Since its debut in 2000, the Kia Optima has made steady, small progress to loosen the dominance of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in the midsize sedan market. With the debut of the fifth generation 2016 Kia Optima, the South Korean upstart can no longer be considered a fringe offering for the budget-minded car buyer.

While sharing the platform of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, the 2016 Kia Optima features a host of new exterior and interior design offerings, including a new trim, the 1.6T or turbocharged inline four-cylinder. The new model is also slightly longer, wider and taller than its predecessor. And there’s more interior legroom and headroom and more cargo space. It’s a family sedan with a hint of luxury.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

The 2016 Kia Optima is available in LX (differentiated slightly for the base 2.4-liter engine and the 1.6T), EX, SX and SXL trim levels. As with most mid-sized sedans, it’s designated as a five-passenger sedan. But it’s best suited for four adults.

The LX comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a six-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split rear seatback, a rearview camera, a 5-inch central display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB port and an auxiliary audio jack.

The LX’s optional Convenience package adds an eight-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar adjustment), laminated (i.e., quieter) front door windows, power-folding heated mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and driver memory settings. Also included are a few safety features, including a blind-spot monitor, rear parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert.

The 2016 Kia Optima begins the fifth generation of the South Korean sedan.
The 2016 Kia Optima begins the fifth generation of the South Korean sedan. Images © James Raia/2015

More upscale models add a host of items to lower trims — a heated steering wheel to an intuitive navigation system with eight-inch screen. There’s a near overload list of standard features as well as as options.

My weekly driver was SX LTD trim. It featured a 16-valve 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder configuration with 245 horsepower. It was linked to a six-speed automatic transmission and was upgraded to 18-inch alloy wheels.

Another change for the 2016 Kia Optima is the extensive use of sound deadening metals. The result: Occupants receive a quiet ride, particularly at highway speeds.

Like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Kia Optima does a lot right without fanfare. The interior is spacious with seemingly a near-limitless selection of front-seat positions. The quilted Nappa leather seat covering is comfortable, although I wouldn’t have matched the off-white seats with the titanium gray exterior.

Overall vision is strong, but the upscale design of the angled roofline slightly reduces rear-view mirror vision.

Turbo-charged engines sometimes require an adjustment for new users — there’s a lag or acceleration delay. That’s not the case with the Kia Optima. It accelerates without hesitation and moving onto a freeway, for example, is accomplished convincingly. If power is needed, it’s there, considering the Optima is a sedan not a performance car.

The new Kia also has several features often reserved for higher-priced vehicles. It offers automatic retractable side mirrors, backit door handles for night safety and an autonomous emergency braking system.

Likes:

Handsome exterior and interior designs.

Industry-best warranty.

Strong acceleration.

Dislikes:

Some mid-speed engine noise.

Rear window visibility slightly diminished by sloping roofline.

Facts & Figures: 2016 Kia Optima

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds
Airbags: 7.
Fuel economy: 22 mpg (city), 32 mpg (highway), 25 mpg (combined), six-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower: 245.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $35,790.00.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.kia.com.
Price As Tested: $36,615.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/ 100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“The redesign of the 2016 Kia Optima improves an already good car. There are things that could be better, but Kia has done a largely good job in keeping the Optima competitive in the midsize sedan market.” — Cars.com.

“The new 2016 Kia Optima features a fuel efficient new engine and transmission, improved interior and a mild update on the styling that helped change people’s impression of Kia from a cheap Korean brand to a purveyor of elegant, desirable cars.” — Detroit Free Press.

“Most of these positives were true of the previous Optima, too, which was a similarly competent and stylish alternative to the big-name midsize sedan players. Yet the improvements to the car’s refinement, interior quality, and feature content have made it an even more compelling choice compared to the sales leaders.” — Automobile Magazine.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“If there’s a challenger to the dominance of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, it’s the 2016 Kia Optima. Or, at least it should be.”

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