alloys, black-gloss pillars, LED taillights, projector headlights, LED positioning lamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, rapid-charge USB ports, a leather heated steering wheel, wood grain trim, mood lighting, and an illuminated glove box.
A Premium Package for the EX adds a panoramic moonroof, 8.0-inch infotainment with navigation, a 10-way power passenger's seat, a blind spot monitor, and ventilated front seats. The Premium Plus package includes Harman Kardon audio, heated rear seats, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a few exterior styling touches.
SX and SXL
At the SX level you gain the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, with the strongest performance of the lineup, plus gloss black and hairline metal interior trims, overhead pin lamps, and metal pedals. Two packages are on offer. The Launch Edition includes red leather seats, a panoramic moonroof, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and Harman/Kardon speakers. The Sport Value group, meanwhile, includes 18-inch alloy wheels, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
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, a 12-way driver-side and 10-way passenger-side power seat, ventilated front seats, and all the aforementioned active safety features.
The SXL also includes an awesome Harman Kardon audio system, with 10 speakers, Clari-Fi technology and an upgraded 630-watt digital amplifier. Clari-Fi is a patented music restoration technology that rebuilds audio signals lost in the digital compression process.
A so-called tire mobility kit, with sealant and an inflator can, are included in all Optima models, but if you want a physical spare you might have to work out a deal at the dealership.
All Optimas come well-equipped and are a good value for the money.
The Kia Optima's all-4-cylinder engine lineup delivers pretty good numbers on paper.
The most popular engine is the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which earns EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 combined. That's not bad—but it's nothing to brag about against some rivals rated at over 30 mpg with a similar power output. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Go for the 1.6-liter turbocharged models in the middle, and you’ll earn the best ratings in the lineup, at 28/39/32 mpg. Part of that is due to the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (technically a special kind of automated manual gearbox) that has fewer mechanical losses than a conventional automatic.
The 2.0-liter turbo in the SX and SXL, meanwhile, checks in with 22/31/25 mpg. Notably, both turbos can run on regular unleaded.
In real world use, we've seen better numbers out of the 1.6-liter than the other Optimas, but, in all fairness, the 2.0-liter is also probably thrifty if you drive it gently.
The high-volume version of the Optima checks in at 28 mpg combined, which isn't too bad.