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Expert's Rating

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MPG

24 City / 34 Highway
Automotive Editor -

The Kia Optima exemplifies the South Korean brand's transition from bargain-basement oddity to serious market-wide contender. And for 2018, the Optima continues to stand toe-to-toe with anything in the midsize sedan segment in exterior and cabin aesthetics, standard and optional equipment and on-road performance, feel, and fuel economy.

What's New for 2018

Kia is introducing a sporty Optima S with the base 2.4-liter engine and killing last year's range-topping model, the SX Limited, instead offering a Limited Package on the turbocharged SX. Lesser changes include a standard seven-inch UVO infotainment system, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, and rear parking assist on all models. Individual trims receive minor equipment tweaks.

Kia Optima

Choosing Your Kia Optima

Apart from the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid models that are covered elsewhere, the front-wheel drive Optima sedan is available with one of three four-cylinder engines coupled to either a six-speed automatic or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The base engine is a naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four that puts out 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic. EPA ratings vary slightly over the three trim levels in which it’s offered, from 25 miles per gallon city, 36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined in the entry-level LX and 24/34/28 in the better-equipped Optima S and EX trims.

Those seeking greater fuel-efficiency will find it in the center of the Optima range. As its name implies, the LX 1.6T features a 178-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The smaller, turbocharged engine and efficient seven-speed dual-clutch transmission return EPA ratings of 28/37/31.

The peak of the Optima line in both price and power is the SX 2.0T. While the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four coupled to a six-speed automatic loses in the EPA game at 22/31/25, it does so while producing an impressive 245 hp and 260 lb-ft. Unsurprisingly, it's the quickest and fastest of the bunch.

The Optima line comprises five trim levels:

LX 2.4

The lowest-priced (at $23,395, including $895 Destination Charge) Optima embraces the maxim that there need not be anything basic about a base model by including a respectable amount of commonly extra-cost safety, comfort and convenience items.

These include a six-speaker audio system with a seven-inch touchscreen that offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, SiriusXM satellite radio, and integrated backup camera with auxiliary and USB audio input jacks. Bluetooth wireless connectivity and steering wheel-mounted audio (and cruise) controls and a 3.5-inch monochrome TFT display panel in the instrument cluster round out functional changes. Cloth upholstery is all you get at this price point.

The LX 2.4L also features 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-speed automatic transmission with Drive Mode Select (Normal/Sport/Eco modes), and a suite of safety features including blind spot detection, rear parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alert systems.

The only upgrade available is the $700 LX Convenience Package that provides a 10-way power driver’s seat with 2-way power lumbar adjustment and an auto up/down function for the front windows.

S 2.4L

The $24,395 S 2.4L trim level is new for 2018 and most noteworthy for its inclusion of the top-of-line SX 2.0T's sporty look in a more affordable package. The S 2.4L has a unique sporty-looking front bumper and 17-inch alloys plus front fog lamps, LED taillights, and a rear spoiler lifted directly from the SX.

Further hiding the fact that this is basically a Convenience Package-equipped LX 2.4L is its SX-like black cloth upholstery with leather trim and red accent stitching, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

A $1,000 panoramic sunroof package is available which includes a power-operated shade, overhead LED front and rear reading lamps, and gloss black door pillar and frame covers. A $1,300 Panoramic Sport Package combines the sunroof with unique 18-inch alloys, larger front brakes, and sport side sills with gloss black accent trim.

LX 1.6T

Of all the models in the Optima line, the $25,195 LX 1.6T is an odd duck. Not only is it the only model to feature the 1.6-liter turbo I-4 and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but it does so for an additional $1,100 over the base LX 2.4L model with Convenience Package when the only other difference is a “unique light gray finish” on its 16-inch alloys.

Granted, it does return better EPA numbers than any of its siblings, but it does so by utilizing a smaller, less powerful engine. The LX 1.6T has no available options.

EX 2.4L

The $26,495 EX 2.4L marks the engine’s last appearance in the Optima hierarchy, and the only appearance of “regular” leather upholstery. Designed to serve as the most luxurious non-sporting Optima model, it fills the role well with a 10-way power driver’s seat with 4-way power lumbar adjustment, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear A/C vents, heated front seats, satin chrome inside door handles and accents, a pair of rapid-charge USB ports, and push-button start.

The frosting appears on the exterior as well, including 17-inch alloys, LED running lights and taillights, power folding exterior mirrors, the Smart Key keyless entry system and the perfectly-named Smart Trunk which will pop open on its own just by sensing you standing near it for a few seconds with the Smart Key in your pocket. But those aren't the only premium toys you can get on your Optima. The rest, however, costs dearly.

The EX Premium Package, for instance, is $2,300, but that adds a 10-way power front passenger’s seat with power lumbar adjustments to match the driver’s side, ventilation for both seats to supplement the heating, the previously-mentioned panoramic sunroof package, ventilated front seats, and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.

Once the Premium Package is paid for a $3,000 EX Technology Package can be had. It includes an eight-inch touchscreen navigation display unit with real-time SiriusXM traffic, a 630-watt, 10-speaker Harman/Kardon surround audio system, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, an electronic parking brake, and auto-dimming headlamps.

SX 2.0T

The SX 2.0T starts at $31,395, although it starts with everything on the EX 2.4L and then adds the Premium Package. Beyond that, there's a sport-tuned suspension, unique 18-inch alloys, LED headlights that bend around turns, LED taillights, sport bumpers, chrome “Turbo” front fender garnish, paddle shifters, and black leather upholstery with red stitching.

Like the EX, there are only two options to choose from: the $3,000 SX Turbo Technology Package that's identical to the EX Technology Package and with that box checked, the $2,100 SX Turbo Limited Package, which offers three Nappa leather upholstery packages – Black, Ivory or Aubergine (a brownish purple) – with silver contrast stitching for the instrument panel and front and rear upper door trim, as well as a black suede headliner and pillar covers. Functional features include a leather-wrapped, D-shaped, heated steering wheel with perforated stitching and paddle shifters, heated outboard rear seats, rear side window sunshades, an around-view camera monitor and, since they apparently had some left over from last year’s SX Limited model, an “SXL” emblem.

CarsDirect Tip

Unsurprisingly, the range-topping SX 2.0T is the best of the bunch, and can be had with everything Kia offers, including many SX exclusives. But premium products come with premium price tags, and the SX is no different. Those looking to save money both at sale time and at the pump should look hard at the new S 2.4L model as for not much more than the base model you get access to its unique sport-oriented packages and features otherwise found only on the apex SX. As with last year, though, the EX remains the best value in the Optima range.

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