2016-05-06 10.51.43

REVIEW: 2016 Kia Optima SX Limited – Can It Match the Best?

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2016-05-06 10.51.43

The 2016 Kia Optima SX Limited is one of the best-looking, highest value mid-size vehicles cars in America.  Its excellent drivetrain is just icing on the cake.

What is it? 

The Kia Optima SX Limited is designed to compete with the two best-selling cars in America, the Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry.

Actually, its mission is even tougher. This particular trim is intended to go head to head with the top-spec, V6 trims of these legendary cars. Kia brings the best four-cylinder turbocharged engine in the mainstream automotive world to the fight, makes its car a bit larger, and packs it with all the goodies. Does it meet the benchmark set by the two legends?  We think it comes very close.

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Pricing and trims

Our 2016 Kia Optima SX LTD has an as-tested price of $ 36,615.  This is a bold price point for Kia to play in.

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The outstanding 2016 Honda Accord EX-L with Navi and Sensing tested four months ago impressed me so much it became my pick of the year as best mainstream car.  That vehicle carried a price tag of $30,646.  Could this top Kia model be worth 10% more money than Honda’s top Accord?  It may be depending upon what you value most in your vehicle.

Of course, the Optima starts at just $22,140.  However, we are not testing that stripped down base version.  So our expectations are adjusted accordingly.


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There is no safer mid-sized sedan than our 2016 Kia Optima SX LTD test vehicle.  It scored “Good” on every crash test and comes with “Superior” rated forward collision prevention.

Rear parking assist, an excellent backup camera, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring were all packed into this sedan to make a cocoon of safety.  It earns the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, and there is no higher standard.  Add to that a length that surpasses most in this segment, and you have what may well be the safety benchmark for the segment.


With 245 horsepower and a whopping 260 lb-ft of torque at a crazy-low 1,350 RPM, this Optima has much more than enough get up and go to be an outstanding daily driver.

The engine used to have a slightly higher power rating, but last year Kia modified it to have a bit less top-end power, with flatter power and torque curves for better fuel economy.  Smart move.  This is the best small turbocharged engine in any mainstream car in the U.S. (it is also found in Hyundai models).  It earned a spot on the Three Great Turbos That Buck the Trend list we created a year ago.

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In spirited driving, the Optima SX Limited is pulled along by a wave of torque.  Its six-speed automatic transmission ensures that there are no unnecessary shifts.  Here, the Optima matches the V6 variants of the Accord and Camry.  When a quick burst of speed is needed, for instance when merging onto the highway, or when passing on a two-lane road, the Optima SX Limited has more than you will need.

If there is turbo lag here, I’m not feeling it.  This is how a small turbo should behave, and every German automaker should copy it because theirs suffer by comparison.  That said, the Accord V6 can outshine the Optima SX Limited’s small turbo when you really start pushing it.

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There are paddle shifters on the wheel, but this being a torque-enhanced engine, as opposed to a high-revving engine with power at the top end, they didn’t help me enjoy the car.

The same was true of the drive modes – I left it in Normal during my drive after a quick test of Sport.  Note that in a turbo-equipped Mini Cooper I tested this month, I had to do the opposite to enjoy the car’s power.

Ride and handling

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From your driveway to work, the 2016 Kia Optima SX Limited handles well.  Its steering is quick, meaning a small effort results in a big result.  Average bumps are smoothed out, but some larger ones result in an unflattering crash of the suspension.

Take this car and try to toss it from corner to corner on your favorite back road though, and it will not make you stay out longer.  The Accord does, so here the Optima again is just short of perfect.  Also, on the highway, our 11,000-mile test vehicle didn’t like to do straight without small steering inputs.  Honda has a clear advantage here, as its Accord EX-L With Sensing has Lane Keeping Assist that drive itself straight down the highway with no steering input.


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The Optima SX Limited’s seats are the best looking we have ever seen in a mainstream sedan.  Tufted with a diamond-stitch pattern, they are exactly what should be in an Alfa Romeo 4C or similar dream car.  They are also quite functional, with heat and ventilation, and power adjustment and memory.

Comfort is above average, but not perfect.  On long highway slogs, we could feel some parts of the seat through the padding, something we bet one would not notice on a test drive.  This is the upside of reading a review of a well-worn test car driven for many miles during the week of testing.

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The rear seats in this top-spec Optima lead the field.  With heat and more legroom than in many large cars, six-foot teens behind six-foot adults still have about a foot of legroom from their knees to the back of the front seat.  If you will be hauling clients in your mid-size sedan, the Optima will more than accommodate.


The Optima’s large trunk is typical of the mid-size sedan segment.  More than enough space is inside the car to hold stuff, but here is one place that reminds a tester why everyone is migrating to crossovers.  Under the cargo floor is a compact spare, which we applaud.  Maybe we are being overly picky, but when we came out of the store holding bundles and pushed the fob, the trunk would pop and then not rise.  Playing with the trunk, it seemed like it was supposed to rise, but the rubber gasket was sticking it shut.  A minor gripe, but remember, this car is priced above the best in this segment.

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Infotainment and controls

The infotainment experience in the Optima SX Limited is easy to like.  The large screen in the center dash works well.  The menus are simple to use, and we loved the fully-integrated Pandora app.  Our test car did not have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but if you shop for a Kia, it may be in the cars you test, since it is coming to most vehicles this year.  The included navigation system worked well and again reminded us that many of the “premium” brand vehicles we test at $36K don’t have navigation.

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So does the 2016 Kia Optima SX Limited beat the best in the business?  If you value the look of the Optima – we think it’s gorgeous – or if you plan to have adults in the backs seat regularly, and drive it like an adult, the Optima may well beat the best.

However, the V6 versions of the Accord and Camry have their strengths as well, with few weaknesses.  Some people would prefer not to be in a car they see at every street corner, and the Optima has that advantage.   The Kia and Hyundai brands also offer longer drivetrain warranties than do the Honda and Toyota brands.

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Were this Kia priced at or below the leaders in the segment, it would be easier to say that it is equal to the best.  The Optima SX Limited being priced about $3k more than the best Accord may be its biggest drawback.  It also can’t match the Accord in spirited driving.

Our suggestion would be to cross shop the default cars in this segment.  The 2016 Kia Optima SX Limited is such a strong match to the best we think many buyers may prefer it based on its looks and styling alone.

2016 Kia Optima SX Limited

Base price: $22,140

Price as tested, $36,615 including $825 destination charge:  

Options: None


  • Unique, Classy Styling Outside
  • Seats That Elevate the Optima’s Appeal
  • Fantastic Drivetrain


  • Highway Steering Effort Greater Than Typical
  • Seat Comfort On Long Drives
John Goreham

John Goreham