The last Kia Optima Turbo we tested was a 2016 model, and here we are behind the wheel of a 2019.
Well for the Optima, it’s been constantly refined – 2017 saw a plug-in hybrid model added, 2018 saw some upgraded connectivity, and now for 2019, a host of safety equipment is standard across the range. There’s also a freshened face and rear, and the UVO infotainment system gets an upgrade.
All good, admirable things for the car that in 2016, we called the most affordable Audi you can get. Yep, that good. But in those three years, lots have other things have changed, too. There’s an all-new Camry, that’s excellent. An all new Accord, also excellent. An all-new Altima is coming soon and looks…well, excellent.
Does a well-massaged Kia hold up against all the new competitors?
Looks wise, we say yes. While the new Accord is now more the Audi imposter, and the Camry is bigger and more aggressive, the Optima still turns heads – especially our SX model, finished in Snow White Pearl (Hi ho, hi ho….) with tasteful, new-design 18-inch, gloss-black machine-finish wheels, LED fogs, aero side sills and black mirrors and rear spoiler. Your final impression comes from a sporty rear finisher with fat dual exhaust tips.
It’s a crisp look, and with a new front end with LED headlights resting above the signature “Tiger Nose” grille, it’s instantly recognizable as a Kia – handsome and modern.
A fine Audi-do
Inside, the design is still Audi-ish, although the newer models of German luxury maker have moved on – we’re sure the next gen of Kias will follow.
Sit down and the SX treats you with leather sport seats – enhanced in our tester with an eye-popping red two-tone scheme and red stitching. A standard panoramic sunroof keeps things bright and light. There’s also an SX-exclusive sport leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, and a larger- than-other-Optimas 4.3-inch TFT info display between speedo and tach.
On the center console, we have the 8” touch screen display, with Kia’s UVO system – still one of the easiest and feature-rich info-tainment systems you’ll find on an affordable vehicle. All Opti’s now feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as cool stuff like remote start with HVAC control, remote lock/unlock and remote activation of horn and lights.
Our top of the line SX model also added Navigation with rear camera – you’ll know whether you’re coming or going – and a sweet-sounding Harmon Kardon Premium Audio system. They even throw in two free map updates per year. Cool.
We remain impressed with the quality of material in the Kias, and the front seat is spacious, the rear seat reasonable. Here, the newer Camry and Accord have stepped forward, feeling larger and more luxurious than before. Where the Optima was once top dog, it must share the kennel with other well-equipped and well-executed interiors of the competition.
Still a Greyhound
Point the Optima towards your favorite roads, and it still feels like a pure-bred. The Optima SX with the 2.0-liter turbo still loves to run, and punching out a strong 245 hp, and 260 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,350 rpm, It’s a silky steamroller. The 6-speed automatic is quick to respond, especially in Sport Mode, and while not the fastest in class – the new Accord and Camry take that cake – you ride a smooth and creamy wave of power.
A heavy foot on the throttle returns a throaty growl and the Optima feels willing and powerful. That heavy foot also dipped us below 20 mpg – but mid-twenties would be a reasonable experience for most drivers in mixed conditions.
Handling is nicely balanced with the power. The steering has good weight to it, and it eggs you on to challenging your favorite on-ramp. The ride is well-controlled, too, feeling very German with a solid thump-bump over rough stuff, but never losing its composure. It’s got a level of refinement that feels like the European brands.
One area where non-luxury makers like Kia are stepping up is bringing advanced safety tech to the masses.
For 2019, all Optimas features a suite of safety goods, including Forward Collison Avoidance Assist with Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning, and Driver Attention Warning. Our top of the line SX also enjoyed Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Warning, and Smart Cruise control with full stop/go capability. High-end stuff.
What hasn’t changed?
Well, value for one. The Optima is designed to appeal to a wide range of buyers, so there’s an appealing number of choices. The LX starts at $22,900 and gets you that nice suite of safety gear, UVO with an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sport bumpers, alloy wheels even outside mirrors with turn indicators built in.
The S trim adds 18” alloys, LED lights, Sportier front seats, Pushbutton start, and Sirius XM – a nice value at $24,900. Enthusiasts on a budget should stretch for the EX, with the 1.6-liter Turbo engine and 7-speed DSG gearbox we’ve loved in every Hyundai and Kia product that carries them, plus Leather seats and Smart Cruise Control, it’s a bargain sport sedan at $26,800.
For those looking for an eco-conscious ride, your spoiled for choice, with the 42 mpg Optima Hybrid starting at $25,995 and the Optima Plug-in Hybrid – with up to 29 miles of pure EV range before the gas engine kicks in – starting at $35,210.
Our top of the line SX started at $31,900, and that gets you the powerful 2.0-liter turbo 4 cylinder, heated and ventilated power front sport seats, unique steering wheel with paddle shifters, Harmon Kardon premium audio, satin chrome accent trim, and no-cost red and black interior trim. Add in Snow White Pearl Paint ($495), and delivery ($620), and our tester rang in at $33,315. And don’t forget that nice 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty (reassuring with a turbo motor) and 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and roadside assistance.
There is also an SX Limited Package ($3,800) that adds Quilted Nappa Leather seats, Surround View Monitor, 18” alloys, leatherette instrument panel and door trim. We’d like the larger wheels and Surround View monitor, but we never felt lacking in our test vehicle.
Staying out of the Limited Package also makes the Optima SX an appealing value play against the new Accord and Camry, both of which easily ran into the mid 30’s when loaded up.
We think the Optima keeps up with the new kids on the block. The design still looks fresh, and Kia has made sure you get the goodies the others offer. The interior still spoils you, and it’s an entertaining drive.
With the Honda and Toyota being larger than before, the Optima feels more like a snug European model, and we like the intimacy combined with the quality materials.
The Optima remains the most affordable Audi you can get – and a great sedan that’s kept up with the competition.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.
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