That the 2014 Kia Optima has proven it can hold its own against segment leaders such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion is a testament to the car's overall success. But the fact that so many are actually choosing the Optima over its Japanese and American rivals shows just how far, and how fast, Kia has climbed the family-sedan ladder.
The refreshed 2014 Kia Optima offers more than just a roomy cabin, smooth ride and great gas mileage. Where most midsize sedans follow a rather conservative path, the Optima ventures toward the exotic. Its interior is loaded with features virtually unheard of in the midsize family-sedan class (such as an available heated rear seat and panoramic glass roof) and absent even on some luxury brands.
While we really love the Optima for its fuel economy, price and features, it doesn't yet have the proven long-term reliability of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Kia understands this, which is why every Optima comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile vehicle warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
What's New for 2014?
For 2014, the Optima has its exterior freshened, with a new front nose, bumper and rear taillight treatment. Inside, a push-button starter is made standard on EX and higher trims, while the SX gains a 4.3-inch LCD information screen. New options include blind spot monitoring and a new 8-in navigation touchscreen with enhanced UVO telematics.
What We Like
Sleek styling; impressive fuel economy; generous standard equipment; excellent safety and resale figures; stunning new quilted leather seat pattern on SXL
What We Don't
No V6 engine option; limited rear-seat headroom; no all-wheel-drive option; front seats could use more lumbar support; annoying foot-activated parking brake on lower trims
LX and EX models are powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine equipped with gasoline direct injection technology. Producing 192 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, this engine is nearly as powerful as some competitors' V6s and delivers outstanding fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon city/34 mpg hwy. The standard transmission is a 6-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission with manual shift control.
The SX and SX Limited employ a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that ups power to 274 hp and torque to 269 lb-ft. The added horsepower gives the Optima a big performance boost, but fuel economy doesn't suffer much, with an estimated 20 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2013 Kia Optima is offered in five trims: LX, EX, SX, SX Turbo and SXL Turbo.
The base LX ($22,300) comes with 16-in alloy wheels; power features for windows, mirrors and door locks; heated outside mirrors with turn indicators; fog lights; an AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers and USB port; steering-wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls; a tilt/telescoping steering column; air conditioning; a 6-way power driver's seat with power lumbar; cloth seating; and remote keyless entry.
The EX ($24,700) adds 17-in wheels, push-button start with Smart Key keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear seat vents, driver and passenger 1-touch up/down power windows, leather seating and an 8-way power driver's seat.
The SX ($26,050) brings sport suspension, 18-in wheels, LED taillights and positioning lights, 4.3-in LCD display screen, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, metal film interior accents and metal foot pedals.
The SX Turbo ($28,000) brings a more powerful turbocharged engine, HID headlights, D-shaped steering wheel and driver mode select.
The SXL Turbo ($37,100) includes an electronic parking brake, power folding outside mirrors, LED fog lights, red brake calipers, 8-speaker Infinity Surround Sound audio, UVO infotainment with rear backup camera, navigation, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a heated steering wheel, black cloth headliner and pillar trim, a panoramic glass sunroof, Nappa quilt-pattern leather seat trim, a 4-way power passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, memory for the driver's seat and mirrors and a heated rear seat.
Most to the Optima's options are bundled into trim-specific packages. The LX offers a Convenience Plus package that adds a 10-way power driver's seat, UVO and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The EX and SX trims can be equipped with the Technology and Premium packages that bring navigation, blind-spot monitoring and rear backup sensors as well as panoramic glass sunroof, Infinity audio, power passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and driver's seat memory.
Standard safety equipment on all Optimas includes front side-impact airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags and electronic traction and stability control.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2014 Kia Optima five out of five stars in its front-end, side-impact and rollover tests. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also gives the Optima top marks in every category except the small overlap crash test, which it scored as Acceptable. IIHS named the Kia Optima as a Top Safety Pick.
Behind the Wheel
If you think a car should be as good at driving as it looks, you'll feel right at home in the 2014 Kia Optima. In EX and SX trims, the larger wheels and tires, along with the sport suspension in the SX, give this big sedan an athletic demeanor usually reserved for smaller, sportier cars. The Optima corners well; body roll and lean only become noticeable during the most demanding maneuvers. Aided by the nicely weighted steering and electronic stability control, we pushed the Optima to its limit without getting ourselves into too much trouble.
The 2.4-liter gasoline engine has more than enough power for the average driver, but we fell in love with the rush of power the turbo afforded. The engine is calibrated to deliver smooth flow from a dead stop, making the turbo feel like a robust V6. There's even an Eco setting that dials back the turbo and some of the engine's output to improve fuel economy when you're cruising at a steady speed.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Malibu -- The Optima has a more powerful 4-cylinder engine and a better warranty than the Malibu, but the Chevrolet sedan has more rear-seat legroom and added piece of mind in GM's OnStar service.
Honda Accord -- The Accord may not be quite as stylish as the Optima or as laden with content, but it has a longer history of reliability and a strong resale value.
Toyota Camry -- The Camry has a much larger rear seat than the Optima and offers strong resale value; there are also far more Toyota dealerships than Kia outlets nationwide. However, the Optima offers a better warranty, and it out-muscles, out-options and out-styles the Camry.
While we can't advise against the thrilling performance provided by the turbocharged Optima SX, the best value in the Optima line is the EX with the standard 2.4-liter engine. The 2.4-liter delivers excellent power and fuel economy, and the Optima EX is very well-equipped yet undercuts its competitors by thousands of dollars. Kia offers a number of features rarely found in this class, such as a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof and heated rear seats.