The midsize sedan segment is no longer a class of boring appliances designed simply to get you from point A to B. Segment leaders like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are actually fun to drive as well as aesthetically creative. When those cars are specced to be the top of their respective lines, they remain strong value propositions that threaten the justification for spending thousands more on their Lexus or Acura counterparts.
The 2019 Kia Optima is another compelling entry in the midsize sedan market, especially in its top-spec SX Turbo guise. Even before its 2019 facelift, the Optima was one of the better-looking sedans in the segment. On top of that, it's got a load of standard tech and is surprisingly nimble to boot. But is its refresh enough to keep it a worthy consideration among the segment's top players?
My Optima SX Turbo tester rings the cash registers at $32,395 (not including $920 for destination) and has features like heated and ventilated leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and a Harman Kardon premium audio system operated through an easy-to-use 8-inch touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Optima SX is also loaded with driver-assistance features such as adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation, lane-keep assist, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert. Other features include embedded navigation, LED headlights with automatic high beams and LED fog lamps.
The only option my tester lacks is the $3,800 SX Limited Package, which includes more exterior chrome, satin-finish wheels, quilted Nappa leather, heated rear seats, rear-door sunshades, power-folding outside mirrors and a surround-view monitor. That package would max the Optima's price to $36,195, which sits just below the MSRP of a comparably loaded Toyota Camry at $37,585 and a decked-out Honda Accord at $37,796.
But if you can live without the extra options the SX Limited Package offers, you're still getting an Optima that's comparable with near-luxury cars like the Acura TLX and Buick Regal, which when comparably equipped, cost about $8,000 and $4,000 more, respectively. As equipped, the Kia Optima SX is a value play, not only against these near-luxury offerings, but within its own midsize sedan class. Even in $22,900 base guise, the Optima comes standard with collision-mitigation braking, lane-keep assist, a driver attention monitor, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto -- not something I can say about other traditional midsizers.
The 2019 Optima gets a few subtle exterior tweaks that help it better resemble its sexier Stinger sibling. The most noticeable change is the more aggressive front bumper design followed by reworked headlights and taillights.
Behind the wheel, the Optima feels luxury-inspired, too. The low amount of noise, vibration and harshness approaches a premium level even if the ride quality feels more mainstream on the bumpiest roads. But on long stretches of interstate, the Optima eats up miles while providing all the comfort you could ask for. The seats are well-designed, like the rest of the cabin, and supportive enough that long distances won't leave you sore. The interior materials are commensurate with a car in the $30,000 range, but taken as a whole, my tester's red-and-black leather interior is a nice place to be.
When it comes to hauling your stuff, the Optima beats competition like the Camry and Malibu with its 15.9 cubic feet of trunk space. Interior room is pretty good, too, besting the Camry and Accord's front head room by more than 2 inches, and beating their front leg room by more than 3 inches. My 6-foot-5-inch photographer, who also happens to be my human measuring stick for interior room, loved how the Optima allowed him to stretch out in comfort.
What's likely to delight anyone who slides behind the Optima's wheel is its power. It's not a sports car, but it does offer 245 horsepower and all of its 260 pound-feet of torque is delivered from 1,350 to 4,000 rpm. With such a flat powerband, the Optima's six-speed automatic transmission works just fine. In an age when other midsize sedans boast eight- and 10-speed transmissions, the Optima's older gearbox still feels competitive. It shifts smoothly, and besides, the lack of gears doesn't hurt fuel economy too much. The 2.0-liter turbo-equipped Honda Accord gets 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, while the Optima gets 21/30 mpg. During my time with the Kia, I averaged 26.1 mpg.
The Optima's UVO link infotainment is near the top of the class when it comes to ease of use. It takes little brain power to navigate through the Optima's 8-inch touchscreen, but my favorite part is that Kia allows you to set shortcuts for your most used functions. I'm someone who likes to adjust audio settings often, so shortcutting those otherwise-buried settings into my presets allowed me to spend more time driving instead of fiddling.
The infotainment system's overall look could be more inspired, to my eyes, while the Roadshow crew generally thinks UVO is one of the simpler systems on the market today. Thankfully for my design-sensitive eye, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is there to hide what looks like a dated, borrowed-looking interface.
The midsize sedan segment is dwindling as more and more people move to crossovers and SUVs. There's good reason, too -- for a few thousand dollars more, a crossover can be about 90 percent as efficient and nimble as a sedan, but at the same time offers more space for people and cargo.
Still, in a time when crossovers are king, Kia's value-packed Optima offers a truly compelling sedan package. It does everything a midsize sedan should do well: it's comfortable, roomy, tech- and feature-laden and eats up miles almost as effortlessly as luxury sedans costing thousands more.
The Optima may not be all-new this year, but it certainly still feels fresh.