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2018 Kia Optima: New Car Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Kia Optima, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Kia Optima Review

Midsize family sedans have grown is size and status of late, but only a handful offer the daring styling and thrilling performance provided by the 2018 Kia Optima sedan. The Optima looks more expensive than it really is, with a very Germanic image backed by lots of body sculpting and an aggressive front end. Despite is low-slung appearance, the Optima is actually quite roomy inside, with excellent legroom front and rear and a large trunk. Kia is well-known for its ability to deliver a well-equipped vehicle at a modest price, and the 2018 Optima doesn’t waver from this philosophy. Even the most inexpensive model comes equipped with features one wouldn’t expect in a base car.

Power is never in short supply, as the Optima offers a choice between two turbocharged engines and one normally aspirated unit, as well as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid version. When placed against rivals like the Honda Accord, the Chevrolet Malibu and the Toyota Camry, the Optima shines brightly, although it doesn’t offer the option of all-wheel drive, which you can get on the Ford Fusion and comes standard on the Subaru Legacy.

Inside, the Optima delights with its modern styling and impressive list of standard and available features. Small things — such as the available 10-way power passenger seat — make a big difference, as do luxury options, including the massive panoramic glass sunroof, heated rear seats and the 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.

What’s New for 2018?

For 2018, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and rear park assist are made standard on all Optima trims. Base models gain a new 7-inch touchscreen audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a sporty new S trim is added and the SX Limited trim is dropped. See the 2018 Kia Optima models for sale near you

What We Like

Standout styling; good safety scores; impressive standard and optional equipment list; choice of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines; good fuel economy; great warranty

What We Don’t

Limited rear-seat headroom; handling not as precise as in the Mazda6 or the Ford Fusion; no all-wheel-drive option; advanced collision avoidance technology not offered on base trims

How Much?

$23,395-$37,500

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Optima offers a choice of three gasoline-powered engines. Standard on the LX, S and EX trims is a 2.4-liter normally aspirated 4-cylinder good for 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is also standard. Fuel economy for this engine is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

Next is an available 1.6-liter turbocharged engine offered only on the LX trim. This engine produces 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Paired with a new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, the 1.6T earns an impressive 28 mpg city/37 mpg hwy.

Finally, there’s the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine available only on the top-level SX and SXL trims. This engine produces a healthy 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates for the 2.0T are a respectable 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The Kia Optima is offered in five trims and three engine choices: LX, LX 1.6T, S, EX and SX.

The Optima LX ($23,395) brings a 2.4-liter engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission, 16-in alloy wheels, power windows, power locks, power mirrors with integrated turn signals, air conditioning, cruise control, 6-speaker UVO audio with a 7-in touchscreen, rear backup display, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an iPod/USB port, Bluetooth, a tilt-telescopic steering column, remote keyless entry, a trip computer, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, a 60/40-split folding rear seat and driver selectable adjustable steering settings.

The Optima S ($24,395) adds a sport front bumper, 17-in alloy wheels, rear spoiler, LED fog lights, LED taillights, sport cloth seats with leatherette bolsters, 10-way power driver’s seat and acoustic front-door glass.

The Optima LX 1.6T ($25,195) adds the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, 16-in alloy wheels with a unique light-gray finish, power-folding heated outside mirrors, auto up/down power front windows and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, plus push-button start with a smart key and a smart trunk.

The Optima EX ($26,495) retains the 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed automatic but adds to the 1.6T’s features, including the addition of 17-in alloy wheels, LED taillights, dual projection headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, two rapid-charge USB ports, wood-trim interior accents, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, a 12-way power driver’s seat with 4-way power lumbar support and 2-position memory for the driver’s seat and mirrors.

The Optima SX ($31,395) adds the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, an upgraded steering and suspension setup, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, 18-in alloy wheels, chrome dual exhaust tips, red brake calipers, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated sport fronts seats, 10-way power passenger seat, HID Dynamic Bending headlights, a rear spoiler, a 4.3-in LCD display panel, satin chrome interior accents, metal pedals and rear-door sunshades.

The Optima’s more popular options are separated into packages by trim.

The LX Convenience package adds a 10-way power driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support, acoustic laminated front door glass and auto up/down power front windows.

The S Panoramic Sunroof package adds a panoramic sunroof and LED interior lighting.

The EX Premium package includes a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, a 10-way power passenger seat and LED interior lighting. The EX Technology package adds adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, navigation, a 630-watt 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, heated rear-seat cushions and rear-door sunshades.

The SX Technology package adds the Harman Kardon audio, high-beam assist, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, navigation and an electronic parking brake.

The SX Limited package adds quilted leather seat trim, the Surround View monitor, 18-in alloy wheels, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, rear side-window sunshades and black tricot headliner and pillar trim.

Safety

Every 2018 Kia Optima comes standard with a full complement of airbags, including front-seat side, full-length side-curtain and driver’s-knee airbags. Electronic traction and stability control are standard, as is Kia’s Vehicle Stability Management system, hill-start assist and a tire-pressure monitor.

The Optima earned five out of five stars in every test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2018 Optima a Top Safety Pick, giving it top marks in all crash tests, including a Superior rating in crash detection and mitigation (when equipped with optional crash-avoidance equipment).

Behind the Wheel

We only had the opportunity to drive a model equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine at the launch event in Aspen, Colorado. Despite the thin air, the 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque that the Optima packed under the hood delivered a spirited performance, with a manageable, predictable level of turbo lag. Still, we found the performance every bit as satisfying as the Optima’s best V6 rivals, and its fuel economy was more than acceptable. Three drive modes are selectable via a center-console switch (Normal, ECO and Sport), affecting the electric power steering, throttle response and transmission shift points. Steering was noticeably better in Sport mode, killing some of the numbness that cropped up on center in the other modes. Handling on the whole is better than before, regardless of mode.

On the road, the Optima proved exceptionally quiet, though the ride was somewhat firm. If you’re looking for comfort over performance, the smaller wheel/tire packages and more compliant suspension settings of the LX and EX trims might make a better choice. We found the Optima’s new seats to be a big step up from the previous generation, with better support and — finally — 10-way adjustable settings for the passenger.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Honda Accord — The Accord is all-new this year with a sporty new look and a two new 4-cylinder turbocharged engines. The Optima still offers more luxury features, but the Accord offers its suite of advanced collision-avoidance systems on all trims and has better resale numbers.

2018 Toyota Camry — The Camry is also all-new this year, sporting aggressive new styling to go with its class-leading reliability and resale figures. The Camry retains its V6 engine option and standard driver-assist systems, however the Optima still offers more luxury features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a better warranty.

2018 Subaru Legacy — The Legacy isn’t as powerful or fun to drive as the Optima, but its standard all-wheel drive makes it superior in winter driving, and even the affordable Premium trim can be equipped with collision-avoidance technology.

Used BMW 5 Series — A 2012-2015 BMW 5 Series will offer more power and exceptional ride and handling abilities, although earlier models lack some newer safety features.

Autotrader’s Advice

Surprisingly, we think the base LX offers everything you need in a family sedan. The value prospect for more upscale buyers is probably an EX with the Premium and Technology package, as it now offers features such as adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation.

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