2019 Kia Optima first drive review: A solid choice with great value | Tech News

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The Kia Optima might not be your first thought when it comes to midsize sedans, but with its good looks, strong turbo engine and huge smattering of onboard tech, it’s certainly worth your attention. And with a number of updates for the 2019 model year, the Optima is better suited to battle fresh-faced competitors like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Though the Optima’s onboard tech and overall design get a nice boost for 2019, its engine options remain unchanged. The base LS and S models are available with a 2.4-liter, naturally aspirated inline-4 engine, while the up-level EX gets a 1.6-liter turbo I4. My tester, meanwhile, packs a 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine, and it really makes this Optima scoot.

Sport mode, please

The 2.0T engine is only available on range-topping SX trims, and sends 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. That’s a healthy amount of grunt for a midsize sedan, though the Honda Accord 2.0T offers more power — 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet — as does the V6-powered Toyota Camry, with 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet.

Optima 2.0T drivers get Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart driving modes. In Comfort, the transmission is slow to shift and throttle response is decidedly lazy. Sport mode helps things dramatically, offering quicker shifts and much more urgency to the power delivery. Eco mode numbs things further for the sake of efficiency, and the Smart setting adapts to your driving style, but it’s the Sport tune that I find myself using more often. This is the Optima I want to drive all the time.

There is almost 16 cubic feet of space in the trunk. Think of all the Diet Dr Pepper you could carry!


Emme Hall/Roadshow

SX models also get a slightly stiffer suspension, which helps keep this four-door sedan composed as I wind along Georgia backroads. Quick, precise steering complements a comfortable ride quality. The Optima 2.0T is plenty competent when pushed, but definitely not the most fun-to-drive car in the segment. The Mazda6 offers better connection between car and driver, and the Honda Accord, in addition to having more power, feels better tuned for spirited driving.

Driver assistance for days

Kia makes nearly all of its advanced driver assistance systems standard across the board. Blind-spot monitoring with lane-change assist, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert were already standard across the Optima range, but Kia adds lane departure warning, forward collision warning and lane-keeping assist to the roster for 2019. Every Optima also comes with a driver attention warning system that warns you if it thinks you need to rest.

The only technology that isn’t standard is adaptive cruise control; to get this traffic jam stress-buster, you’ll need to upgrade to EX or SX trims. On the Optima, you can start ACC at any speed — even below 10 miles per hour — and it brings the car to a complete stop in traffic. It’ll even allow the car to pause for a few seconds and continue without any additional input from the driver.

3 levels of infotainment

Kia’s UVO infotainment system is a favorite here at Roadshow, and for 2019, it gets a slight overhaul. Housed on a new, standard, 8-inch touchscreen, UVO is now divided into three levels: UVO Play, UVO Link and UVO Link with Navigation.

The base UVO Play system has only a few features: radio, iPod compatibility, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Step up to S and EX models and UVO Link adds satellite radio, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and onboard vehicle diagnostic tools. Finally, as its name suggests, UVO Link with Navigation adds factory nav to the aforementioned list of features. The new navigation system is easy to use, with quick inputs, crisp graphics and clear directions. It’s easy to enter a destination via the Optima’s voice-recognition tech as well — it has no trouble understanding complex street names.

Lookin’ good

The 2019 Optima gets redesigned LED runnings lights and fog lights, and reshaped headlamps. Kia says the Optima’s front fascia takes inspiration from the super-sexy Stinger sport sedan, but I only kind of see it. Overall, the cosmetic changes, front and rear, button up an already-attractive midsize sedan.

Top SX trim now sports some wicked-cool two-tone red and black seats.


Kia

Much of the interior carries over unchanged for 2019, though the top SX trim gets some fancy, two-tone red-and-black leather seats. The Optima boasts a comfortable, spacious cabin with room for up to five adults, and though trunk space is generous at 15.9 cubic feet, a Honda Accord or Hyundai Sonata will carry more junk in its trunk.

Tough competition

The Kia Optima might not be the largest, sportiest or even prettiest car in its class, but it offers a well-rounded, vastly competent alternative for folks who don’t want just another Camry.

Kia has yet to announce pricing for the redesigned 2019 model, but don’t expect it to be too far off from 2018’s numbers. A starting price of around $23,000 is a safe bet, with 2.0T models starting just above $30,000. With its incredible set of adaptive safety tech — not to mention that best-in-class 10-year/10,000-mile warranty — the Optima represents an incredible value that’s definitely worthy of your consideration.

Editors’ note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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