2017 Kia Optima

By July 10, 2017

European-style design, topped by a coupe-like roofline, gives Kia’s midsize sedan a more distinctive appearance than most family sedans. Diverse powertrain possibilities boost its appeal.

Redesigned for the 2016 model year, the Optima shows little change for 2017, other than newly standard 18-inch wheels for SX and SXL trim levels. Option-package contents have been modified a bit.

Similar to the Hyundai Sonata (from Kia’s parent company), the Optima is a capable family hauler that promises good value. Five trim levels are offered: LX, LX 1.6T, EX, SX, and SXL. Optimas may be powered by any of three four-cylinder engine choices: a turbocharged 1.6-liter, turbo 2.0-liter, or naturally aspirated 2.4-liter.

Available in base LX or step-up EX trim, the direct-injected 2.4-liter develops 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the sole transmission.

Optional for the LX, Kia’s 1.6-liter turbo produces 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet, the latter at a mere 1,500 rpm. The 1.6-liter mates with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that operates like a regular automatic.

SX and SXL versions get the stronger 2.0-liter turbo, generating 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. The 6-speed automatic transmission includes paddle shifters. In each Optima, Drive Mode Select offers Sport, Normal, and Eco modes.

Kia also offers an Optima Hybrid and the company’s first Plug-in Hybrid. Both hybrids use a 154-horsepower gasoline engine, coupled to an electric motor and lithium-polymer battery pack. Each mates with a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Optimas have scored well in crash-testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Optima five stars for each test, including frontal and side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a Good rating in each category, including the small-overlap test, naming Optima a Top Safety Pick. With active-safety features installed, the Optima nabbed a Superior rating for crash mitigation and avoidance.

An impressive collection of active-safety features is standard in top SXL trim, but those items cost quite a lot when purchased in option groups for lesser trim levels. All Optimas have a rearview camera. SX and SXL editions can get a surround-view camera. No spare tire is provided in LX models, but a tire mobility kit includes sealant and an inflator.

Model Lineup

LX 2.4 ($22,200) includes the 6-speed automatic, a rearview camera, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth, and 16-inch alloy wheels. (Prices are MSRP do not include $895 destination charge.)

LX 1.6T ($24,140) gets the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, heated power-folding mirrors with turn-signal indicators, pushbutton start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

EX 2.4 ($25,440) has the 6-speed automatic transmission, 2.4-liter engine, leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lamps and taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated steering wheel, woodgrain trim, and UVO eServices.

SX 2.0T ($29,940) gets the 2.0-liter engine, 6-speed automatic, paddle shifters, LED headlights, navigation with 8-inch touchscreen, 18-inch wheels, and metal pedals.

SXL 2.0T ($36,090) comes with Nappa leather upholstery, a sunroof, ventilated power front seats, heated rear seats, and 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio,

Active-safety/driver-assistance features standard with SXL include blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera, and rear parking assist. Most items are available as options on other trim levels.

Hybrid Premium ($25,995) uses a gasoline/electric powertrain with 6-speed automatic. Standard are a 7-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, UVO eServices, 16-inch wheels, and cloth upholstery.

Hybrid EX ($30,990) adds navigation, Harman Kardon audio, leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, and 17-inch wheels.

Plug-in Hybrid EX ($35,210) has the gasoline/electric powertrain, but can be plugged into an electrical outlet for recharging.

Exterior

Fans of the previous Optima should be pleased to know that Kia designers didn’t tamper much with the basic design. While touching up details, they retained its taut body lines and close-to-coupe roof profile. Though still striking, an Optima doesn’t stand quite as far apart from the midsize pack as it used to. Design has evolved judiciously, leaving the most compelling qualities intact.

Overall proportions of this mature Optima almost suggest a rear-drive sport sedan rather than a front-drive family transporter. The swoopy roofline extends further rearward than some, ensuring adequate rear-seat headroom.

Interior

Clean-looking and carefully organized, the cabin makes better use of available space than previous Optimas. More horizontally-oriented than in the past, the low dashboard reaches out to each side, rather than leaning toward the driver.

Even base LX models promise a degree of poshness suggestive of near-luxury motoring. Doors, for instance, close with a solid, precise thud. Quietness within the cabin is immediately evident. Slim roof pillars help provide outstanding visibility.

Front-seat comfort is helped by relatively long cushions and helpful side support. Back support ranks above average for affordable sedans.

Six-footers may consider back-seat headroom a tad tight. Long rear doors permit easy entry and exit. All Optimas have a 60/40-split rear seat. Trunk space totals a near-average 15.9 cubic feet.

A simple interface uses rotary knobs for audio and climate control. Touchscreen operation is reasonably intuitive. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay provide smartphone interaction via UVO eServices (standard in upper trim levels).

Driving Impressions

Even though Optimas lack a sporty nature, falling slightly short on spirit, their ride/handling balance ranks among the best in the midsize class. Ride comfort reaches well beyond prior Optimas. Pleasantly compliant when encountering minor bumps and holes, the Optima suffers little bounciness when pavement flaws grow harsher.

Especially in SX or SXL trim, Optimas also stand well above the crowd in handling prowess. Body lean in curves or corners is predictable, Optimas feels adeptly composed, and the brake pedal feels confident.

Kia uses two electric power-steering configurations. SX/SXL models have a rack-mounted setup that provides precise feel when slightly off-center. In lesser trim levels, a column-mounted system yields a good sense of steering-wheel centering.

The Drive Mode Select system alters shift points and gas-pedal sensitivity. Eco mode may induce indecisive shifting, especially with the 1.6T engine, though it delivers gentle takeoffs from a stop.

Most popular engine is the smooth, responsive 2.4-liter. Because peak torque comes at higher engine speed, the transmission will downshift more often. The 2.0-liter turbo is more responsive at lower speed, and its transmission shifts smoothly.

The 1.6-liter turbo generally feels stronger than the 2.4-liter, but the hesitant dual-clutch transmission disappoints. Shifts are smooth when passing, but downshifts are delayed on hilly or curvy terrain. Low-speed parking maneuvers also frustrate.

Fuel economy is good, but not great. In LX trim, the 2.4-liter is EPA-rated at 25/36 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. In EX guise, it’s estimated at 24/34/28 mpg.

The 2.0-liter turbo is EPA-rated at 22/31 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined. Most frugal is the 1.6-liter, rated at 28/37 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined.

For the most miserly driving, the Optima Hybrid is rated at 42 mpg Combined. An Optima Plug-In Hybrid can travel nearly 30 miles on electricity alone.

Final Word

Kia continues to offer an appealing choice in a competitive category, promising excellent value. Expect high-level refinement and an enticing interior, regardless of model. Each Optima is well-equipped, but the SXL – though expensive – includes a truly impressive group of safety/driver-assistance features.

Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.