It’s been a good year for Kia — the South Korean automaker is now seeing more accolades for its new 2016 Optima sedan, and the Kelley Blue Book dropped the 2016 Optima as its “Best Buy of the Year” in the midsize car category. A recent press release from the agency shows that after reviewing more than 300 new car models, KBB chose the new Optima to represent value and economy for today’s drivers.
Kia’s top brass were, understandably, delighted.
“The all-new 2016 Optima has matured in all the right ways, from the European sport-sedan design to the premium interior materials to its vastly improved ride and handling,” said Orth Hedrick, KMA vice president of product planning, as quoted in the press announcement. “To be recognized by the experts at Kelley Blue Book as a Best Buy among some of the toughest competition in the industry is a true honor and strong indication that the all-new Optima is poised to continue its sales success and the ongoing elevation of the Kia brand.”
Changes for the 2016 model include a longer, wider chassis, a new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with seven speed dual clutch transmission, and a bigger and more luxurious cabin.
It’s a parry and thrust at its sister company, Hyundai, which is riding on the wave of its new Sonata. While the Optima has seen its styling grow more sporty and extreme, the Hyundai has become decidedly conservative. Between the two, Hyundai-Kia has a fair chunk of the buyer spectrum in its sights, but as more people get a glimpse of the all-new Optima, Kia seems to be well positioned to emerge on top.
The story of the Kia Optima is a kind of “ugly duckling” story, with the new 2016 model as the swan: Early Optima models were widely panned by critics and described bluntly as “ugly” and “boring” – in general, the Kia brand was considered a cheap knockoff — an economy brand in the American market. Now, Kia is experiencing a big turnaround, not just with the Optima but with other cars like the new Kia Cadenza.
As for the Optima, this year’s drivers are finding a lot to love. There’s the refreshed style of the car, along with modern features, engine power, and a quiet, comfortable cabin equipped with modern comforts like Android and Apple connectivity.
To borrow a phrase from the tech industry, it’s the “look and feel” of the new Optima that’s different, and part of what led our own Micah Wright to talk so favorably about his trip over Aspen behind the Optima’s wheel. Comparing the car to a loyal canine friend, Wright called the car “well-mannered, responsive, intelligent, fun to play with, and just as dependable as the day is long.”
So what’s the appeal? For one thing, buyers get a choice of engines for power and fuel economy: In addition to the 2.0-liter turbo, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 1.6-liter engine are available. For the base model with the 2.4-liter engine, fuel economy is 24/28/35. Government-provided fuel economy numbers show that with the 2.0-liter, the Optima gets 22/25/32, and the fuel-sipping 1.6-liter gets 28/32/39, for highway MPG up close to the kinds of savings we expect from new-tech diesels.
There’s also the cabin experience: The use of sound-proofing materials and the addition of modern features makes the Kia Optima feel like a good place to spend time. Items like power-folding side-view mirrors, a big sunroof, heated steering wheel, and quality seating don’t hurt, either. The new 2016 model also has things like blind spot monitoring and lane departure warnings, part of what Kia is adding to a new generation of intelligent cars.
All in all, a brand that used to be associated with cheapness is now rivaling big names like Toyota and Honda, by making something that’s not just drivable, but fun to drive. Look for the Kia Optima to be a more common fixture in next year’s parking lots.