The 2019 Kia Optima combines all the value, room and practicality of a midsize family sedan with aggressive styling, a premium luxury interior and one of the best factory warranties in the business. For the longest time, the Optima stood alone with these attributes, but its success has clearly given the green light to the radical new looks of the latest Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry and the Nissan Altima.
In contrast to its long and low roofline, 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 2019 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 a 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 2019?
For 2019, the Optima gets a freshened front end with LED running lights. Kia’s suite of driver assists is made standard on every trim, while the rest of the lineup sees some shuffling of standard and optional equipment. The 2.4-liter engine is now the only choice with the LX, while the EX gains the 1.6-liter turbocharged unit as its standard powerplant.
What We Like
What We Don’t
The 2019 Optima offers a choice of three gasoline-powered engines. Standard on the LX and S 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 25 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway in the LX and 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy in the S.
Next is an available 1.6-liter turbocharged engine offered only on the EX 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 27 mpg city/37 mpg hwy.
Finally, there’s the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine available only on the top-level SX. 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 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The Kia Optima is offered in four trims — LX, S, EX and SX — and three engine choices.
The Optima LX ($23,820) brings a 2.4-liter engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission, 16-in alloy wheels, power windows, power locks, power heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, air conditioning, cruise control, 6-speaker UVO audio with an 8-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, forward-collision warning and braking, driver-attention warning, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, a 60/40-split folding rear seat and driver selectable adjustable steering settings.
The Optima S ($25,820) adds a sport front bumper, 18-in alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, projector beam LED fog lights, LED taillights, sport cloth seats with leatherette bolsters, smart key with push button start, smart trunk, UVO telematics with 4G LTE, 10-way power driver’s seat and acoustic front-door glass.
The Optima EX ($27,720) adds a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, a 7-speed dual clutch transmission, 17-in alloy wheels, collision-avoidance with pedestrian detection, smart cruise control with stop/go, 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 ($32,820) 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, adaptive headlights, a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated sport fronts seats, 10-way power passenger seat, navigation, 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio, a rear spoiler, a 4.3-in LCD display panel, satin chrome interior accents and metal pedals.
The Optima’s more popular options are separated into packages by trim.
The LX Premium package adds a 10-way power driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support, acoustic laminated front door glass, 17-in wheels, dual-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting and UVO.
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 12-way power driver’s seat with memory, a 10-way power passenger seat, LED interior lighting, navigation, a 630-watt 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, heated rear-seat cushions and a heated steering wheel.
The SX Limited package adds quilted leather seat trim in bronze, black or red, the Surround View monitor, 18-in alloy wheels, a heated steering wheel, power folding side mirrors, heated rear seats, rear side-window sunshades and black tricot headliner and pillar trim.
Every 2019 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. Advanced safety features include collision warning and emergency braking, lane-keep assists, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and driver-attention warning.
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. We expect the 2019 Optima to perform the same.
Behind the Wheel
We only had the opportunity to drive a model equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine during our test 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. Four drive modes are selectable via a center-console switch (Comfort, ECO, Sport and Smart), 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 seats impressively well constructed, with good thigh and back support and 10-way adjustable settings for the passenger.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Honda Accord — The Accord offers a sporty new look and a choice between two 4-cylinder turbocharged engines. The Optima still offers more luxury features, but the Accord offers has better resale numbers.
2019 Toyota Camry — The Camry is also looking much sharper these days, sporting aggressive styling to go with its class-leading reliability and resale figures. The Camry retains its V6 engine option and standard driver-assist systems, but the Optima still offers more luxury features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a better warranty.
2019 Subaru Legacy — The Legacy isn’t as powerful or as fun to drive as the Optima, but its standard AWD makes it superior in winter driving, and its resale numbers are near best in class.
Used BMW 5 Series — A 2012-2016 BMW 5 Series will offer more power and exceptional ride and handling abilities, although earlier models lack some newer safety features.
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 package.