2018 Kia Optima: Beauty and Brains

Strong points
  • Comfortable cabin
  • Sleek design
  • Lots of available features
Weak points
  • Resale value could be better
  • Tilted seating position because of low roofline
  • Some unwanted road noise
Full report

Times are tough for midsize sedans, as they used to be bread-and-butter vehicles for every mainstream manufacturer doing business in North America. With the current shift to SUVs, passenger cars are losing ground, and yet, they’ve never been so good.

A midsize sedan offers space, comfort, refinement and fuel economy, but today’s consumers have grown to appreciate a higher driving position and the added feeling of safety provided by an all-wheel drivetrain. Not only must the 2018 Kia Optima battle segment stalwarts such as the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata, but it has to be alluring enough on the showroom floor to pull shoppers away from the Kia Sportage and Kia Sorento.

Not an easy task, that’s for sure, but the Optima’s design does help quite a bit. It’s modern, sleek and eye-catching, with a slight hint of the trendy sportback-style profile. The top-shelf SX and SXL trims also get some extra flair with 18-inch alloy wheels, red-painted brake callipers, a honeycomb grille and a subtle trunklid spoiler.

The interior design is elegant, with just the right amount of brightwork and good-quality materials. Our SXL Turbo tester also benefitted from quilted leather upholstery, a flat-bottomed wheel, black headliner trim and some additional aluminum accenting. It looks good.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

The 2018 Kia Optima is also loaded with features, at least in the upper trim levels. Heated front seats are standard across the board, while power adjustments for the driver and a heated wheel are included in all but the base LX grade. A panoramic power sunroof, a power front passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are all available, among other things. Nothing’s missing here compared to what’s offered in the Accord and Camry.

The Optima’s low roofline means front-seat occupants might have to set their seatback at more pronounced angle than they would in some other midsize sedans, but otherwise, it’s easy to get comfortable here, even for long drives. The rear seat cushions are a little low, but headroom is among the best in its class, and there’s sufficient legroom for everyone. As is the case with pretty much every other sedan on the market, the bench seat is designed to better accommodate two posteriors instead of three. Trunk space is generous, unless we opt for the hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Kia—their battery packs take up a fair amount of room, and in the PHEV, the rear seatbacks can’t be folded down.

A basic infotainment system is found in the most-affordable versions of the Optima, but uplevel trims get an eight-inch touchscreen as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. It’s an easy-to-use setup with fairly big on-screen buttons, and there’s a row of physical buttons on the centre stack for quickly accessing the system’s main functions. The available Harman/Kardon stereo didn’t knock our socks off, but sounds pretty good nonetheless.

A 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is standard in the 2018 Kia Optima, which delivers a sufficient 185 horsepower in addition to a combined city/highway fuel economy rating as low as 8.0 L/100 km. Not bad, but the recently redesigned Accord and its turbocharged 1.5-litre engine can do better at 7.2 L/100 km, and so can the also-new Camry and its 2.5-litre engine at 7.3 L/100 km.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

The Optima SX Turbo and SXL Turbo editions boast a 2.0-litre engine that develops 245 horsepower and a very usable 260 pound-feet of torque that peaks from 1350 to 4000 rpm—where we need it most. Acceleration is strong, the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth, and quick downshifts are available when the drive mode system is set to Sport. The combined city/highway rating is pegged at 9.4 L/100 km, only a couple of tenths higher than the Accord with its turbo 2.0-litre four and the Camry with its 3.5-litre V6. Happily, the Optima’s turbo engine can run on regular fuel. We averaged 8.1 L/100 km during our test, which is pretty darn good.

It’s by no means a sport sedan—unlike the Kia Stinger—but the Optima SX Turbo and SXL Turbo trims get a sport-tuned suspension to enhance the car’s driving dynamics. On the other hand, the Kia is oriented more towards comfort with just a touch of sportiness, which is what the vast majority of midsize-sedan buyers seem to be looking for. We just wish the cabin was better insulated against road and suspension noise, although it’s by no means a dealbreaker.

Base price is set at $23,995 before freight and delivery charges, while the loaded SXL Turbo costs $38,945 with a premium paint option. If we don’t need the more powerful engine, an Optima EX offers plenty of comfort and convenience items for well under $30K. The Optima Hybrid and its combined city/highway rating of 5.6 L/100 km, which starts at 29 995 $, is also interesting.

There’s a lot to like here. It may lack the Accord and Camry’s overall refinement and buttery smoothness, fuel economy trails a little behind, and its resale value isn’t as strong as those of its two main rivals. However, the 2018 Kia Optima isn’t far off the mark. It’s got both beauty and brains, which we think are essential for making a good first impression and allowing for a good long-term relationship.

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