Kia’s colorful sock in a beige world

It’s easy to think of Kia as little more than a purveyor of quirky, boxy subcompacts and the creative force behind those anthropomorphic hamsters, but the junior Korean brand has spent the past twenty years or so developing an impressive and multifaceted lineup. The latest incarnation of Kia’s mid-size Optima exemplifies this growth and maturation.

Now available as a turbocharged luxury-sport sedan, the Optima might surprise some buyers with its Kia badge. In reality, it shouldn’t come as that much of surprise.

Over the years the Optima, introduced in 2001, has grown in both size and refinement, learning from the competition and culminating in this 245 horsepower, $30,000 four-door that, impressively, isn’t even the flagship of the Kia lineup (that honor goes to the K900). The latest Optima stands out as an unusually good-looking and well-built car that defies its bottom line with amenities. With the Optima Turbo joining the lineup, “performance” can also be added to the list.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Kia Optima.

Exterior

2016 Kia Optima Turbo Review Exterior
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The Optima Turbo combines a mesh tiger-nose grille and integrated headlamps with strong lower side elements for a high-tech look up front.

The Optima helped to define Kia’s more distinctive and aggressive styling, and the striking look has been cleverly refined since then. The Optima Turbo combines a mesh tiger-nose grille and integrated headlamps with strong lower side elements for a high-tech look up front. The contouring of the hood carries through to the front fender vents and even the dashboard. Kia favors intricate styling elements, so the exterior mirrors feature turn signal repeaters, there are vents on the front fenders, piano-black details, chrome trim on the rockers for a running-board effect and a chrome eyebrow arches over the windows. This is a high-waisted car, with rising beltline that gives it an athletic look.

It’s actually a little bit more conservative than previously. Kia tweaked the style of the C-pillar and rear window for a more conventional look. The Optima also gains a bit more design similarity to the K900, because a visual link to the top-level luxury sedan doesn’t hurt. HID headlamps that actively turn with the front wheels are new to the Optima for 2016.

Interior

2016 Kia Optima Turbo Review Interior
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Kia has blessed the Optima with an elegant if someone button-crazed interior. Running changes have been made to the ergonomics, providing more logical groupings of buttons and controls. On the road, the Optima Turbo provides a serene and quiet environment thanks to extensive sound deadening, including full-floor mat and laminated glass. The materials are upscale and construction is first-rate, though the cozy cockpit feels like it took some inspiration from an Audi from two or three generations back. Satin-silver trim dresses up the dash and spacious console, while the sport steering wheel is just the right size and contouring for spirited driving. The Optima Turbo’s interior can be had in monochrome black leather, or a handsome black and white Nappa leather package.

The Optima Turbo can be just as plush as the larger Cadenza or K900, if the right options are selected. Heated and cooled front seats and a ten-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system with surround sound are available, as is a voice-command navigation system.

Worth mentioning is Kia’s updated UVO infotainment and connectivity system, which is also included. In addition to the usual music and mapping app functions, UVO gives Optima drivers access to teen-driver monitoring applications like speed and curfew alerts, "geo-fencing" that informs parents if the car leaves a preselected area, and a "driving score" that tracks the vehicle’s usage.

Drivetrain

2016 Kia Optima Turbo Review Drivetrain
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It’s no BMW, and honestly not even a Mazda6, but Kia has ticked the right boxes for an entertaining drive.

The Optima dropped its V6 in 2010, so the new 2.0 liter direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder now carries the performance torch for the model. With 245 horsepower, it’s unlikely that the V6 will be missed much. The turbocharged engine is backed up by a six-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox is smooth, and well-suited to the engine’s power. The wheelbase and track are increased slightly over previous models, just enough to improve poise. The direct injection does the trick, and the Optima Turbo returns V6 power and four-cylinder fuel economy; a gentle foot on the throttle will result in up to 32mpg on the freeway.

It’s no BMW, and honestly not even a Mazda6, but Kia has ticked the right boxes for an entertaining drive. The suspension uses MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear. It is tweaked to handle the extra power with sport dampers and revised settings, and it offers confident roadholding. The Optima Turbo’s four-wheel anti-lock brakes use larger 12.6 inch rotors in the front. Handling is relatively neutral, with understeer coming in as the Optima’s pushed harder.

Safety

When NHTSA introduced more stringent tests in 2011, Kia took them seriously, and the Optima rates five stars in all of the organization’s major crash tests. Front, side, side-curtain and knee airbags are standard. The body uses high amounts of advanced high-strength steel, and panoramic sunroof-equipped cars are reinforced with carbon-fiber and plastic frame that’s strong but also keeps weight down. The Optima Turbo is also available with a full complement of driver aids, including a blind spot and lane departure warning, forward collision warning and a rear cross-traffic alert. Stability control is standard. Innovative safety items include a 360-degree camera to aid with tight parking lot maneuvers, and Kia’s Autonomous Emergency Braking system, which can bring the Optima Turbo to a stop to reduce or avoid a crash.

Pricing

The Optima is offered in LX, EX and SX trim levels, and the larger turbo is available only on the SX and SX Limited. The Optima SX starts at $29,790, and the fully loaded Optima SX Limited at $35,890.

Competition

Ford Fusion

2017 Ford Fusion High Resolution Exterior
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With styling that harkens back to the days when Ford owned Aston Martin, the Fusion offers a good mix of performance and convenience, as well as a sophisticated infotainment package in the form of Ford’s second-generation MyFord Touch. The Fusion can be had as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, as well—but the hot ticket is the turbocharged EcoBoost version.

Read our full review on the Ford Fusion here.

Nissan Altima

2016 - 2017 Nissan Altima High Resolution Exterior
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Now sharing the Maxima’s wild, show-car styling, the Altima builds nicely on a history of capable sedans with a sporty touch. The available 270-horsepower V6 will return up to 32mpg on the freeway.

Read our full review on the Nissan Altima here.

Honda Accord V6

2016 Honda Accord High Resolution Interior Exterior
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The V6-powered Accord is considered by many the gold standard of family sedans. While not considered a sports sedan, the 278-horsepower V6 under the hood provides plenty of urge. The Accord can also be equipped with class-busting active safety aids.

Read our full review on the Honda Accord V6 here.

Conclusion

2016 Kia Optima Turbo Review Exterior
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The Optima Turbo offers a way for you to have your sensible sedan and enjoy it too. Is it a sports sedan? No. But the big Kia is capable enough to offer up a few smiles should the opportunity arise to drop the hammer and attack a curvy country road. Kia’s reasonable bottom line is attractive as always, and solid styling and an upscale interior are on hand to ensure that things don’t get boring during day-to-day life.

  • Leave it
    • * No manual transmission
    • * Miles-of-buttons interior looks a bit dated
    • *
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