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2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo road trip

December 21, 2015
front of car

The 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo looks great – even on a rainy day – Anne Proffit photo

While Kia and Hyundai share corporate underpinnings, their finished products are remarkably different from one another. That’s why the 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo shouldn’t be approached as a Hyundai Eco in another package. Yes, they share a lot of hardware (particularly in the engine and transmission department), but beyond that these two Korean-built cars are very different from one another.

When Kia first updated the Optima mid-size front-wheel-drive sedan for 2011, it was a bold, unmistakable thrust into a nether region that was formerly owned by Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda. That midsize market has changed immensely over the past five years and now Kia is helping lead the way, as it did then. These days considered a mainstream, rather than a niche vehicle, the Optima has been slightly redrawn this year.

rear of car

The 2016 Kia Optima’s upswept rear is good for aerodynamic qualities – Anne Proffit photo

Rather than barreling through with totally new ideas as it did five years ago, Kia now uses all of the positives from its previous Optima generation and enhances them. The styling is a bit tidier, allowing the Optima to retain status as one of the handsomest sedans on American roads, and a true bargain, to boot.

An early December flight to Chicago, followed by a drive to Indianapolis for the Performance Racing Industry show presented a grand opportunity to get to know this car. While not significantly different from the previous model on the outside, the new Kia Optima LX Turbo is exceptionally changed inside, with far better use of space and a bit more space to use wisely.


The Optima’s dash has been updated in cohesive manner – Anne Proffit photo

Where the dash seemed compartmentalized on the previous model this 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo model has a far more cohesive office in which to work the road. Everything from essential gauges to infotainment items are displayed in a manner that makes all of them easy to access. The front seats were exceptionally comfortable and easy to adjust; the driver has full power with dual memories and there are manual adjustments for the passenger.

Kia’s approach to Optima has been biased toward luxury more than sport and with its great entry and exit lights, driver-retracting seat for entry/exit, folding outside mirrors and proximity key that allows access through buttons and touch pads, the 2016 Optima LX Turbo continues that ideology.


Kia uses a directly-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo engine to get 178 horsepower – Anne Proffit photo

My focus is always on running gear, and this Kia has sufficient power from its new direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 178 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 pound-feet of torque at a completely usable 1,500 rpm. While these figures are slightly lower than 2015’s for similar power plants, the drivability of this package, with its seven-speed dual clutch gearbox is seamless and a bit sportier than expected.

There are no paddle shifters, but one can use the floor-mounted unit. With three driving modes – eco, normal and sport – it’s easy to manipulate this car to do what the driver wants and needs in everyday motoring. The Kia Optima’s MacPherson front struts and multi-link rear suspensions are comfort-based in two of three modes, and Kia’s motor-driven power steering feels exceptionally direct. All-wheel disc brakes with ABS stop this 3,224-pound car well and seamlessly. Kia fit quiet and responsive Michelin 205/65R 16-inch tires on twinned, five-spoke alloy rims.


The gauge cluster is easy to see and complete – Anne Proffit photo

The 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo is intended to return excellent fuel mileage and this car does precisely that. Rated at 28/39/32 from its 18.5-gallon tank, the Optima easily cruises at 39-40 mpg to and from Indianapolis and our final tank returned nearly 43 mpg (!) using regular fuel; the Optima regularly gave more than 30-mpg around town, even when we were in a hurry. Parking this sedan is easy with the rear camera that’s crisp – except when coated with rain and road crud.

Pricing on the 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo reasonable. It has a list price of $27,415 that encompasses a single option of the LX Technology Package ($2600): dual zone climate control with rear vents, 8-inch display navigation system, power driver’s seat with lumbar, memory and folding mirrors, center console with USB charger, aux and dual 12-volt outlets, blind-spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, auto dimming rearview mirror and LED tail lights. I never used the rear cross traffic alert; it was one “nanny” too many for me.

rear seats

Space and amenities mark the rear of the Kia cabin – Anne Proffit photo

With nearly 105 cubic feet of passenger volume, there’s more than enough space in this car for five people, who will all be quite comfortable during a ride. Rear seat passengers have access to air flow and 12-volt/USB plugs to keep all happy during a trip. There are pockets in the seat backs and cup holders in all four doors.

Kia claims 15.9 cubic feet of trunk space but it feels like more than that – anything that tumbles from a bag in the trunk requires a climb-in to fetch, but since the lift-over isn’t terrible, even a shorty can get in and retrieve that which might otherwise be lost.

The exterior of this handsome Optima sedan is moss gray and Kia fits beige cloth interior. I’d likely go for a darker interior, as everything I touch gets dirty, but your personal experiences could be different.

front seats

The 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo is a comfy ride for humans and dogs – Anne Proffit photo

As a driver who’s concerned with ease of use, I’m pleased with the ambiance of the Kia Optima LX Turbo and especially like the ease of pairing my phone, the driving info available to me on the right side of the steering wheel (along with cruise control, which is excellent); the steering wheel’s left side controls audio and phone and all are simply accessed. I like the fact that Kia includes full gauges – there is a temperature gauge on this car – and I applaud the automatic lights that come on when it’s raining without a prod.

The 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo had just over 2300 miles on it at pickup and was returned around 3,000 on the odometer. It braved sun, rain, heat (yeah, heat in December) and cold during our near-week together and kept this normally-combative driver under a calm, tight leash. Of all the Kia Optima models I’ve driven, I’ve got to say this one could be my favorite.

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit

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