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Quick Drive: 2016 Kia Optima SXL


William Maley

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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:
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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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      Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive
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      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 13/17/14
      Curb Weight: 5,715 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Toyota, Aichi, Japan
      Base Price: $87,645
      As Tested Price: $89,239 (Includes $1,295.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Glass Breakage Sensor - $299.00
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