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William Maley

Quick Drive: 2016 Kia Optima SXL

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When I go back and look at the various Kia Optimas I have driven for Cheers & Gears, there has been one variant that I haven’t driven, the 2.0L turbo-four. But this changed back over the summer when a 2016 Kia Optima SXL came into the Cheers & Gears’ Detroit bureau for a week-long evaluation. The SXL serves as the Optima’s flagship trim with more premium materials and the turbo-four.

  • As I mentioned in my Optima EX review from earlier this year, the redesigned Optima looks familiar to the previous model. But that isn’t a bad thing per say. It is still as sharp looking as the previous model and the changes done such as a new trunk lid, LED taillights, a smaller grille, and reshaped headlights. The SXL takes it a step further with a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, Turbo badging on the fender vents, and a little bit more chrome. Finished in a dark blue, the Optima SXL is damn good looking midsize sedan.
  • You won’t find many differences in the SXL’s interior compared to other Optima’s. The key one is the seats being wrapped Nappa leather with a quilted pattern. If I am being honest, I can’t really tell difference between the Nappa leather and the standard leather used on other Kia models. 
  • But what I can tell the difference with is the materials used in the SXL’s interior. Kia swaps the soft-touch plastic used on the dash and door panels for stitched leatherette. This is to give the impression that you’re in something more expensive and it works very well.
  • The Optima SXL’s backseat is slightly tighter than the one found in the Optima EX. Why? The SXL comes with a panoramic sunroof as standard, which eats into headroom.
  • Let’s talk about the engine. The SXL features a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder with 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a six-speed automatic. Leaving a stop, it takes a moment for the engine to fully wake up and you can’t help but wonder where is the power. At first, I thought this new 2.0L developed a bad case of turbo-lag. But I soon realized that it was a lazy throttle that was causing this issue. This is something we have been noticing in recent Hyundai and Kia models equipped with the turbo engine. Once you get over the lazy throttle, the engine moves the Optima with some authority. Merging onto a freeway or making a pass is no problem as the turbo quickly spools up and gives the necessary thrust. It doesn’t hurt the engine is very refined.
  • EPA fuel economy figures stand at 22 City/32 Highway/25 Combined. I achieved a not too shabby 26.1 mpg average for the week.
  • One of my biggest complaints about the last Optima I drove was the uncomfortable ride. The tuning on the EX model let in more bumps and road imperfections inside than what I was expecting. To my surprise, the SXL featured a more comfortable ride. Despite featuring larger wheels, the SXL was able to iron out most bumps and imperfections. I can’t explain why there is a vast difference in terms of ride quality between the two trims at this time.
  • The SXL does retain the sharp handling that we liked in the Optima EX. Body motions are kept in check and the steering provides a nice heft when turning. Some will lament that the steering doesn’t have the same feel as something like the Mazda6, but this has to be Kia’s best effort yet.
  •  The Optima SXL begins at $35,790 and that includes every option available on the Optima as standard equipment - 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, a Harman/Kardon audio system, navigation, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, surround view camera system, and much more.
  • Some might balk at the price. But considering what the SXL brings to the table, along with its improved ride quality, it is very much worth the price. Plus, you might be able to work out a deal to where you’ll be able to cut the price. We’ve seen dealers cutting about $2,000 to $4,000 off Optima SXLs in an effort improve sales of the midsize sedan. Who knows, you might be able to get one of best equipped and decent driving midsize sedans at a surprising price.

Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Optima SXL, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

Year: 2016
Make: Kia
Model: Optima
Trim: SXL
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L DOHC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 245 @ 6,000
Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 1,350-4,000 
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/32/25
Curb Weight: 3,594 lbs
Location of Manufacture: West Point, Georgia
Base Price: $35,790
As Tested Price: $36,615 (Includes $825.00 Destination Charge)

Options:
N/A


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Better care exist in this price bracket...most of the cars it will be competing against actually.

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I can'r put my finger on it, but there is just something about this design, as similar as it is, I just don't prefer to the previous model.  In any case, if I was looking for top end midsize car with FWD and the top engine I would be hard pressed between the 200C V6, Malibu premier, and Accord EX-L V6. 

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5 minutes ago, Frisky Dingo said:

I'll  take a Malibu Premier, thanks. 

Absolutely.

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      Options: N/A
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      -I can't recall any of the GM vehicles I have driven with this ubiquitous 2.0t engine, where i have actually been wowed or impressed by it.  It has decent thrust, but honestly you gotta spool it up a bit, the tranny doesn't respond instantly, it's not a five star smooth tranny, and it's kind of rough and noisy overall as a powertrain (AT LEAST FOR IT'S PRICE / CLASS).  I was hoping the 2.0 would make the car match the near luxury description but I don't think it's overall a smooth enough powertrain to meet that claim.  It's neither smooth, nor sporting or exciting.  And this is with front wheel drive.  I will reserve final judgment until i get in the GS with the v6, which is the engine I think most people will really end up liking in this car.
      -Heavier than it's Malibu platform mate.  No doubt acceptable due to the larger engine, but the benefit of the extra weight doesn't manifest itself in any real tangible way anywhere in the ride and drive of the car.
      -Not really any quieter inside than my Malibu.  Strange, because this Buick is supposed to have quiet tuning, and goo in the tires to help make it quieter.  The ride isn't really any more plush, either.
      -Steering is sort of dead and mushy.  That's not GERMANIC now, is it.
      -NEED TO BE ABLE TO TURN OFF THE AUTOSTOP WHEN YOU WANT TO.
      -Not really much nicer inside than in my Malibu.  The lower dash is the same 'less expensive' plastic you see in cheap Chevy's.  The door panels are a little nicer, but not that much more.  Many switches and buttons are the same.  The console is nicer (I don't like the shifter centered in the console now actually, it's quite a reach) I guess...except for cupholders in front of the climate controls.  The upper dash material is an upgrade over the Malibu, but it's not a PREMIUM dash material either.
      -I can't really tell for sure if the seats are better.  My Malibu seats are poor.  The Regal seats seemed to hug me more, but they still felt thin and insubstantial.  The leather quality was slightly better, but still nothing to write home about. 
      -Rear head room suffers a bit with the hatch design.  I don't mind the tradeoff personally, but the Malibu retains a bit more headroom, and the Regal TourX really has much more....so get the wagon if rear head room matters.
      -Sunroof was nice to have considering how bunkerlike the Malibu can feel....but again the hatch design limits the size of the sunroof here compared to the Malibu's BAMR.  I can live with the compromise here myself, and again, the wagon will satisfy your urge for BAMR if you need it.  I would encourage GM to develop a way to integrate a larger moonroof with the hatch design.  I think it could be done, but would require time and money on a redesign effort.
      -Options / packages on this car are, simply put, stupid.  But that merits its own post.  At least in this car, the heated steering wheel and leather heated seats were both included.  You can actually get this car with heated steering wheel but without heated seats.  How f-cked up is that?  In 2019, Fusion, Toyota, and others will have things like blind spot and cross path detection as standard equipment.  And those are not 'premium' makes.
      -I'll let others decide if they think the styling is too tepid.  I don't mind the understated styling but do admit that the color selections that are available on this car leave me wanting.  I like the red on the GS, and the smoked pearl metallic is nice.  And Buick seems to think they should charge extra for paint colors when they don't make the ride and drive anything special.
      -pricing.  I think the average nature of this car would be easily forgiven if the pricing were in line with being an average car; not priced for a premium marque.  Like the LaCrosse and Envision, it is best to wait out the model year if you are buying and wait for the inevitable 7,000-10,000 or more in discounts...which might bring the pricing in line with what the vehicle really is.  You can't say this vehicle is appealing at the prices it is at now.  
      SUMMARY:
      This probably seems like a negative review, but you should consider it more of underwhelmed and let down.  This car as I drove it just doesn't have any kind of endearing personality to speak of!  At the end of the day, it took Buick two extra years to bring to the US it's own Malibu clone, which doesn't have much more to show for it.... apart from the clever hatch and base 2.0 engine upgrade over the 1.5.  I actually am very curious now to be among the first to try the 2019 Malibu 1.5t + CVT combo.  But that's an aside for another discussion.  The 2.0 that general motors puts in so many vehicles has never impressed me, and that's due more to it's character than anything.  I had hopes this would be the ONE CAR that it would feel sporting in; one that would make the car feel at least a little, like a SPORTS SEDAN.  Nope.  I will wait with baited breath to someday find a v6 GS to test, as i think it will be the only Regal worth anything.  At least worth anything more than just being another option in the midsize, genericar class.  And I hope Buick is working on a twin turbo six option as well for the GS (GSX?).  I tend to think this car won't move the needle in marketplace excitement until it has a tire shredder under the hood to brag about...The v6 will promise smoother revs and deeper lungs at least......... Still, as a replacement in the bottom end of the Buick lineup for the Verano, I am ok with this.  Just please, sex it up!
       
       
       
       
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