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Review: 2016 Kia Optima is retooled and punches above its price-point

Source : The Globe and Mail – August 01, 2016

The recently-launched second-generation Kia Optima is a clean-sheet re-do of the original that advances on all fronts to, once again, take a place as a convincing choice in a highly-attainable, high-style family sedan.

Daring sculpts, big dual exhausts, bold lines, and Kia’s signature tiger-nose grille, flanked by bi-xenon headlamps, help set the Optima apart. The body is rich with detail, including numerous touches that could do double-duty in a pricier ride.

It’s a similar story on board. Occupants are surrounded by stitching, quilted leather, modern interfaces, and trim materials of various colours, textures and lustres, layered one over the next. Attention to detail is apparent throughout in a cabin that generates a luxurious, formal, high-tech, and uniquely modern atmosphere.

Feature content in the top-line tester included a massive panoramic sunroof, a potent Harman Kardon stereo, and a big, bright central command screen underlined with logical tactile buttons for easy navigation through hundreds of functions. Control interfaces spill down onto the centre console, with various controls placed around the shifter, like a Lexus or BMW.

The suspension sees a layer of softness dialled in around mildly-stiff shocks, for responsive handling and a comfortable ride. Optima neither floats nor crashes into bumps and potholes, preferring instead to absorb them with minimal upset, minimal noise, and a feel of durability. It’s notably stable when tossed around on empty back roads: it’s laid-back, comfortable, and capable. The steering is smooth with no harshness transmitted back to the driver, and is light and lazy at low speeds for easy manoeuvrability in tight quarters.

Even generously-sized adults should find space to spare up front, with numerous at-hand storage implements, cupholders and cubbies close by. Power outlets, even wireless recharging technology are within easy reach, too. Rear seats are spacious where legroom and width are concerned, though headroom is tight for taller passengers. The trunk is extra deep, largely square, and can easily handle a week’s worth of shopping.

Optima’s top-level 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generates 245 horsepower, 30 less than last year’s model. Torque output is generous, and the less-powerful engine still flings the Optima along with urgency when called upon, though the turbocharger gets into its game more slowly, and with less ferocity than before. Mileage on my watch, including plenty of highway cruising, landed at a respectable 9.5 litres/100 km.

On the other hand, paddle shifting isn’t responsive or quick enough to warrant much use. And the brakes are powerful, but lack any meaningful feel at the pedal, which itself feels like it’s connected to a cinder block. Finally, given the luxury look of the cabin, the ride could be quieter.

Ultimately though, the Optima is a comfortable, well-equipped family sedan that punches well above its weight.

You’ll like this car if ... rich styling, an upscale cabin, advanced features, and a well-sorted ride top your new-car wish-list.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $23,695; as tested: $38,129
  • Engine: 2.0-litre GDI Turbo four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed automatic with paddle-shift/Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city, 7.4 highway, regular fuel
  • Alternatives: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Honda Accord, Subaru Legacy

RATINGS

  • Looks: Optima is one of the market’s most distinctive and instantly-recognizable family sedans – and is packed full of visual details and drama that form a rich, sophisticated look.
  • Interior: Trim and accents are well used toward an upscale look, and the cabin is roomy, offers plentiful storage, and is largely logical in layout.
  • Performance: Performance is pleasing, though a syrupy steering feel and poor brake feel may leave driving enthusiasts wanting.
  • Technology: The Optima offers a collection of must-have features, including wireless recharging, radar cruise control, a 360-degree camera system, and navigation.
  • Cargo: The Optima’s trunk is deep, wide, largely square, and ready to accept camping supplies for a two-person weekend getaway with ease.

THE VERDICT

8.5

A top-line Optima SX-L amounts to a luxurious, well-equipped and efficient family sedan with world-class styling and a reasonable price-tag. Where style, feature content and comfort are concerned, it’s a compelling value.

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