Kia as a brand often gets a bum rap. Once upon a time in a land far, far away, it had the reputation of being a cheap, unreliable econobox.
Today, however, each car it produces is backed by the industry’s best warranty, and its vehicles are well-designed -- so you can get a lot of car for your money.
Case in point: The 2019 Kia Optima. This vehicle gets a mild refresh for 2019, looks great, comes well-equipped and is competitively priced.
Though both the interior and exterior got refreshed, the changes are more subtle than obvious. A couple specific changes: LED daytime running lights are now standard, and the base 16-inch wheels get a new design.
One trim up sees bigger changes with new projection beam fog lamps, LED taillights, dual exhaust and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The biggest change to the interior is the available two-tone European-inspired sport seats in the SX and SXL models.
In general, there is nothing terribly swanky about the exterior design of the Optima. It’s handsome and clean, and there is nothing distracting or detracting from the overall picture.
The Kia “tiger nose” grille is added without too much fanfare, feeding directly into the headlight design for an attractive wraparound look.
On the inside, the design theme remains clean and simple with large, easy-to-reach buttons and dials as well as a clean and readable display screen.
The test vehicle was an SX model, and I really liked the red stitching on the wheel and those two-tone seats with the red inserts are h-o-t.
Ride & Handling
Interestingly, Optima has three engine options. This is unusual since vehicles like the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord only have two.
The base engine is a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder that delivers 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. The mid-level engine is a 1.6-liter, I-4 turbo that delivers 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
The engine I had access to, however, was the top-tier 2.0-liter, I-4 turbo that delivers 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That’s a nice boost in power that works well with this midsized sedan.
Ride and handling are fine. I must admit there is nothing special here, but there’s also nothing horrible either.
The Optima SX tester did what I wanted it to do in terms of quick accelerations and passing maneuvers. It’s more sporty than not, but I wouldn’t say it’s as sporty as the Camry XSE with the V-6 engine.
One thing to note, in colder weather, this engine was a bit buzzy. I noticed this especially when I was stopped at a light. I thought the engine noise was louder than it should have been, though it cleared up as the vehicle and air warmed up.
For the SX trim the EPA estimates that you should get 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
I didn’t get any where near those numbers. I’m sure cold weather and lots of city stop-and-go driving contributed to my grim numbers, but I only averaged 15.9 mpg during the test week.
Tech & gadgets
Some of the coolest technology comes in the safety arena – and it’s standard across the board. This includes things such as automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keep assist and lane departure warning.
Also standard is what Kia calls “UVO Play.” This feature encompasses Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which phone mirroring systems. All you do is plug your phone into the USB port, and you have hands-free access to Waze, voice-to-text messaging, podcasts, your phone’s music library and more.
What’s not standard are features such as push-button start, passive entry and (my favorite!!) the smart trunk, which opens automatically when you stand behind the vehicle with the key fob in your purse or pocket.
The Optima is well-equipped starting at the base trim. And even if you want to go all in with the top-tier trim and add the limited package, you won’t spend more than $38K.
LX ($23,915): This trim comes with the base 2.4-liter I-4 engine and has standard features such as forward collision avoidance assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, driver attention warning, rear park distance warning, an 8-inch rear camera display and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay.
S ($25,915): This trim adds a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, projection fog lights, LED daytime running lights, passive entry, push-button start and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
EX ($27,815): At this trim, you’ll get the mid-level 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 engine and features such as leather seats, heated front seats, one-touch auto up/down front windows, adaptive cruise control and extra USB charge ports.
SX ($32,915): This top-tier trim is intended to be on the sporty side, adding the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 engine, LED headlights with dynamic pending light, a panoramic sunroof, power front seats, ventilated front seats, navigation and a Harmon/Kardon QuantumLogic premium surround sound system.
The test vehicle was a Sparkling Silver SX model with the read-and-black interior, which made it ineligible to get the SX Limited Package. The only thing I really missed from this package was the surround view monitor, so I’d love to see that as a stand-alone option. Which it isn’t.
As previously mentioned, the Optima has a healthy list of standard up-level features.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives Optima “Good” ratings pretty much across the board and gives it a coveted Top Safety Pick + award.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives Optima equally high marks, awarding it an overall 5-Star Safety Rating.
Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.
New for 2019
In addition to getting a general design refresh, the biggest changes to Optima include the European-style sport leather seating on the SX trim, expanded driver assistance technologies and a new UVO infotainment system.
A few of my favorite things
The heated steering wheel and seats remain particular favorites of mine – especially when the Polar Vortex was in full swing. My husband would argue that the automatic dual climate controls and vented seats are just as necessary.
Combined, I call these features “the marriage saver.”
I also loved the Euro-inspired red-and-black two-tone interior on the SX model. It was attractive and looks like it will age well.
What I can leave
I noticed some loud engine sounds when the vehicle was at a stop light, and that seemed a bit weird for a top-tier engine on a top trim.
Another little thing that has always bothered me about Optimas in general is the silver trim piece that arches over the side windows. It just seems out of place to me.
The bottom line
When the third-generation Optima ushered in a new design era back in 2010, I got a lot of comments like: “This is a Kia?” as I chauffeured friends and colleagues around town. It still has that effect – especially when you step inside and look at how well-appointed the interior is.
The 2019 Optima doesn’t have a huge price advantage over the Camry or Accord, but when you look at similarly equipped models, you will save a couple thousand dollars.
I liked the Optima. It’s a great car. And you can’t beat the warranty. But I must admit, if I were choosing between the Optima, Camry and Accord, Camry still wins in my book.