Mountain Wheels: Kia Optima strays into Euro luxury territory
2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo
MSRP: $29,690; as tested, $35,315
Powertrain: 245-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine; six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 25 combined (22 city, 32 highway)
Further proof of the continued rise of Kia Motors’ star, the all-new 2016 Optima takes a lot of the over-the-top goodness from Kia’s slightly inexplicable K900 luxury barge and its larger, premium Cadenza sedan, and makes it all approachable, affordable and pleasant.
Scale, amenity, layout and design all dovetail into an impressive, really five-passenger-friendly machine with enough size and presence to be pretty much left alone by the inexplicably angry Front Range skiers as my plates caused me to impersonate one of those dreaded Californians on an eastbound I-70 trip last Saturday afternoon. That alone, a major accomplishment.
The new Optima is not at all the vehicle you might conjure from the company’s baby-steps past. Instead, this is a big, solid and sexy-looking machine that might pass for an Audi A7 or one of Lexus’s bigger sport tourers if you took off the badging. It’s grown to a 110.4-inch wheelbase, is 1.4 inches wider overall and sports a positively gigantic 15.9-cubic-foot trunk, which totally absorbed a ski bag with the help of the 60/40 folding rear seats.
It’s also got a wide range of forward-motion choices, including a new, 178-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo four that’s attached to a new, European-style seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission. My SX tester received the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo, good for a fulsome 245 HP, and never at any time felt laggy or lax, especially at pass altitude. A 29 MPG average (much higher than the 25 combined city/highway MPG rating) was also the reality during my travels to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Breck. A third engine, the naturally aspirated 2.4 liter four-cylinder, is also available.
That wider, somewhat longer stance gives the Optima a smooth, well-planted and confident feel, which really blossomed on a trip over Loveland Pass (you’re going to want more aggressive winter tires than the standard issue, I will add). Power was plentiful and the steering precise, all pretty nice for the size of the car.
Principally, it’s the Euro-esque finishings that bring it all nicely together, both outside and in. Cabin design accentuates the length and breadth of the whole deal, with chrome-edged windows pressing far back into that faux hatchback rear.
Up front, there’s a much more aggressive and angular face, modified a bit from the giant K900, with a litany of 2016-worthy touches like the LED-underlined HID headlamps, various stylistic vents and ports, plus some red brake calipers to punch it all up. Way back, you get some very prominent aero treatments courtesy of a raised trunk lid and even full Formula 1-inspired spoilers under the rear bumper.
On the inside, a splash of red highlight stitching, a flat-bottomed race wheel that seems like it came from an Audi TT and an absolutely Euro-luxury-worthy range of aids, controls and electronic gadgetry makes the package all pretty plush for a just-under $30,000 base price. The surfaces are accentuated with piano black trim, some aluminum-look splashes and tastefully modern angles throughout.
By adding the SXT technology package ($4,800), my Optima gained those super-bright headlamps, an absolutely gigantic, full-cabin moonroof and a rather impressive 10-speaker, 630-watt Harmon/Kardon surround sound system. Safety tools including front collision warning, lane departure, rear cross traffic alerts and a sophisticated smart cruise control and autonomous early braking system were also part of the upgrade, as well as brilliant LED interior lighting and even a surround-view backup and parking camera system.
Does that all sound like a laundry list on a $60,000 German import? You betcha. Even the less-optioned models get navigation systems loaded with improved graphics, Google search functions and much easier connections to your Apple or Android smartphone; the aluminum pedals, well-designed audio and charging ports and blazingly bright instrumentation — complete with a six-stage trip computer — all serve to further reinforce the car’s ever-improving status.
Mostly, I marveled at the spacious nature of the car, with its wide-opening doors, its supportive seating (great side and lumbar support) and a generally roomier-than-expected layout, even in the rear seating.
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