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First Drive: 2016 Kia Optima SX-L


Another new design from Kia? Not surprising. However in the case of staying in the lime-light, it’s a smart marketing move. Keeps the automakers on their toes, and now redesigned for 2016 – perhaps some unnamed competitors should be reconsidering their advertising strategy.

Before you get confused, this is not a refresh over the previous generation. This Optima is in fact new for 2016. New style, new engine option, an all-new interior, and new packages. Lots of changes from the ground up went into improving this Optima to make it crisper, stronger and more agile than ever. And we can assure, from the moment we sat behind the flat bottom leather wrapped steering wheel into the quilted Nappa leather seats and heard the solidness of the door shutting, this was not just an update – this is unquestionably new car.

Kia has been coming a long way in their chassis development and this new Optima is definitely full of surprises. That chassis dynamic has been much improved over the previous generation providing a more rewarding feel having a certain solidness and rigidity to its build quality. It’s more lively and has a lot more characteristics in its behavior. The chassis is a lot firmer but that doesn’t ruin the ride quality. It is a lot more refined behaving like a premium sedan with the sporting pedigree of perhaps some of the Germans.

A new heart has been transplanted to the Optima’s line-up, a 1.6-liter Turbocharged engine emitting 178-horsepower through a new seven-speed dual clutch transmission. However, that is not the case in our sampled top tier SX-L Optima as its core is a little more hearty. Sticking in the turbo family, our 2.0-liter four-cylinder is a carry over for the previous-gen but has been tweaked down from its original 274-horsepower to a mere 245-horsepower. But that doesn’t make any less of a car. It still gets to 60 MPH in just under six-seconds through an eager-to-shift six-speed auto. Even with less power, it’s quick on its feet, the turbo here spools up 260lb-ft of torque and has a very linear delivery to the pavement. There is a hint of torque steer at full throttle from a stop and turbo lag is present if you’re in a big rush.

Of course though, you’d think, less power would come with more fuel efficiency – and being rated at a combined 25 mpg on paper looks halfway decent. However in our real world full of freeway congestions – we merely averaged 20 mpg combined for the week. But with almost 500 miles on premium fuel (not required) quite some distance can be traveled on a single tank.

As the top trimmed Optima SX-L, one might think its thirty-seven thousand dollar price tag is a bit much… for a Kia. But that ‘L’ is there for a reason. Once you open the door to the quilted trimmed Aubergine Nappa leather interior, it becomes a whole new world of premium quality. This is not a cheap car, and once you play with the buttons and knobs everything has a quality build to it. There’s soft touch materials on every panel and the ergonomics is in the favor of the driver.


What you see here is what you get. This SX-L has no options, partly because it has everything you can get. At least it’s all wrapped into one price. This SX-L has that large Panoramic roof, heated and cooled front seats, power driver and passenger seats, heated rear seats with sunshades, Navigation, and a surround view camera. Not to worry though, the tech keeps coming. Then we have Blind Spot Monitoring with rear-cross traffic detection, Lane Departure Warning, and Advance Smart Cruise Control with Autonomous Emergency Braking. The radar cruise here though is the coolest part as it can bring your Optima to a full complete stop, and restart again during bumper to bumper traffic – amazeballs!

Kia did an excellent job outfitting the cabin to the Optima. The interior is top notch and these seats… they are heavenly. Even rear passengers won’t be complaining having plenty of leg room to stretch out, headroom to spare, and proper thigh support. If we were to nitpick, headroom in the front is not exactly kind to anybody over 5’-8” otherwise the seat must go in the lowest position available.

However, our biggest complaint comes down to the styling department. This is supposed to be an all-new Kia? But it looks like the last one? It’s an improvement to say the least, but it’s also lacking personality. Which is what we liked from before. There’s no pizazz. Or character. It looks simple, sedate, even a bit boring. And this plain white paint doesn’t do it any justice, nor these 18-inch alloys. At least the sporting pedigree of red brake calipers shines through. But we will make this note, Kia, bring back those Quad-LED Fog Lights – those were cool!

But you know what, we get it. We get the new design. They’re saying “we’re serious.” They’re ready to play hard ball and kick some serious ass into the competition. And with this new Optima – it’s time to be taken serious. And with all this technology wrapped up in something under forty grand, it makes this Optima pretty fly, for a white guy.

Price (As Tested):
2016 Kia Optima SX-L $35,890
Destination: $850
Performance Specs:
2.0-liter Turbocharged 4-Cylinder – 245-horsepower/260lb-ft of torque – 0-60 MPH: ±6 seconds
EPA MPG: 22/32/25 (city/highway/combined) – SSB Average: 20 MPG’s | Fuel Range: 490 miles
Grand Total: $36,740






  1. Pretty fly, indeed. Did you know that “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” song debuted in 1998? Man, 18 years ago. Feeling old now. Takes me back to high school. I was very impressed with that Kia. Especially loved the fit & finish of the interior and the stitching on the seats (and the color of the seats). Bravo to Kia for a job well done on the car, and to you for another stellar review.

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