Road tested: 2016 KIA Optima SX-L


SACRAMENTO — May 14, 2016 — Like many auto journalists, I’ve been a fan of what KIA has done over the past 5 years or so to not only turn around its brand identity but also churn out head-turning autos. Out of all of the sedans, the Optima – since its redesign nearly 5 years ago – has been a personal favorite for the money. The Optima captivated me at the time because of its performance, ride, interior quality and a slamming audio system powered by Infinity.

The 2016 model doesn’t do a lot to the overall look of the Optima but does offer a few new design cues that keep it fresh-looking and modern. However, it has a lower horsepower engine now than it did a few years ago and doesn’t achieve quite the MPG either so in that regard, the Optima has taken a step backwards. To add hurt to injury here with the lower power, the car also weighs about 100 pounds more than it used to as well.

Read: Road tested: 2016 KIA Sorento SXL

2016 Optima SXL 2.0 turbo

What we have now is a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine that’s turbocharged and develops 245 horsepower with 260 ft-lb of torque. While it’s not quite what it used to be, it’s still somewhat competitive, however, there are V6 options in other vehicles of this class and price range – if power is very important to you.

2016 Kia Optima

Regardless of the drop in horsepower/torque, the car still scoots rather well – look for 0-60 times at under 7-seconds with a top speed of 153 miles per hour. Its fuel economy isn’t too shabby with an EPA rating of 22 in the city and up to 32 on the highway.

There’s only one available transmission to choose from and that’s a formidable 6-speed automatic. The SX and SX-L provide paddle shifters but it’s a front-wheel-drive car. Not sure paddle shifters are going to help it be more sporty – here’s to hoping KIA will eventually go to an all-wheel-drive model in the future.

While the dashboard layout hasn’t changed much over the years, the quality of materials used has been ramped up a few notches. The diamond-tuck leather seats have a much better “feel” to them and lend to greater comfort for extended drives.

2016 Optima SXL

There’s tons of room up-front and numerous creature comforts as well. Several cup-holders, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, USB ports and power adjustable seats help round things out. Rear passengers have plenty of leg room for adults and also have available seats that either heat or cool – just like the front seats. There’s even the same navigation system with it’s old-school graphics.

2016 Optima

KIA has opted to go with the Harmon Kardon brand (sister company to Infinity), for its high-end infotainment systems and while the sound quality is still very good – better than most cars on the road – it doesn’t have the “thump” we’re used to that the 8-inch woofer delivered in the Infinity system. This H/K 10-speaker system is touted as having “QuantumLogic Surround” which is fancy speak for it widening the soundstage and making the music sound as if it’s coming from a larger area. While the overall effect is good with some kinds of music, it didn’t blow us away.

2016 Optima SXL

The way this SX-L handles is sort of right in the middle of too “boaty” and refined. There’s no excessive body roll around hard corners, however, it doesn’t feel as firm as we’d like a “sports sedan” to be, either. For most of your daily driving, this car will prove to perform quite well, however, its SX pedigree seems to be slipping a bit.

What is going to ultimately appeal the most to an SX-L customer is also the thing that pushes the car into a price range that makes the car less interesting. With a sticker of $36,615 (after the destination charge), it’s getting awfully close to other sedans that offer quite a bit more ponies under the hood.

There are many things to like about the SX-L as it offers a good amount of power, a sporty exterior, comfortable interior that’s armed with some of the latest tech like adaptive cruise control but the missing power under the hood now has gone noticed to those of us who’ve been testing this car for a few years.

If you’re looking for a fun sedan to drive that comes in under the $40k mark, then make sure to test drive the Optima SX-L – after all, there aren’t many others that offer the 10-year warranty and are as fun to drive in its bracket.

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