2015 Kia Optima

Up until just a few years ago, buying a midsize sedan required sacrificing style at the altar of practicality. However, one look at the Kia Optima's striking sheetmetal reveals that such a tradeoff is a thing of the past. Along with a shapely form, the Optima also offers class-leading power and a long list of standard features, meaning it deserves consideration from utilitarians in addition to aesthetes. Kia offers the Optima with a pair of four-cylinder engines and a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain.

Recent Changes
The Optima is the beneficiary of a mid-cycle update that was applied for the latest model year. Revisions include subtly revised exterior styling, upgraded display screens inside and a handful of new standard content.

Overview
The Optima projects a sporty yet elegant image thanks to a unique silhouette and sleek stance. Up front, it features Kia's signature bold tabbed grille framed by slanted projector headlamps. Longer, wider and lower than the wallflower model it replaced, the Optima's coupe-like profile is enhanced by a sweeping chrome arc that flows from the A through C pillars, a distinctive design motif that visually lowers the car even further.

Lightly restyled front and rear fascias give the latest Optima a freshened look along with improved aerodynamics. Newly available LED fog lights and standard LED taillights brighten the sedan's image.

Inside, the cabin boasts modern lines along with a center stack that cants toward the driver to create a cockpit feel. There's plenty of legroom for all passengers, although rear headroom is slightly compromised by the dramatic roofline. Material quality is above-average for the segment, with nicely-grained plastics and well-placed soft-touch elements.

Most Optima models come standard with Kia's UVO eServices infotainment system, which provides Bluetooth-based smartphone integration, streaming audio and voice command functionality for everything from placing calls to changing radio stations. It also includes vehicle diagnostics info and maintenance reminders, and lets users send Point of Interest info from Google Maps searches on their smarphone to the Sorento's navigation system.

For the latest model year, the Optima can be spec'd with a 4.3-inch instrument cluster TFT LCD screen that displays a variety of audio and vehicle setting. The nav system's display screen has also been upsized to eight inches.

Out on the road, the Optima is competent in the corners, but chassis is primarily tuned for ride comfort - as is the case with most of its competition - and the steering is numb and slightly imprecise.

Powerful and Efficient
The Optima offers a choice of naturally-aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder motors, both of which shift through a six-speed automatic transmission.

The standard mill is a 2.4-liter direct-injected unit that provides 200 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque - that's the most power of any base engine in the mid-size sedan segment. Fuel economy is rated at 24 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

The upgrade engine is a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four with 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. Despite the additional power, mileage still checks in at a respectable 22 mpg in the city and 34 on the open road.

Available only on the SX trim level, the turbo engine brings with it a host of sporty exterior appearance items as well as a specially-tuned suspension (full details below). For the latest model year, it's also paired with a Drive Mode Select system that lets drivers tailor transmission shift points and steering weight to let drivers choose a sportier feel when desired.

Trim Level Breakdown.
The Optima can be had in LX, EX and SX trim levels.

The entry-level LX is no stripper, coming standard with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder in addition to power windows and locks, A/C, an AM/FM/CD sound system with six speakers and USB/AUX input jacks, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, keyless entry, cruise control, a trip computer and 16-inch alloy wheels. For the latest model year, the LX also gains chrome dual exhaust tips, solar-tinted glass, exterior mirror-mounted turn signals, fog lamps and heated mirrors.

Two optional feature packages are available for the LX. The LX Convenience Package brings an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink and a compass. The LX Convenience Plus Package builds on those features with the UVO infotainment system.

Stepping up to the EX adds leather upholstery and imitation wood trim, an acoustic laminated windshield, a power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a smart key and push-button start and 17-inch alloy wheels. Illuminated front cupholders are newly standard.

The EX can be had with two optional feature packages. The EX Premium Package includes a panoramic sunroof, UVO, an Infinity sound system a rearview camera, HD radio, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and power folding exterior mirrors. The EX Technology Package (also available on the SX) brings a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic and a rearview camera.

The SX is fitted a sport-tuned suspension, LED rear combination lights, a unique front grille design, rear lip spoiler, sculpted side sills, aero wiper blades, black front brake calipers and 18-inch black machined finish alloy wheels furnished with P225/45R18 tires. Inside, the SX features steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, illuminated stainless steel scuff plates, combination sport cloth/leather upholstery, imitation carbon fiber inserts and allow pedals. A 4.3-inch instrument cluster TFT LCD display is newly standard.

Three optional feature packages can expand the SX's list of goodies. The SX Premium Package adds all of the content included in the EX Premium Package. The SX Technology, which comes only in conjunction with the Premium package, adds a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic and a rearview camera.

The SX Limited Package - also known as the SXL - brings the turbocharged motor, unique front and rear fascias, LED running lights over the fog lamps, a chrome-tipped rear spoiler and lower door sills, and five-spoke 18-inch wheels. Inside, a host of changes work to give the cabin a more upscale feel: genuine wood trim adorns the steering wheel, door trim and shift knob, Nappa leather embellishes the seats, door panels, and center console, and black tricot fabric enhances the headliner and sun visor along with the A, B and C pillars. The package includes everything found in the SX Premium and Technology packages.

Optima Hybrid
The Optima Hybrid is motivated by a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine that pairs with an electric motor that was upgraded with more power for the latest model year. A new starter generator and an improved battery pack were two other recent revisions.

With both its gas and electric powerplants running, the sedan produces 199 horsepower and a healthy 235 lb-ft of torque. That's more torque than any competing hybrid, and, uniquely, it's sent to the front wheels through a smooth-shifting conventional six-speed automatic transmissions. Rival hybrids use continuously variable transmissions (CVT), which some drivers find unpalatable due to the delayed "rubber-band" acceleration and high noise levels associated which such gearboxes.

For all of its advantages, the Optima Hybrid falls short in terms of overall fuel economy. Competitors like the Ford Fusion Hybrid carry significantly more impressive EPA mileage ratings.

Outside, the Optima Hybrid has been refreshed for the latest model year with an updated front grille design, a new wind-cheating front bumper, Hybrid-exclusive LED headlights and new Hybrid fender badges. Carryover aerodynamic enhancements like a lower ride height, an active flap system and underbody panels help the Optima Hybrid achieve a low 0.26 drag coefficient.
The Optima Hybrid is offered in LX and EX trim levels.

The LX base model comes standard with a power driver's seat, automatic climate control, a 4.3-inch instrument cluster display, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, push button start with a smart key, power windows and locks, A/C, an AM/FM/CD sound system with six speakers and USB/AUX input jacks, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, keyless entry, cruise control, a trip computer and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The EX adds navigation with an eight-inch screen and back-up camera, UVO infotainment, an 8-speaker Infinity audio system, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Occupant Safety
Every Optima is fitted with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems, electronic brake-force assist and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Key Competitors
The Optima is gunning for the major midsize sedan players including the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry, the Ford Fusion and the Nissan Altima.

The Optima Hybrid competes for the wallets of environmentally-conscious buyers against mega-mpg machines like the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid in addition to the less efficient (but less expensive) Chevrolet Malibu Eco.