For much of its early life, the Kia Optima was firmly pegged as an also-ran vehicle. Introduced as Kia's first midsize sedan, the first-generation Optima couldn't promise the refinement, documented reliability and assured resale value of its key Japanese competitors. The second-generation Kia Optima followed much the same anonymous playbook, though with somewhat better results.
The third-generation Kia Optima, however, was a different animal entirely. With sleek styling, plenty of standard features, potent engine choices and substantial value, that Optima emerged from the shadows to stand as a top pick for a midsize family sedan.
The fourth-generation Optima continues in this very impressive direction. The current Optima entices with assertive styling, competent performance, and a robust lineup of convenience and technology amenities. If you're looking for a reasonably priced family sedan that's a touch spicier than the usual suspects, the Kia Optima is worthy of consideration.
Current Kia Optima
The Kia Optima is affordably priced, but its sheet metal and cabin tell a more glamorous tale. The Optima looks upscale both inside and out, with bold exterior styling and a comfortable and stylish cabin. The Kia Optima is sold in LX, LX 1.6T, EX, SX and SXL trims. There's also the Optima Hybrid, which is sold in Premium and EX trims. Note that while the gas-only Optima entered the current generation in 2016, this changeover for the hybrid didn't happen until a year later.
Standard equipment on the LX includes a rearview camera, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and a 5-inch display screen. The EX adds automatic climate control and leather upholstery. The SX is equipped similarly to the EX but adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and paddle shifters. The SX Limited provides wireless smartphone charging, upgraded leather upholstery and a 360-degree parking camera.
With the Optima Hybrid, Premium models come with a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration. The Hybrid EX adds features such as blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, navigation and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
The gas-only Optima comes with a choice of three engines. LX and EX models are equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. The LX 1.6T features a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine good for 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The SX and SX Limited are motivated by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers 245 hp and 260 lb-ft or torque. Most models come with a six-speed automatic, but the LX 1.6T is governed by a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Kia Optima Hybrid is powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor. Combined output comes to 192 peak hp, and it's sent through a six-speed automatic. The EPA estimates the Hybrid will achieve 42 mpg in combined driving.
In reviews, we've found that the Optima provides a cabin with high-quality materials and lots of feature content. However, rear visibility is less than ideal. Both rows of seating are comfortable enough for long trips. We found the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine to be quite powerful, but the unimpressive dual-clutch transmission that it's paired with made it difficult to access the powerplant's full capabilities. The Optima Hybrid offers comfortable ride quality and above-average cargo capacity.
Used Kia Optima Models
The fourth-generation Kia Optima made its debut in 2016, and while the sheet metal was similar to that of the previous generation, there were significant changes beneath the skin. High-strength steel was featured generously throughout the chassis, and this helped the car achieve improved handling and stability. A turbocharged 1.6-liter engine was added to the lineup, and the optional 2.0-liter turbo saw a diminishment in torque and horsepower relative to the outgoing model.
Introduced for 2011, the third-generation Kia Optima was a dramatic departure from earlier Optimas due to its sharp styling, powerful engine lineup and upscale features. Changes were minimal for the first few years. An EX Turbo trim level was offered for 2011 and '12 only. The voice command system (Uvo) debuted for '12, while the SX Limited trim debuted for 2013. In 2014, the Optima benefited from updated front and rear styling, revised front seats (for greater comfort) and new display screens. Feature content was expanded to include a blind-spot monitoring system and rear parking sensors.
At the end of this generation, the Optima was sold in LX, EX, S and SXL trims. Note that the SXL trim was new for 2015, and in previous years, it was known as the SX Limited. All models came standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 192 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder was also offered, and it generates 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. This engine was standard on the SXL and optional on the SX. In the earliest models from this generation, a six-speed manual transmission was standard on LX models, and a six-speed automatic was available. Beginning in 2014, the manual transmission was dropped, and the six-speed automatic became the sole transmission choice.
Kia Optima Hybrid models from this generation produced combined output of 206 peak hp, and it was sent through a six-speed automatic. This model had an EPA rating of 36 mpg in combined driving.
Standard equipment on the LX included alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a stereo with a CD player, satellite radio and an iPod-USB interface. The EX and Hybrid also included keyless ignition and entry, automatic climate control and leather upholstery. The SX was equipped similarly to the EX but adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded gauges (with integrated display screen) and paddle shifters. The Limited's perks included a panoramic sunroof, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, the Uvo voice command system, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, upgraded audio and a navigation system.
In reviews, we found that the the third-generation Optima stood out thanks to its distinctive styling and upscale interior. Headroom was a bit limited, however, and taller drivers would be well advised to test the car with and without the sunroof. On the road, this Optima had a pleasant ride quality without feeling too isolated. The base engine was capable enough to satisfy the vast majority of drivers, while the turbo was the pick for more spirited pilots. The Hybrid, however, was a bit of a disappointment. Its braking and acceleration in city traffic was uneven and somewhat unpredictable, and fuel economy trailed that of competing hybrid sedans.
Kia's second-generation Optima was produced from 2006 to 2010. Shoppers should be aware that the generation switchover happened midway through the 2006 calendar year. Kia sold some first-generation models for '06 and then released the new sedan as the 2006.5 Optima.
At the end of this generation, the Kia Optima was offered in three trim levels: base, EX and SX. All came with a 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder as standard. The EX and SX could be had with a 194-hp 2.7-liter V6. A five-speed manual transmission was standard on the LX. Optional on the LX and standard on the EX and SX was a five-speed automatic transmission.
The automatic-equipped LX came reasonably well equipped with air-conditioning, full power accessories, antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The EX provided leather upholstery, while the SX came with a sport-tuned suspension.
Although the base four-cylinder provided class-competitive acceleration, the Optima's V6 was disappointing. It was significantly smaller and less powerful than other six-cylinders in the class. This Optima was reasonably fun to drive around town and provided a smooth ride quality, though many of its class contemporaries did a better job of isolating occupants from bumps and ruts.
This second-generation Optima had a few changes during its time. The most significant of these came in 2009, where the model received more distinctive styling and more power. The SX trim level also debuted. Previously, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder produced 162 hp, while the 2.7-liter V6 produced 185 hp. The other notable change came in 2008, when antilock brakes and stability control were made standard across the lineup.
The first-generation Kia Optima midsize sedan debuted for the 2000 model year. Mechanically, this model was very similar to the Hyundai Sonata of the time. Although it didn't include the finest-quality interior materials, it was well-suited for commuter duty thanks to a spacious cabin and comfortable ride quality.
First-generation models didn't have stability control or head curtain airbags, and four-cylinder models lacked the availability of antilock brakes. In road tests, we thought the 149-hp four-cylinder engine was a bit short in power and refinement. Though the 170-hp V6 didn't inspire thrills, it was smooth and quiet, and offered better acceleration for highway merging than the four-cylinder.
For 2002, the V6 was updated to provide 178 hp. In its third model year (2003), the Kia Optima's front end was restyled (with rather dubious results). Improvements to the interior included a new center stack, door panels and fresh seat fabric. In addition, Kia began to offer Sportmatic manual-shift capability on four-cylinder automatic Optimas. Buyers might also notice that horsepower figures were revised downward that year due to a change in measurement technique, but actual output was unchanged.
Read the most recent 2019 Kia Optima review.
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