2016 Kia Optima: The Transmission Mode Sweet Spot
by Dan Frio, Automotive Editor on June 1, 2016
Our particular 2016 Kia Optima, with its turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, leads the rest of the Optima lineup with an EPA-estimated 32 mpg combined. We're getting almost 29 mpg, so we're close. I imagine if we committed to driving the Optima in either Normal or Eco modes, we'd reach that 32 mpg in short order.
Then again, if we committed to driving the Optima in Normal or Eco, we probably wouldn't drive it much. In Normal mode, you're in fourth gear before you've reached 40 mph and mashing the accelerator from a standstill is received more as a suggestion than an urgent command.
In Eco, you might as well keep a couple of friends in the backseat at all times to push the car into action from a stop. They might need to get out and push when attempting to pass another moving vehicle, too. Or a stationary one.
No, Sport is really where it's at and where you want to be. In Sport mode, there's a thick sweet spot around 1,500 and 2,800 rpm. The engine is humming, the turbo is spinning, and when you pin the accelerator to pass a slow-moving convoy, the Optima moves as if cast from a slingshot. It's the one moment when this fuel savings-minded car generates a genuine sporty thrill.
And you don't need to be mowing down lanes of traffic to induce it. Just keeping it in the sweet spot on the freeway makes for smooth and fun leap-frogging around the mass of texting and otherwise oblivious motorists.
There's a downside. In Sport mode, the Optima tends to lurch and stumble at slow speeds (downshifting while rolling to a stop, prowling a shopping center parking lot). We've also never really comparison-tested the results of a full tank in each of the three modes. I'm certain Sport mode stretches the gap between EPA fuel economy and real-world results.
It's a small price to pay for such on-demand entertainment.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 5,440 miles