Kia's design renaissance has been one of the more impressive stories in the auto industry over the past several years, as the South Korean company has installed handsome offerings in nearly ever segment it competes in. And while the Kia Optima's impactful look has lost some of its luster since its debut, the 2017 model still ranks among the best looking cars in the highly competitive mid-size sedan segment.

Pricing and Equipment

The 2017 Kia Optima starts at $23,095 (including $895 for destination) for the LX trim, while the LX 1.6T ($25,035), EX ($26,335), SX ($30,835), and SX Limited ($36,985) grades follow. Despite all the different trim levels, it's the reasonably priced EX we expect to be most popular, thanks to a long list of amenities:

  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Dual power-heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators
  • Leather seats
  • Seven-inch color audio display
  • Rearview camera
  • Automatic headlights
  • LED daytime running lights
  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Tilt and telescopic steering column
  • Hill start assist

The 2017 Optima typically offers two or three package choices per trim. In the EX's case, owners can choose the Premium ($3,600) and Premium Plus ($2,100) packages, the latter built on the purchase of the Premium package. Combined, the two packages deliver a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, a 10-speaker Harman Kardon Logic audio system, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and such safety features as emergency braking and smart cruise control.

The 2017 Kia Optima is available with three engine options:

The Optima LX and EX models use a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, this volume engine allows most Optimas to return 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway in EPA testing.

The LX 1.6T is the only grade offering an efficiency-focused 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, this model returns 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, the best in the Optima range (aside from the Hybrid and Plug-In models, naturally).

The SX and SX Limited models utilize a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to fill the performance role V6 engines occupied a decade ago, offering up 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This engine fills Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, these models make an EPA-rated 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

Kia also offers Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-In Hybrid models, which are marketed separately.

Performance Pros

Kia Optima
  • The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine really does offer V6-equivalent power and should satisfy shoppers who insist on a speedier family sedan.
  • Switch to manual mode and the six-speed automatic fires off quick upshifts. Mid-size family sedans aren't usually fun, but the Optima does a good impression of it.
  • The Optima passes over potholes and railroad tracks with composure, presenting drivers with a stable, relaxed driving character.

Performance Cons

  • You'll need to manage your expectations with the 1.6-liter turbo engine. This engine is tuned to deliver top fuel economy, so it doesn't have the performance reputation common among turbocharged engines.
  • The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is outclassed by competing units from Ford and Volkswagen. It performs well under hard acceleration, but it's dimwitted and slow to respond to sudden changes, like you might experience on curvy roads, or on hills, where the trans occasionally needs to hold a gear.

Interior Pros

  • The Optima's UVO infotainment system has a shallow learning curve and requires a minimal amount of fiddling, unlike some of the competition.
  • If you're willing to pay, the top-of-the-range SX Limited is borderline luxurious, with quilted Nappa leather upholstery, advanced cruise control, and a delicious Harman Kardon audio system.
  • The Optima's rear seat offers sufficient headroom, despite the coupe-like roofline.

Interior Cons

Kia Optima
  • The area immediately around the driver isn't as driver-focused as in previous Optimas. The upside is that the front seats feel a modicum more spacious.
  • The front seats are comfortable, but they lack lateral support.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Kia continues to deliver exceptional value for money, standard amenities like keyless entry, a power driver's seat, and a rearview camera, even on base models. And where the best-selling model in this segment continues to offer standard steel wheels, Kia supplies alloy wheels across the model range, an advantage we like.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

The current Optima's exterior design represents a carryover from the 2016 restyle, but you'll have to look hard to find differences between the current and most recent generations. We like the current look, but the previous “wow” factor has long since tempered with time.

The Bottom Line

The Kia Optima supplies the look of a far more expensive sedan, but for a price well within the budget of a midsize sedan buyer. Although it's hard for us to wrap our minds and wallets around a $37,000 SX Limited, the EX with standard leather seats is about $11,000 less. Choose one or both EX packages and you'll come away with one of the best-equipped models in this class for about $32,500.