The 2016 Kia Optima First Drive: Fun to Drive, Handles Hairpins Like a Champ!

I live in Texas, AKA the land of Super-Duty trucks and oversized SUVs, but I can still appreciate a comfortable sedan that’s fun to drive. I recently tested the 2016 Kia Optima, and in case you can’t tell by the big smile on my face, it was a great experience.

Photo courtesy of Kia-002

Photo courtesy of Kia

Along with approximately 40 other auto writers, I was invited to Aspen for a few days last week to drive what has become one of the most important vehicles in the Kia lineup. While listening to the talk before our drive, I learned that in 2001 Kia was at the bottom of the JD Powers quality survey; 14 years later, they are now #2 behind Porsche. How did they come so far? Well it turns out that the Optima was a large part of that success; it was the car that took Kia to the next level, and it was their first vehicle to sell more than 100,000 units.

Photo courtesy of Kia-003

Photo courtesy of Kia

Take a look at that cockpit … the Kia Optima is a great mix of comfort, convenience, technology, and gee-whiz features. When you are in the driver’s seat, everything that you need is within reach, and for the most part all of the buttons, dials, and controls are ergonomically and intuitively placed.

2016 Optima

2016 Optima photo courtesy of Kia

The 2016 Kia is a little bit longer and a little bit wider than previous models. It sits low enough to the ground that it hugs the road, and when taking vicious mountain hairpin curves it performs wonderfully — its suspension provides a luxurious ride that can easily handle bumps in the road, yet it is stiff enough so you don’t sway to the point of motion sickness when taking those twisty curves.

04-Gear Diary First Drive in the 2016 Kia Optima-003

Yes, we got to drive the top of the line model, but every version will still have plenty of head, shoulder, and legroom in both the front and back seats.

The model I drove had the top of the line UVO eServices Infotainment console which came with an 8″ touchscreen, voice-command navigation, SiriusXM Traffic and Rear-Camera Display, Android Auto smartphone integration, and Harman Kardon audio; Apple CarPlay is coming soon. The UVO system now comes standard with four eServices that were previously unavailable on Optimas:  Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert and Driving Score.

The front USB port that we’ve seen in previous Kia models is still there, with two additional fast-charge USB ports and a rear 12V outlet located in the center console. The optional Harman Kardon QuantumLogic Premium Surround Sound Audio System comes with ten speakers, Clari-Fi technology, and a 630-watt digital amplifier.

The 2016 Optima style is very distinctive, classy, and yes — European. Note the chrome strip that follows the roofline, while the body is voluptuously curved yet streamlined; the Optima is very easy on the eyes.

11-Gear Diary First Drive in the 2016 Kia Optima-010

The 2016 Optima has a lighter and stiffer chassis, which has 58% “more torsional rigidity than the outgoing model, which contributes to improved steering response, high-speed stability and handling.”

08-Gear Diary First Drive in the 2016 Kia Optima-007

The 2016 Optima is available with three engine choices including the 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder, available on the LX and EX models, and the 2.0-liter GDI turbo engine, available on the SXL and SX models.  “The 2.4-liter produces 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 178 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.  The 2.0-liter turbo generates 245 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,350 rpm.  Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic shifting, and the SX and SXL trims add paddle shifters.  Both engines have been retuned for fuel economy and better performance and drivability with maximum torque now available at lower RPM.”
09-Gear Diary First Drive in the 2016 Kia Optima-008

The new Kia Optima is a really fun car to drive; it is great on the open highway, and it is fantastic on twisty mountain roads. It’s a great family vehicle that doesn’t scream “mom-wagon”.

The 2016 Optima comes in five different trim levels, with the base LX price starting at a reasonable $21,840; the top of the line SXL coming in at $35,790 (+ destination charge). It is rated at 22 mpg in town and 32 on the highway, so you can expect about 25 mpg on average.

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Disclosure: Kia paid for my travel, room, and meals; there were no conditions or expectations made regarding what I chose to write about regarding my experience.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.