Written by James Hamel
Overview (Letter Grade after 8 Categories: A Minus)
Kia was once the sorry sad sack bargain basement car brand in the auto universe but nowadays what with it topping quality rankings above the likes of Lexus and Porsche all while giving its latest models a dash of design panache one could never have predicted just a decade ago when a car as stylish as the 2017 Kia Optima would never have been predicted by even the savviest automotive psychic. Back then Kia generally made vehicles that either looked dull or downright wacky to the extreme.
Case in point—both the forgotten Kia Opirus and the odd duck 7-seat Rondo hatchback which we could only locate less than 300 of them still for sale in the Continental U.S.A. during a search of the iSeeCars.com databanks. Fast forward to today and Kia is selling over 100,000 units of its style-box known as the Soul and its Optima family sedan leads the segment for style, luxury and panache. So what happened? Well somewhere along the way it appears that Kia has become somewhat of an aspirational brand, no joke. And not just because of their 10 year/100,000 mile warranties either.
Take the Audi with a $15,000 price cut known as the Kia Optima. Not only does it boast what is bar none the most emotionally appealing appearance in the family sedan class but it also boasts an exemplary array of powertrains ranging from a class leading hybrid to a fire breathing turbocharged model (as tested here) and even the base 2.4 liter 4-cylinder with 185 horsepower is a refined and able companion.
We just happen to like Kia’s hybrid and turbo variants of which there is also a blown 1.6-liter turbo on offering this model year which is more efficient than the 2.4 yet still gives 178 horsepower through a capable 7-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox which was all-new for 2016. Soon we will be reviewing the Optima hybrid but Kia is also marking out the 2017 model year by introducing the first ever Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid.
So, has Kia taken up the art of Black Magic or did it send all of its engineers off for training at Hogwarts’s? While those are all fine theories, it just appears that the 2017 Kia Optima has finally caught up with the benchmark players in the family sedan class and is ready to compete for your hard-earned new car dollar.
What we Loved about the 2017 Kia Optima
- The Styling is still head turning gorgeous
- Interior quality, design and attention to detail are above class norm
- Harmon Kardon audio system is best in the family sedan class bar none.
What we Didn’t Love about the 2017 Kia Optima
- It can get pricey as you move up the trims and engine choices
- Interior layout not quite as well conceived compared to last year
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as of yet
Exterior Appearance (10 out of 10)
While not exactly a huge departure from the previous generation’s styling, the 2017 Kia Optima sedan is unquestionably handsome in a way that reminds you of a finely tailored suit. There is no extra visual frumpiness or spurious creases or slashes in the bodywork. And in that sense, Kia was quite wise in styling the second generation Optima this way as it will no doubt age just as well as the “old” but still modern looking first generation model.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Ease of Use (9 out of 10)
As with most Kia products lately, everything about the interior of the 2017 Kia Optima has a definitive and noticeable feel good factor. Plus you get the added bonus of clear, high quality and highly functional controls which prove some auto designers still know what they are doing.
In other words, everything feels nice when you touch it plus even a driver who has never driven an Optima will be able to figure out the dash layout in no time. Hey, not everyone will sacrifice ease of use for some higher design acumen.
As for interior roominess, the 2017 Kia Optima may only trail the likes of the ridiculously spacious 2017 Volkswagen Passat R-line we recently drove but for most families the comfy rear seat with ample legroom and an impressive 15.9 cubic feet of trunk space. Surely enough for the in-law’s luggage when they arrive for a one month visit. Or perhaps room for shovels, pick-axes and, ahem, other stuff meant for digging large and deep holes. Not that we are here to judge.
Frankly, we are quite sure even your cantankerous in-laws will appreciate the truly impressive interior build quality and materials choices inside your new 2017 Kia Optima. Then you can tell them about how Kia recently topped a JD Power quality survey above Lexus and Porsche. Won’t that make you look smart? Even to your in-laws.
Technology (9 out of 10)
Kia never misses a beat. Although it only recently announced it would feature Apple Carplay and Android Auto on its 2017 Optima and 2017 Sorento, everyone who already purchased an Optima will be able to download the feature via the handy UVO infotainment system. So, yes, Kia is able to retroactively download Apple Carplay into the 2017 Optima with the help of the already quite handy UVO system.
As it stands, UVO is a very decent infotainment system which is very easy to interact with via the center mounted touchscreen, it syncs to your smartphone in less than 10 seconds according to our tests with an iPhone 6s all while giving buyers the option of a nicely detailed navigation system which never got us lost. Also of great importance is the fact that safety features like a back-up camera, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, a front impact alert with autonomous braking system as well as lane departure warning all featured in our top of the line SX test model.
Finally, we are making special mention of the 2017 Kia Optima’s optional Harmon Kardon Quantum Logic Premium Surround Sound 630 watt, 10 speaker audio system is without question the finest system available in any car under$40,000. Not a family sedan, not even entry level luxury makers. This system offers terrific audio clarity and brings out parts of your favorite songs that you will swear you never noticed before. This system is that good.
Fuel Economy (8 out of 10)
Rated at just 22 city and 32 highway, the 2017 Kia Optima turbo we tested manages a decent 25 miles per gallon highway on regular gas. Our tester had the most powerful motor Kia offers with the Optima so if efficiency matters more to you check out their hybrid variant which returns an average 38 miles per gallon or the non-turbo engine which manages 30 miles per gallon according to EPA tests. In our week with the 2017 Kia Optima fuel economy hovered around 23 miles per gallon but we couldn’t resist using the turbo like hooligans. Your mileage may vary.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Rankings (10 out of 10)
Were you not paying attention when we told you that the Optima recently was singled out by JD Power and Associates for being top in Initial Quality in its vehicle class? That bodes well for long term reliability as Kia as a brand also was ranked tops among automakers above even the likes of Porsche and Lexus for quality. And to top it off your Optima will still have that awesome 10 year/100,000 mile warranty.
Safety (10 out of 10)
See the above technology section for a run down on what advanced safety features that are available on the 2017 Kia Optima but you only need to know one thing. It was named a “Top Safety Pick Plus” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Enough said.
Performance and Value (9 out of 10)
At a bit over $36,000 fully loaded out the door, we can see that the Kia Optima Turbo SX Limited is quite an expensive car if you still see Kia as a “value brand.” Well, they still are only now the value comes in the form of class leading quality and reliability as well as a level of luxury, features and style unmatched in the mainstream competition. Literally, this Optima tester was so lavishly equipped we would have believed it had a kitchen sink since even after a week we were sure we hadn’t utilized every gadget.
Stomp your right foot on the deliciously rev-happy 2.0 liter turbocharged 245 horsepower/265 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine perfectly coordinated with Kia’s own six-speed automatic. Yes, it’s just a “regular” automatic with the turbo engine. No double clutch and no CVT needed, asked for or required. The gearbox chooses gears quickly and without hesitation and always has the engine simmering on the edge of a boil should you need a quick dose of power. Fun it is, indeed.
Now this new Optima does fairly leave the last-generation model in the dust from a ride, steering and handling perspective. Whereas before the ride could feel jittery, wooden and at best uninspiring now there is a newfound prowess and confidence. It smooths out most ruts, potholes and expansion joints with far more ease than before and the steering feels nicely weighted for the average driver. It isn’t for a racetrack but the Optima was never intended for that purpose, hence the lovely Nappa leather, ventilated seats, awesome Harmon Kardon audio and what were we talking about?
So, there you go, the 2017 Kia Optima Turbo is a fun to drive family sport sedan. Or luxury sedan. Or whatever you want to call it.
The Final Numbers and the Competition (64 points out of a possible 70)
A great final score for the latest iteration of the Kia Optima Turbo SXL, this time boasting full capabilities as a luxury sport sedan competitor. It may not be as keenly balanced on the edge of its capabilities as, perhaps a turbocharged 4-cylinder Audi or BMW, but then if you routinely drive that way in everyday traffic you are clearly a selfish jerk. And probably someone who ekes their self-worth from a car badge so most likely the Kia isn’t for you, no matter how much fun it is, how well built or how stylish. And this Kia sedan has all of that in spades no matter how much money you spend.