If you're from the school of thought that says family sedans equal boring rides, then you need to take a spin in the 2015 Kia Optima. The Optima's seductive styling makes this reasonably priced 4-door look more like a $50,000 sport sedan. 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 a panoramic glass roof) and absent even in some luxury brands. The Optima is big on power and fuel economy, too, which means you don't have to sacrifice one for the other.
Now easily the equal of such segment leaders as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Optima outshines these longtime industry leaders with a combination of performance, price, features and an unbeatable 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
What's New for 2015?
Changes for 2015 are minor. The UVO 2 system gets an upgrade, adding more features such as geo fence, speed alerts and curfew reminders. Subtle changes to the interior, such as repositioning the cruise control buttons to the steering wheel's right-side spoke, help improve driver ergonomics.
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
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, EX and SX 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 in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The standard transmission is a 6-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission with manual shift control.
The SX Turbo 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 hp 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 ($22,450) comes with 16-inch 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 a USB port, steering-wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls, a tilt-telescopic steering column, air conditioning, a 6-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, cloth seating and remote keyless entry.
The EX ($24,900) adds 17-in wheels, push-button starting 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 ($26,500) brings a sport suspension, 18-in wheels, LED taillights and positioning lights, a 4.3-in LCD display screen, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, metal interior accents and metal foot pedals.
The SX Turbo ($28,500) brings the more powerful turbocharged engine, HID headlights, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and driver mode select.
The SXL Turbo ($36,300) includes an electronic parking brake, chrome 18-in wheels, power-folding outside mirrors, LED fog lights, red brake calipers, 8-speaker Infinity surround sound audio, UVO 2 infotainment with a rear backup camera, navigation, a blind spot monitoring system 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 of 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 2 eServices and an acoustic laminated windshield. The EX and SX trims can be equipped with the Technology and Premium packages, which bring navigation, a blind spot monitoring system and rear backup sensors, a panoramic glass sunroof, Infinity audio, a 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 gave the 2015 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 gave 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 2015 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 become noticeable only 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 that 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
Ford Fusion -- The Fusion is every bit as stylish as the Optima, and it can almost match the Kia for power and fuel economy. It also offers the option of all-wheel drive and a plug-in hybrid model.
Honda Accord -- The Accord may not be quite as stylish as the Optima or as laden with features, 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. The Optima offers a better warranty, however, 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. The Optima EX is well equipped yet undercuts its competitors by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars when comparably equipped. Kia offers a number of features rarely found in this class, such as a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof and heated rear seats.