2016 Kia Optima: Powertrain Nitpicks
by Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor on June 15, 2016
Is a nitpick a thing? If not, I'm making it one, and I've got two of them to put on our 2016 Kia Optima's record.
One has to do with the engine, the other with the transmission. Add them up and you might have enough nitpicks to make a shopper think twice.
Let's start with the engine, because I like engines. Ed's right about its "useful power." Brent's right that it makes the Optima "pleasingly quick." But here's where I'm right: the thing emits an unrefined booming noise at higher RPM that makes it sound like a vacuum cleaner. Sure, it's yanking the car along nicely, but there's a reason people wear earplugs when they vacuum. Who wants to listen to that?
If you're looking for a little turbo engine in this price range that sounds good, try our Civic's spunky 1.5-liter mill, or the 1.8-liter turbo in various VW products. Those engines make some pleasant mechanical noises as they rip toward redline. Kia's 1.6-liter lump has yet to find its voice.
Now for the transmission. It's an automated manual, which means a computer is doing the clutching. Whenever I parallel-park the Optima, I find myself wishing the in-gear "creep" were more intuitive. Compared to a regular automatic, the computer needs an extra couple beats to engage and start creeping once you take your foot off the brake. Also, I find that the power comes on a bit unpredictably when it finally arrives, so it's hard to creep with precision.
If you drive stick, you know that parallel-parking with a manual involves a lot of variable clutch- and gas-pedal modulation. I'd even say there's an art to it. That's a tall order for any computer, so I'm not just blaming Kia here; it's a common issue with automated manuals. Still, the experience represents a noticeable downgrade if you're used to a "normal" automatic transmission.
That could be one nitpick too many for some.
Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor @ 6,645 miles