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There’s no doubt the 2011 Kia Optima midsize sedan was a head turning, milestone vehicle. It proclaimed that Kia was no longer an up-and-coming brand, but rather one that had fully arrived as a new force to be reckoned with. Well it’s time for a new gen Optima, and for us to find out if that trend is still up.
The 2016 Kia Optima is the 4th generation of Kia’s bestselling model, and to say it has a lot on its shoulders is probably an understatement. As the Optima, along with the help of the Sorento and Soul, has been primarily responsible for elevating Kia to its place as the 8th largest automotive brand in the U.S.
The Optima’s mission to propel the brand ever forward will be powered by 3 available powertrains.
Base models get a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated I4, with 185-horsepower and 178 lb-ft. of torque accompanied by a 6-speed automatic transmission.
A 1.6-liter turbo-4 is the most fuel efficient offering for now, at 178-horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque, aided by a new 7-speed DCT of Kia’s own design.
That makes the 2.0-liter I4 turbo, the hot rod of the group at 245-horsepower and 260 lb-ft. of torque. It’s an updated version, and that works with a 6-speed automatic.
The exterior design has been modernized, and smoothed, but not changed dramatically; as Kia wanted it to still be recognizable as the car that really put them on the map design-wise.
The tiger shark nose gets a flatter treatment compared to the Sorento and Sedona, while a chrome roof spear carries that flair rearward.
In size, it is 0.4-inches longer in both length and wheelbase, and 1-inch wider. More importantly, additional use of high strength steel means a much stiffer structure.
Correspondingly, interior space goes up slightly, as has material quality. Most surfaces appear much nicer, and if you see stitching, it’s real stitching, not molded. Top trim SXL features luxury car worthy diamond stitched seats that proved very comfortable.
The overall result is maybe not quite as impressive as the Sorento, but perhaps our expectations have gotten too high.
Back seat room is very good, though seats are a little on the hard side and flat.
Safety systems take a step up, including autonomous braking, which worked flawlessly Volvo-like in our barrier test; and the available Harmon Kardon audio with 630-watts will turn your commute into a concert.
Trunk finish is a tad nicer than before, but could be improved upon even more. Stowage space sees a slight increase to 15.9 cubic-ft.
Driving impressions really come down to trim level. While all models benefit greatly from the stiffer structure, revamped suspension, selectable drive modes, and a smoother ride; only up-level SX and SXL trims get upgraded EPS with a rack-mounted steering box that has a much more dialed in feel.
Much like its Hyundai Sonata chassis-mate, things are very quiet inside. Wind noise has been virtually eliminated and engine noise only sneaks in when going heavy on the throttle, leaving just some minor road noise to tune out.
Of note, while virtually all Optimas are built here in the U.S., Kia does have the ability to import some should demand overwhelm their Georgia plant’s capacity.
As for sprints to 60, a 2.0 turbo Optima gets things done in 7.1-seconds. With an eager motor and sharp automatic shifts, the 1/4-mile ends in 15.4-seconds at 91 miles-per-hour.
The Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 22-City, 32-Highway, and 25-Combined. We averaged a decent 24.2 miles-per-gallon of Regular. The Energy Impact Score is likewise middle of the road at 13.2-barrels of oil burned and 5.9-tons of CO2 emitted yearly.
Reasonable pricing has always been a Kia draw, and while base pricing of $22,840 means it not’s the bargain that it may have been in years past, it still delivers a heck of a lot of car for the money.
It’s hard to think that the 2016 Kia Optima could possibly have the impact that its predecessor did, but as the brand has rocketed up the automotive pyramid, things narrow and it gets harder and harder to impress. But the Optima still has enough steam to do just that.
Long Term Updates
Date: September 2016
Just 1-month and 2,500-miles into our time with this 2016 Kia Optima midsize sedan and it has already revealed itself to be a really nice, comfortable, high speed cruising machine.
Extended seat time is a breeze in this cozy car, with only a little more than expected wind noise at highway speeds to dampen our enthusiasm.
And speaking of noises, there’s an odd one coming from our car’s dash that’s clearly linked to the HVAC system. It comes and goes sporadically, so hopefully it will reveal itself when we make a trip to the dealer to get it checked out.
Auditory oddities aside, we’re currently averaging a great 28.9 miles-per-gallon from the 2.0-liter turbo-4, and have no complaints about the power that it delivers.
The interior of this SX Limited example is quite posh, and though some initially thought it a bit showy; it gets compliments from most who see it.
Date: November 2016
There’s no denying the Kia Optima has come a long way. We’ve had this 4th generation 2016 SX-Limited in our fleet for 3–months now, and we’re beginning to believe that this is Optima’s biggest leap yet.
We’ve travelled just over 7,500 miles thus far, including a recent trip to Coastal Carolina.
With its spunky 2.0-liter turbo providing plenty of power, our mpg average is up to 29.2. Though more than one driver has noted some harsh downshifting on deceleration. That aside, the Optima is both smooth and capable in Euro-grand touring style.
As for our interior noise issue, the humming noise thought to be from the HVAC system, actually seems to be air escaping through the sunroof. Stay tuned for further updates.
Date: December 2016
We’re at 4-months and 8,000-miles with our long term 2016 Kia Optima, and nothing has dimmed our enthusiasm for midsize sedan yet.
Well, maybe nothing except the mysterious sunroof flutter noise. Our local dealer suggested the sunroof was out of alignment, but after an adjustment the noise is still there.
Performing mostly commuting duty this term, has seen mileage slip to a still good 28.8 miles-per-gallon. And all of that seat time has us appreciating the luxurious interior even more, with one staffer noting, “cannot see why you’d want to pay more for any other midsize car from any brand.” Throughout the summer and fall, the Optima has been both a great long-and- short distance cruiser. But now we’re all looking forward to seeing how it will survive our Mid-Atlantic winter. Stay tuned.
Date: February 2017
We’ve quickly travelled over 9,000-miles in our 2016 Kia Optima sedan. And during its first 5-months with us, a couple minor annoyances did not diminish our affinity for it.
But we are getting a little tired of them. The fluttering sunroof noise is still there, despite a trip to the dealer.
And the harsh transmission downshifting on deceleration seems to be getting worse.
Speed Test Digi
On the plus side, mileage from the 245-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 is back up to 29.0 miles-per-gallon, and we continue to hear nothing but praise about our SX Limited’s interior.
So balancing the good with the not so; we still have plenty of time to see which side will ultimately prevail.
Date: March 2017
Miles continue to rack up in our 2016 Kia Optima, having eclipsed 15,000 after 6 months.
No major revisions since our last report. Our SX Limited is very posh inside, so you really notice that the front seats could use a little more padding for long trips.
Otherwise, we’re still dealing with the same sunroof noise and harsh downshifting on deceleration that we’ve noted since the beginning of our test.
Our Optima’s Turbo-4 fuel economy is holding steady at 28.9 miles per gallon. We rate that very fine for a larger sedan.
Date: April 2017
As for our 2016 Kia Optima mid-size family sedan, well we really do love driving it, and looking around the interior any chance we get. But there continues to be little things that keep us from loving it as much as we could.
The latest is the locking up of the UVO infotainment system. It’s intermittent and thus hard to diagnose.
Still, it is popular for comfortable commutes and couple’s weekends. We’ve added 1,500–miles to our tally this segment; which stands at 16,000-miles after only 7-months.
Mileage from the 2.0-liter turbo-4 took a slight hit from so many short trips, but still stands at a good-for-its-size 28.4 miles-per-gallon.
Date: June 2017
Internet Speed Test Optima
Summer may be just getting under way, but our 2016 Kia Optima has been out enjoying the warmer weather quite a lot already. We added close to 2,000 miles this go-around, to bring our 10-month total to just under 18,000-miles.
Praises continue to mount up for its acceleration and handling, simple to master media interface, and the Optima’s overall ease of use. Not to mention interior refinement that’s closer to luxury cars than it is to your typical family sedan.
Its 2.0-liter turbo mileage is down slightly from last report to a still good 28.0 miles-per-gallon.
However, complaints about our car’s clunky downshifts from the 6-speed automatic on deceleration are piling up as well.
Our time with the Kia Optima may be winding down, but we’ve still got some summer drive-time miles to tack on before we wrap up our time with this Optima SX Limited.
Date: July 2017
After 11-months, the odometer in this handsome midsize sedan sits just past 26,000 miles.
Some of that from a recent Florida road trip where the Optima’s seats, both front and rear, provided great comfort; the trunk easily holding a week’s worth of family luggage and beach gear.
The A/C had no problem keeping up with the Florida heat; though we also went the windows down route, combined with the Optima’s huge sunroof to soak up as many rays as possible.
Fuel economy has stayed pretty consistent, with the 2.0-liter turbo’s average now sitting at 28.1 miles-per-gallon.
But here’s the best news of all, our mysterious sunroof fluttering noise seems to have gone away; bringing our list of gripes down to one, the transmission’s sometimes clunky downshifts.
Date: August 2017
Properly wrapping up a year’s worth of time with our 2016 Kia Optima sedan in only 1-minute is impossible. But, we’ll attempt to sum it up by simple stating the Optima is a fantastic midsize four-door; one that delivers all the family practicality we’d hoped it would, along with the style and performance of a well-appointed sport sedan. With our SX Limited’s odometer at 27,000-miles, we averaged a very good 28.4 miles-per-gallon from its turbo 2.0-liter and 6-speed auto powertrain. The exterior still looks fabulously modern, and the gorgeous interior not only provided great comfort, but held up very well. Issues have been minor…the fluttering noise from the sunroof that cured itself, and an occasional clunky transmission downshift on deceleration. Clearly we loved our year with the Optima, a sedan that in a world awash with crossovers, stands apart even more.
Engine: 2.4-liter / 1.6-liter turbo-4 / 2.0-liter I4 turbo
Horsepower: 185 / 178 / 245
Torque: 178 lb-ft. / 195 lb-ft. / 260 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 7.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.4 seconds @ 91 mph
EPA: 22 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 13.2 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.9 tons/yr
- Jiggling your positive battery clamp (lightly!) and looking for white powder
- Jiggling your negative battery clamp (lightly!) and looking for white powder
- Checking your starter and main power feeds for tightness
- Checking your negative battery cable for tightness and corrosion
- Checking any grounding straps - these will often go from the engine block to the body and/or from the engine block to the frame. Sometimes they are bare wire.
- Excess sulfation
- An open cell
- Most of these chargers are automatic (they turn off when done)
- They can maintain your battery with a trickle charge when you want to store it
- They still work with regular, non-AGM batteries
- They have advanced functionality, like desulfation, a major battery killer
- a regular battery charger
- a battery that has been discharged to around 12.2 volts (could be a little more or less)
- jumper cables
- a multimeter
- Hook the Optima to the regular battery in parallel with the jumper cables. (positive to positive, negative to negative)
- Connect the charger to the regular battery and turn it on.
- Wait and hour and check the Optima. If it's hot to the touch or gassing out the vents, shut it down! The battery is no good. Warm to the touch is okay.
- At this point you're going to start checking the Optima's voltage frequently for the next hour. Once it reaches 10.5V on your multimeter, turn off the charger and disconnect the regular battery.
- Hook the Optima battery to the charger and charge as normal.
A Quick Word on Battery Expectations
Optima batteries work a lot like regular batteries with some added features. A dark-cased RedTop or BlueTop Optima is a starting battery.
Starting batteries are designed to be discharged a little, then be charged up fairly quickly by your charging system. Basically, the starter skims off some electricity from the battery for starting, and it's rapidly refilled once you start up.
A light-cased YellowTop or BlueTop Optima is a deep cycle battery.
Deep cycle batteries are designed to be discharged a lot, then charged up. In this case, a winch, a stereo, or an on-board 12V fridge scoops a lot of electricity from the battery, and then it's refilled by your charging system.
Make sure you choose the right Optima battery for what you need.
Tools You Need to Check Your Optima Battery
You're going to need a couple of things to check your Optima.
First, you need a multimeter or voltmeter. It needs to measure battery voltage, so you'll want to set it correctly. Most multimeters have a '20 VDC' position, and that's where you want to be.
Warning!You need to take fairly accurate readings of your Optima's voltage. We've found that some of the cheaper multimeters out there aren't always very accurate (like that free one from Harbor Freight) so keep that in mind if your readings are right on the edge of a zone.
It's helpful to have a vehicle so you can load test the battery, plus a helper.
Lastly, you should have a charger that charges AGM batteries. Many people don't know this, but a conventional battery charger won't work with an Optima battery that's discharged below 10.5V.
An alternative to an Optima-specific charger:
You can also use a regular battery charger with a regular battery to charge an Optima. Read more on that below.
Check the Little Things First
For some reason, many of us overcomplicate our solutions and diagnosis of problems (We do it here at Roundforge too!).
Before assuming your Optima has gone bad, check your battery connections for corrosion and tightness. This is probably one of the most common problem people have with batteries, but it's often not checked. This means:
Clean corrosion with sandpaper so that you connect to clean, bare metal. Use a wrench to make clamps and other connections reasonably tight (but not so tight that you damage a battery post!).
Bad connections and particularly bad grounds are one of the easiest problems to fix but often one of the last things that we check! Always check your connections first!
Test the Voltage First
Before you start, make sure your Optima is 'charged'. What we mean by this is that it should be in whatever state you think is charged, whether that means that it's been on a charger for a bit or that you just drove around for a while.
(The point here is that you didn't just pull the Optima out of your shed where it's been sitting for the last 6 months, or that you're not testing it after using it to power the disco ball at your neighbor's midnight rave party. We want the battery in a normal state.)
To begin, switch your multimeter to 20VDC or whatever will get your multimeter reading somewhere in the range of 12 volts DC.
Put the red probe on the positive Optima terminal and the black probe on the negative Optima terminal.
This is your first reading - here's how to interpret it:
12.7 - 13.2 volts - NORMAL with 100% charge
Anything in this range means that you have normal charge and you're in the right range for an Optima.
12.0-12.4 volts - LOW with 25-75% charge
If your Optima is in this range and you think it should be charged, it's not taking or not holding a charge. This usually means that your battery is sulfated, which happens when it sits for a long time (not charging) or is deeply discharged when it shouldn't be. Or it's just old.
0-11.9 volts - DISCHARGED
This is highly discharged but usually still recoverable. 0 volts usually means that you've got a short somewhere in the battery - it'll need to be replaced. If it's reading a low voltage, it's probably sulfated and probably needs replacement.
Load Test Your Optima Battery
If your Optima's voltage is okay, it still might not perform well under load. You can load test it by going to an auto parts store (they all have battery testers nowadays) or do it yourself with a multimeter.
We load test it by hooking it up to a vehicle and checking the voltage while running the starter. Here's what to do:
Like before, your multimeter will be set to 20VDC, or whatever gets you in that 12 volt DC range.
Touch the red probe to the positive terminal on the Optima and touch the black probe to the negative Optima terminal.
Then have a helper try to start your 4x4. (Tip: If we're solo, we put the multimeter on the windshield and use long alligator clips to reach the battery.)
Watch the multimeter as the starter motor is turning, not when you're started up!
The voltage on your Optima should read 9.5-10.5 volts for at least 30 seconds.
When the starter motor is turning over the engine, that is the heavy load we're using to see how the battery performs. Once started, the alternator will start push the voltage up - we aren't interested in alternator voltage since that tells you about charging, not the condition of your Optima.
If the voltage doesn't hold at 9.5-10.5 volts for 30 seconds, it means your battery is toast. This is usually one of two things:
The reason an open cell looks okay in no-load testing your Optima is heat:
A warm battery can expand inside and things that should touch don't touch anymore. Similarly, terminal contacts can break or crack internally. When cold, they may touch and flow current, but when they warm up they break contact.
Recharging a Dead Optima
Normal chargers won't always work with an Optima battery. It depends a lot on how deeply it's been discharged.
The reason for this is simple - Optimas are AGM batteries and AGMs have a very low internal resistance. The low internal resistance allows them to put out a lot of electricity and be discharged more than a regular battery. (Although repeated discharging a dark-cased RedTop or BlueTop is not good for longevity).
When a regular battery charger is hooked up to an Optima, it often won't even turn on - while the Optima could be charged, the charger thinks it's totally kaput (like a regular battery would be) and doesn't even come on. This usually happens when the Optima measures around 10.5 volts.
How do you fix this? You have two options:
Use an AGM-Compatible Charger For Your Optima
This charger works for Optima batteries, as well as non-AGM batteries.
If you buy a charger for AGM batteries, it's easy to charge up a dead AGM. You hook it up and go. There are some additional benefits:
This is the easiest way to charge or maintain an AGM battery like an Optima.
Trick Your 'Standard' Charger With Another Battery
If you don't want to buy an AGM charger, no problem. You can DIY a charging setup in a pinch. Here's what you need:
The general concept here is that you charge the discharged 'regular' battery with the battery charger, but you also hook up the Optima to piggyback on the regular battery.
What we're doing is this:
The charger sees the voltage in the Optima as too low to charge. The regular battery has a higher voltage, but still needs to be charged - the charger will want it to be at least 12.7 volts. This is not too low to charge, so the charger will turn on and flow current.
By attaching the Optima to the regular battery, we can draw off some current to charge the Optima.
The goal here is to get the Optima up to 10.5 volts, then hook it directly to your charger.
Here's how to do it:
The process to get to 10.5 V should not take more than a 2 hours.