Who else remembers the mid-90’s when Kia entered the US market? You don’t? You don’t remember the super cheap Sephia that was a pizza delivery driver’s dream? How about the very early Sportage? Then the cheapest new SUV with 4WD you could buy?
Well, I remember. Back in the early-mid 90s, the Kia of then was not the Kia of today, by any means. These days, Kia is a real force to be reckoned with. While the Sportage name is still around, it’s a completely different animal. We have one this week, so keep an eye out for our verdict. The Sephia is no more, but there is now a range of cars available from the South Korean automaker.
After a drastic 2010 re-design of the (formerly rather bland) Optima, people really began paying attention to the brand. It truly looked out of this world compared to the outgoing model. The styling was great but the best part was the pricing.
Which brings us to the 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo. Initial impressions of the Optima reminded me of the Nissan Maxima. Not a bad thing, but not necessarily great either. The upscale styling continues the trend of the successful generation before it. Open the door, sit inside, and the feel is much the same. The leather seats are comfortable in the roomy interior. Hit the push-button ignition and you get an almost cinematic welcome from the gauges (a bit-much in my opinion, but it’s a neat feature). The gauges themselves were straight forward, but tach and speedo had a little more space between them than I would normally prefer. Controls for everything are mostly where they should be, but as this car came with all the bells and whistles, a few switches were grouped with others that didn’t really relate.
The steering wheel of the Optima SX was awash with switches. We’re not talking early-90’s Pontiac Bonneville here, but there were lots of buttons and knobs. Audio controls are placed, and designed, in a way that felt more natural than most other cars I’d driven recently, including the new FD Miata. Controls that were not on the steering wheel were located on the center console at the base of the gear selector. This results in another somewhat odd selection of controls that ranged from the electric parking brake to the heated steering wheel.
The Droid-like infotainment system in this car was the real winner on the inside. Many, many, Harman Kardon speakers surround you and have great range. It was all I could do not to go through my entire library of songs, blasting them while dropping off stuff at Salvation Army, parking at Wegmans, or while placing an order at a Wendy’s drive-thru. With such a good sound, I was not shy about using the stereo and I didn’t care what people thought of my taste in music. If people who have stereos on their bikes can blast REO Speedwagon, I can surely crank up some Calvin Harris, Dr. Dre, or even Def Leppard!
The Optima SX Turbo has a 2 Liter 4-cylinder that packs quite a punch. More than I expected. If you’re looking for a great sounding engine you may be disappointed. I found the note to be slightly thrashy until you really put your right foot down. This is an engine that could actually benefit from artificial engine noises being piped in to the cabin. Once your foot hits the floor you’ll be rewarded with unexpected levels of thrust that hints at the hidden Mr. Hyde personality. There is minimal turbo lag from a stop and more or less nonexistent at highway speeds that makes passing a breeze.
Even with all the extra weight from all of the extras, my butt-dyno says that this car makes very good use of the 265hp. The 6-speed automatic transmission provided the ideal application of power when desired. This was one I’d have no problem driving daily. I could just chill on the way to work or, when the time comes, blast through a highway ramp.
There are some great details on the 2016 Optima; however one that I found on the tacky side was the red-painted calipers. I could understand if they were actual Brembo or other 4-piston calipers grabbing some larger discs, but these looked like run of the mill calipers. Granted, pedal feel and braking performance never felt anything less than exemplary, this isn’t a performance vehicle worthy of the red paint reward.
On the road, the suspension felt just a tad on the firm side but well sorted for the street and was pretty much just what I was expecting – comfortable enough for most. Those cross shopping the latest Camry will notice how much tighter the 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo handles the corners. Highway ride is solid – as in on-point – and irregular bumps and potholes are dealt with fairly well.
The Kia Optima isn’t quite a full size sedan but it can feel that way. The window belt-line is high and while rear visibility wasn’t terrible, it was not great. Fortunately, similar to the Sorento we drove, there is a camera mode that displays the surrounding area thanks to tiny hidden cameras placed around the car. Unlike the Sorento, we didn’t back this Kia into any immovable objects.
Like the Sorento, the big selling point here is what you get for your money. You might have a project car, but you need something to tool around in for the everyday stuff. You don’t want a crossover/minivan/SUV, but instead something more enjoyable with a bit of style that doesn’t look like your neighbor’s Audi. Something that has a little bit more of a kick…oh and you’ve always wanted a panoramic sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, a ridiculously good sound system, collision avoidance technology and fancy back-up cameras.
The truth is with the 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo you can have it all for roughly $35,000. There are many other cars available with these features but you could easily find yourself paying $10,000 more.