Shoppers looking for a family sedan have a myriad of options these days, and just about all of these cars hit the mark for being comfortable, economical and safe. Kia’s entry into this market is the 2015 Optima, and it stands out from the crowd with striking styling and an appealing mix of features.
At its base trim level, the Optima is competitively priced and relatively well equipped with standard features. On the upper trim levels, the Optima gets fairly luxurious thanks to features like an easy-to-use touchscreen interface and heated and ventilated front seats. Also important to note are Kia’s warranty (one of the best in the industry), reliability and top-notch crash test scores.
Problematically, though, the rest of the Optima is less impressive when compared to its rivals. Both available engines come with respectable mileage estimates, but many other midsize sedans can do better these days. And while the Optima’s exterior styling is very attractive, there isn’t much of a sporty personality to match. It’s not like the lack of athletic handling is a deal breaker in a car like this, but know that the Optima is just less fun to drive than you might expect.
With such a dense field of competition, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to have to test-drive several competitors before you decide on a family sedan. The Kia Optima is very good and indeed earned a “B” rating from Edmunds, but class leaders like the 2015 Ford Fusion and Honda Accord might hold greater sway with you. The 2015 Hyundai Sonata (related to the Optima, but redesigned this year), 2015 Mazda 6 and 2015 Nissan Altima are also highly desirable choices. The 2015 Kia Optima has several strengths worth noting, and we certainly wouldn’t begrudge you for purchasing one. But it’s hard to call it a top pick for 2015.
No Video Content
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Kia Optima is a midsize sedan that comes in LX, EX, SX and SXL trim levels.
The LX comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a power height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The LX’s optional Convenience Plus package adds an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar adjustment), laminated (i.e., quieter) front door windows, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera and Kia’s Uvo telematics system.
With the EX, the upgraded windows, power driver seat and auto-dimming mirror come standard. You also get 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air-conditioning vents and leather upholstery.
Opting for the EX’s Premium package further equips the EX with a panoramic sunroof, the rearview camera, power-folding mirrors, an upgraded version of Uvo, a four-way power passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, driver memory settings and an eight-speaker Infinity sound system with HD radio. To this you can add the Technology package, which adds rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, an 8-inch touchscreen display and a navigation system.
The Optima’s SX trim level is equipped similarly to the EX, but also has 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, LED taillights, upgraded gauges with an integrated display screen and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The SX is also available with the turbocharged engine which comes with xenon headlights, a sport steering wheel and selectable drive modes. For the non-turbo SX, a Premium Technology package bundles the contents of the EX’s Premium and Technology packages. For the turbocharged SX, the Premium and Technology packages are again separate.
If you want your Optima fully decked out, there’s the top-of-the-line SXL that gets the complete contents of the turbocharged EX’s optional packages as standard. You also get unique 18-inch wheels, unique interior and exterior trim, LED foglights, an electronic parking brake and premium leather upholstery.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2015 Kia Optima is front-wheel drive. The LX, EX and SX come standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 192 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque is available on the SX and standard on the SXL. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The EPA estimates fuel economy with the 2.4-liter at 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway), while the turbocharged engine is rated at 24 mpg combined (20/31). In general, these numbers are a few mpg below those of other top family sedans. In Edmunds performance testing, a loaded Optima EX went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, which is an average time for the class. An SX with the turbocharged engine went from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is about a second slower than the average for a family sedan with an upgraded four-cylinder or V6 engine.
Standard safety features on the 2015 Kia Optima include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is available, as are rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot monitoring system. The optional upgraded Uvo telematics system (on the EX and above) includes roadside assistance, collision notification and driver restrictions and tracking for secondary drivers.
In Edmunds brake testing, an Optima EX came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet, a distance that’s a couple of feet shorter than the segment average. The turbocharged SX made this stop in 129 feet, a few feet longer than average but still acceptable for this class.
In government crash tests, the Optima earned the highest possible five stars for overall safety performance, with five stars for total frontal-impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Optima a top score of “Good” in its moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact, roof-strength and whiplash protection (head restraints and seats) tests. The Optima earned the second-best “Acceptable” rating in the agency’s small-overlap frontal-offset crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the 2015 Kia Optima, you’ll find a distinctly modern, European-influenced design, as well as good overall interior quality and an abundance of soft-touch materials. Things get even better in the SXL trim level with its luxury car level of standard equipment and premium leather upholstery.
Kia’s Uvo (pronounced “yoo-voh”) electronics interface system is similar to Ford’s Sync system (both are powered by Microsoft). Uvo provides voice control of cell phones and MP3 players as well as other services, such as POIs and turn-by-turn navigation. We’ve found that Uvo works quite well. The touchscreen interface in navigation-equipped Optimas is also easy to use for navigation purposes and operating the stereo.
The Optima has a fairly spacious cabin, with comfortable seats and a useful amount of legroom front and rear. Headroom in back is a bit tight due to the car’s rakish, coupelike roof line, and taller consumers should think twice about getting the optional panoramic sunroof, as it further decreases headroom. The Optima’s 15.4 cubic feet of trunk space is about average for its class.
The 2015 Kia Optima rides comfortably without isolating you from the environment, although the car’s numb steering detracts from the driving experience when the road gets twisty. Overall, though, driving the Optima is certainly pleasant. SX and SXL models come with a sport suspension that provides slightly sportier handling, though some may find the ride quality in these models a little too firm.
The high horsepower ratings on both engines are tempered somewhat by the fact that we’ve witnessed only average acceleration times. We’ve also found that the turbocharged engine is particularly sensitive to hot weather, and acceleration is noticeably slower in such conditions. But in everyday driving, the Optima has enough power for safe passing and merging, and the transmission is responsive and shifts smoothly.