2019 Kia Optima

By July 11, 2019

The 2019 Kia Optima is the brand’s family-sized sedan. Now in its fourth year on the road in its current version, it’s updated this year with new bumpers and wheels. Inside, the Optima SX offers optional red-and-black leather upholstery, while the SXL is available with bronze-and-black Nappa leather. More significant is the addition of automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and lane-departure warnings as standard equipment on every model except the two hybrids.

There are four available gas engines, one coupled to hybrid technology. The LX and S models use a 2.4-liter 185-horsepower 4-cylinder mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The EX takes a 1.6-liter turbo-4 making 178 hp with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, while the SX comes with a zippy 2.0-liter turbo and 6-speed automatic.

The Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid come in EX trim only, using a 4-cylinder engine paired with batteries and an electric motor. They are only sold in the western states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

The 2.4-liter engine is the most popular, with an EPA rating of 24 mpg city, 33 highway, 27 combined in the S model. With more efficient tires and less standard equipment, the Optima LX gets better fuel economy, at 25/35/29 mpg.

The 1.6-liter turbo in the EX earns EPA ratings of 27/37/31 mpg. The 2.0-liter turbo in the SX makes more horsepower, and its fuel economy reflects that, dropping to 21/30/24 mpg.

Naturally the hybrids do better. The Optima Hybrid delivers 39/45/41 mpg, while the Plug-In Hybrids are rated at 40 mpg combined, or a better 103 MPGe with a full battery charge. In electric-only mode the Plug-in Hybrid delivers nearly 29 miles of battery-only driving range. 

The safety scores are impressive. The NHTSA gives the 2019 Optima five stars overall for crash protection, with five stars in every test save four stars for front passengers. The IIHS gives it the top “Good” score in every test, including (importantly and rarely) headlight performance, which makes the 2019 Optima a Top Safety Pick+.

Kia fits every non-hybrid Optima with forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, parking sensors, active lane control, and automatic high beams. Adaptive cruise control is standard on EX and SX, while a surround-view camera system is optional on the SX.  

The Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid leave automatic emergency braking on the options list.

Model Lineup

The 2019 Optima is available in LX, S, EX, and SX models. 

The $23,820 Optima LX is very well equipped, with power windows and doors, cruise control, Bluetooth with audio streaming, keyless ignition, power front seats, 16-inch wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and automatic emergency braking. 

The $25,820 Optima S adds 17-inch wheels, front and rear spoilers, and 10-way power front seats. Options include 18-inch wheels and a twin-pane sunroof. 

The $27,720 Optima EX gets the 1.6-liter turbo-4 and adds dual-zone climate control, woodgrain trim, and leather upholstery with heating for the front seats. 

At the top of the range, the $32,820 Optima SX sports a 2.0-liter turbo-4, as well as an 8.0-inch touchscreen, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, gloss black trim, cooled front seats, adaptive headlights, and keyless ignition. A surround-view camera system is available.

The Optima Hybrids come only as an EX, at $28,815 for the plain Hybrid and $36,210 for the Plug-In Hybrid. They have a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, leather upholstery, power front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

The Optima features a strong 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty, with 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage.

Exterior

The Optima’s handsome four-door design has worked well enough since 2016 that Kia has passed the look over to the sporty mid-size Stinger, and down to the compact Forte. 

The coupe-like roofline that kicks up at the rear pillar sets the style for the rest of the car. Sculpted fenders are on the same page as the wide oval grille. By its profile, the Optima can easily be mistaken for a BMW. 

The Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid are almost indistinguishable to the eye, with only small badge and trim differences. 

Interior 

The dashboard has hints of flair, and doesn’t wrap as much as some full-size sedans, so it feels less like a cockpit for the driver. The LX comes with cloth upholstery and metallic trim consistent with its entry-level status. The SX gets some luxury touches, namely more sound insulation, lovely detailed stitching on its leather seats, and gloss black trim.

There are three infotainment systems. The LX gets Uvo Play, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a USB port. The S and EX get Uvo Link, which adds some apps that work with a smartphone, such as vehicle diagnostics, speed alerts, and geo-fencing. Uvo Link with Navigation adds maps with fine resolution. 

In the front seats, passengers get deep bolsters and good cushioning for long legs and wide hips. The diamond-quilted seats on the SX look like over-the-top luxury. 

In the rear, the sloping roofline steals some headroom; 6-footers will feel their heads brushing the headliner. But it’s wide enough for three, and the wide rear doors make entry and exit easy. 

The trunk’s 15.9 cubic feet is about average for a full-size car, however the rear seatbacks fold to open the back of the car to the trunk, something we wish all sedans did. 

On the Hybrids, the batteries nibble at cargo space. Hybrid sedans have 13.4 cubic feet of trunk space, while the Plug-In Hybrid has only 9.8 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions

The base 2.4-liter engine’s torque of 178 pound-feet is adequate for around-town acceleration, but the 1.6-liter turbo’s 195 pound-feet is much better. However its 7-speed dual-clutch transmission behaved a bit balky during our seat time. Meanwhile the 2.0-liter turbo-4 earns heap of praise from us. 

The SX is the fun-to-drive Optima. Its 2.0-liter turbo-4 makes 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. Power comes on strong at the bottom, with all the torque available at just 1,350 rpm, while paddle shifters make the transmission snap off shifts. And the power doesn’t mean noise, as the SX has more sound insulation. 

Every Optima has a selector for eco and normal modes, while the EX and SX add a sport mode. In eco mode all the responses are dulled to save fuel; in sport mode the shifts are sharper and come at higher rpm. 

The LX and S keep a composed grip on the road, drawing on the Optima independent suspension with front MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear. This generation of Optima rides more smoothly than the last, with softer springs and more elastic front bushings; but it also leans more in corners, though not so much that it’s an issue. The electric power steering is progressive and tracks well. 

The Hybrids share the pleasant road manners. Both hybrids have a smooth and comfortable ride, thanks partly to their weight and also softer suspension settings.

The Hybrid uses a 154-horsepower 2.0-liter engine with a 1.6-kwh lithium-polymer battery pack and electric motor, for a net combined horsepower of 192. It can go a very short distance on battery power alone. The 6-speed automatic’s shifts are smoother thanks to the battery power. 

The Plug-In Hybrid uses a larger 9.8-kwh battery pack and a more powerful electric motor, for a net output of 202 horsepower; but it’s also about 250 pounds heavier. It can go for up to 29 miles on electric power, or EV mode; but it’s not easy. You have to go very very easy on the throttle, or the engine will kick in. 

Final Word

If you agree that the best thing about the Optima sedan is its striking BMW-like looks, then the well-equipped LX is a bargain. The SX shows a lot of spirit, with strong horsepower and torque that comes on very low, and a paddle-shifting 6-speed automatic that doesn’t come with the hesitation of the 7-speed twin-clutch in the EX. All Optimas get an excellent warranty and lots of standard equipment, which makes it even more of a value.