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2019 Kia Optima Performance Review

Scorecard

Performance: 8.2

The 2019 Kia Optima won't blow you away with its athleticism, but neither is it a stodgy grocery-getter. The Optima gets decent power from its base engine, and two turbocharged engines are available. This Kia handles reasonably well for a sedan, and it rides smoothly, but its gas mileage ratings are near the bottom of the pack.

  • 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. The effect is more pronounced due to the near-luxury surroundings Kia has conjured up for the SX-L, but they've also managed to exorcise the powertrain harshness (especially at lower engine speeds) with which we've long associated four-cylinder Korean cars. In all, it's a far more refined package than even the previous well-mannered Optima." -- Autoweek (2016)

Acceleration and Power

The Optima features a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder base engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine is adequate for daily driving – not overly spirited but also not a plodder. You can opt for either of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines if you want more performance.

EX models feature a 1.6-liter engine that produces 178 horsepower, while SX models have a 2.0-liter engine that puts out 245 horsepower. The 1.6-liter is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, while the 2.0-liter features a six-speed automatic. Both of these turbocharged engines feel energetic and make the Optima noticeably quicker than the base engine.

The Optima gets below-average fuel economy with its base engine, earning an EPA-estimated 24 mpg in the city and 33 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. The 2.0-liter turbo-four gets the worst ratings of the Optima's three engines: 21/30 mpg city/highway.

  • 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)
  • "When you think of the 2016 Kia Optima as a mainstream midsize sedan, this car's strengths shine brighter. Take the base LX model with its newly available 1.6-liter turbo-four and dual-clutch automatic transmission that we drive later in the day, for instance. This little engine is a stout performer and feels nearly as punchy as the larger (and much more expensive) 2.0-liter unit." -- Automobile Magazine (2016)

Handling and Braking

Track-worthy handling has never been the Optima's goal, so don’t expect this car to keep up with the more agile midsize cars like the Mazda6, Honda Accord, or Toyota Camry. Still, this Kia delivers competent handling on winding roads and never feels overmatched. It also rides comfortably.

The Optima comes standard with front-wheel drive and a drive mode select with three settings (Normal, Sport, and Eco). Higher trims have a fourth driving mode (Smart).

  • "SX models also get a slightly stiffer suspension, which helps keep this four-door sedan composed as I wind along Georgia backroads. Quick, precise steering complements a comfortable ride quality. 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
  • "… 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
  • 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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