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U.S. News Best Price Program

2020 Kia Optima Performance Review


Performance: 7.3

The 2020 Kia Optima has a comfortable ride and capable turbocharged engine options. However, some of its rivals are more athletic.

  • "While we would never confuse this midsize family sedan with a BMW, Audi or Cadillac sports sedan, the 2017 Kia Optima delivers performance and ... handling a cut above most of its peers." -- Kelley Blue Book (2017)
  • "On the road, our Optima was 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." -- Autotrader (2017)
  • "Stoplight acceleration is smooth and lag-free, while highway comfort is superb, thanks to well-controlled tire and wind noise. … In all, it's a far more refined package than even the previous well-mannered Optima." -- Autoweek (2016)

Acceleration and Power

You can choose from three powertrains in this Kia. The base model comes with a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission. Two turbocharged options are available. The EX trim features a 1.6-liter turbo-four rated at 178 horsepower. It comes mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The top-of-the-line SX gets a 2.0-liter turbo-four that produces 245 horsepower. It's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The base engine is serviceable for daily driving, but it’s not going to wow anyone. Both turbocharged engines feel energetic and make the Optima noticeably quicker. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but the seven-speed has trouble finding the right gear.

The Optima gets below-average fuel economy with its base engine, earning an EPA-estimated 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The 1.6-liter turbo-four gets the best ratings in the lineup, earning 27 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, while the 2.0-liter turbo-four gets the worst at 21/30 mpg city/highway.

  • "In LX and S guise, Kia’s midsize Optima is geared more toward comfort, and the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower is adequate for most drivers. The Optima EX, with its turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, ups the torque quotient while returning 37 mpg on the highway, aided by a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that lacks the refinement of the conventional 6-speed automatic." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The turbocharged 1.6-liter has plenty of power available, but the shift-happy transmission makes it difficult to tap into the power at most speeds. A zero-to-60-mph sprint takes 7.7 seconds, a bit quicker than average. The more powerful 2.0-liter turbo takes 6.7 seconds." -- Edmunds (2018)
  • "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 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." -- Autotrader (2017)

Handling and Braking

The Optima is not the most agile vehicle in the midsize car class, but it remains composed and balanced on twisty roads and rides smoothly over most pavement. It has a drive mode select with Normal, Eco, and Sport settings, as well as an available Smart setting in higher trims. Front-wheel drive comes standard.

  • "Quick, precise steering complements a comfortable ride quality [in SX trims]. The Optima 2.0T is plenty competent when pushed, but definitely not the most fun-to-drive car in the segment. The Mazda6 offers better connection between car and driver, and the Honda Accord, in addition to having more power, feels better tuned for spirited driving." -- CNET (2019)
  • "… the heavily loaded Optima felt plush and controlled, not overwhelmed, handling that duty with an impressive aplomb and reminding us that you don't always need an SUV or a crossover to carry people." -- Kelley Blue Book (2019)
  • "The Optima corners with surprising competence compared to its otherwise unimpressive driving dynamics, even though handling limits are rather low on paper. The narrow tires howl loudly, but the car remains composed and predictable." -- Edmunds (2018)
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2020 Kia Optima

MSRP: $23,390 - $32,190

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