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.
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2018 Kia Optima Overview
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.
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:
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.
2018 Kia Optima Review
The 2018 Kia Optima, last re-designed in 2016, is one of the better-looking offerings in the highly-competitive midsize sedan class. In addition to a list of standard features that continue to make it a solid value, the 2018 model gets a sportier-looking new S trim level.
Although it sits near the top of the lineup, the best Kia Optima value is the EX model that features a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The starting price of $31,395 includes leather seats (heated in front), dual-zone automatic climate control, LED daytime running lights and taillights, and 17-inch wheels.
Moving up to the EX also offers buyers the choice of two option packages that offer everything from a panoramic sunroof to a slew of advanced active safety features
- Model: 2018 Kia Optima EX
- Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder
- Output: 185 hp / 178 lb-ft
- MPG: 24 City / 34 Hwy
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- Exterior color: Titanium Silver
- Interior color: Black Leather
- Options:Premium Package ($2,300, panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, power front passenger seat, LED front and rear reading lights, auto-dimming rearview mirror), Technology Package ($3,000, navigation, Harmon/Kardon surround sound, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams)
- Base Price: $26,495 (including $895 destination charge)
- As Tested:$31,795
- The Optima's balanced ride and crisp handling are above average for the midsize sedan class
- All models feature three selectable drive modes – eco, normal, and sport.
- A new steering system for 2018 offers better feedback – especially when cornering.
- The 1.6-liter turbo's seven-speed dual clutch automatic hesitates between gears and shifts roughly.
- Softer ride translates into more body lean in corners than previous versions.
- With a minimum EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon combined the Optima, though hardly thirsty, isn't as fuel efficient as a number of its competitors.
- Interior fit and finish – even in base models – is above average for the midsize class.
- The infotainment system, with a number of redundant knobs and buttons, is easy to operate, even for novice users.
- The front seats offer good side support, plenty of leg room and, on some models, diamond-pattern leather that's typically found only on high-end luxury vehicles.
- All trims are quiet, but you have to opt for the most expensive SX model to get the best sound insulation.
- Due to the sloping roofline, there's barely enough head room in back to accommodate six-footers.
- The current dashboard layout isn't as driver-oriented as it once was, and reaching for the infotainment touchscreen might be a stretch for some drivers.
Our Favorite Thing
Even as newer models come to market, the Optima's interior fit and finish remains well above average in the midsize class.
Our Least Favorite Thing
Although a rear view camera, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking assistance are all standard, advanced features like adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning are only available as part of expensive option packages on the top two trim levels.
Families – In an era when families are flocking to crossover SUVs, the Optima's comfortable ride, wide variety of engines, quality interior, and budget-friendly fuel economy make it a compelling alternative choice for a family hauler.
Safety Focused – It's hard to justify paying for a top trim Optima, then an extra $3,000 or $5,000 just to get the same advanced active safety features that are now standard equipment on the Toyota Camry.
The Bottom Line
Slick styling, class-above interior quality, great value, and a smooth, quiet ride make the 2018 Kia Optima a solid offering in the midsize class.