Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingVehicle Model Specific Problems 2016 Kia Optima: In-Depth History, Evolution, And Review

2016 Kia Optima: In-Depth History, Evolution, And Review

by Jordan Harris
2016 Kia Optima

The Kia Optima has managed to maintain a good sales number over the years. It might not be the best-selling midsize sedan in the market like the Hyundai Sonata or the Chevrolet Malibu, it’s still a line known for its generous amenities and progressive design. The 2016 Kia Optima is a fan-favorite for smooth and reliable performance.

For 2016, the statement gets truer. Kia has seldom disappointed us with their Optima line, so it goes without saying that the industry was highly anticipating this model before its release. And Kia pulled through.

We will be going through a full run-down of the Optima lineup before finally ending with a review of the 2016 Kia Optima.

History Of Kia

Headquartered in Seoul, South Korea, Kia Motors is the nation’s oldest manufacturer of motorcycles and cycles. The roots of this great automobile brand are quite humble as the founder started by making bicycle parts.

This was back in 1944 when Kia was still known as Kyungsung Precision Industry. They started making complete bicycles seven years later.

Soon enough, they changed their name to Kia Motors. Their motorcycle production was licensed by Honda whereas their truck manufacturing was licensed by Mazda. Kia started manufacturing its own cars by 1974.

The Brisa line was the first to arrive from Kia automobiles, entering the market in 1974. At that time, Kia was still producing vehicles for other automobile brands. Both the Peugeot 604 and Fiat 132 were manufactured by the South Korean market leader. In 1981, a political dispute in Korea forced the brand to make only light trucks.

However, the situation changed very fast for them. In partnership with Ford, they manufactured 95,000 cars by the end of 1987. The Kia Avella and the Kia Pride, both Mazda-based cars, were sold in South Korea as well as exported to foreign countries. The cars sold as Ford Aspire and the Ford Festiva in the USA.

The Kia Sephia was the first vehicle by Kia to bear the company’s nameplate was it started being sold in the U.S. in 1994. Fast forward a few years and Kia had already come out with the Kia Sportage. The ‘90s ended with the launch of the Kia Optima and the Kia Sedona.

By the advent of the 21st century, Kia had entered the American market fully as a major automotive maker. They established roots in 2006 in Georgia, placing a billion-dollar plant.

About The Kia Optima

When the Optima was launched in 2000, it didn’t gain popularity immediately. However, as the years progressed, the nondescript midsize sedan got multiple revamps and started gaining appreciation in the market. This would be Kia’s first midsize sedan but it started getting attention for the wrong reason.

People started terming it as a repackage of the Hyundai Sonata. It was not until 2003 when one minor update made the Optima a car of its own.

2016 Kia Optima

As the second generation of the Kia Optima arrived, people started recognizing it more and the car started growing to become one of the well-regarded midsize sedans around. Their main selling point was their variation of options offered with a choice of two different engines and two trim levels.

Currently, in its 3rd generation, the Kia Optima gives customers more options than ever – four different trim levels (EX, SX, LX, and Limited) as well as a regular or turbocharged power train.

2001 – 2003 Kia Optima

Kia began improving its lineup and launched the Optima in 2001. This was the 2002 model. Outside the U.S. the Optima was called Magnetis and it was Kia’s first (and successful) attempt at manufacturing a midsize sedan. Years of modest, simple vehicles had prepared Kia to package seemingly plain cars with power and performance.

As a part of the Hyundai group, the Korean carmaker used the platform of the 4th generation Sonatas. The surprising move did more than enough to get more people interested in the cars. Although it was priced two times higher than the Kia Rio sedan, the price was still less than a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

From the exterior, the Kia Optima was sleek with its angular headlights. The bio-design era still persisted so there were traces of that. With or without the facelift, the Optima now looked better than its sister sedan, the 4th-generation Sonata. Despite not being a part of the premium segment, the Optima looked like a luxury car thanks to its chromed grille. The only notable con was the size of the wheels – a mere 14” plus a 15” light-alloy option.

There was enough space for 4 adult passengers inside, given its 2.7-meter wheelbase. Based on the trim level and engine version, Kia offered leather seats, an automatic transmission, and a sunroof. Standard features included split-folding rear seats, long AC, power windows, and side airbags.

Under the hood were a 2.7-liter V6 and 2.4-liter in-line four. The pair was a standard for the five-speed manual transmission while it was an option for a 4-speed automatic. All corners were equipped with independent suspension for added comfort.

2003 – 2006 Kia Optima

Three years after the first-gen Optima, Kia came out with a mid-life cycle revamp for their flagship model. Their plan was simple – change generations faster to catch up with their primary competition in the market.

Proving all speculations invalid, the strategy worked out quite well for them, but the evolution was speedier than what anyone could have predicted. That being said, a simple facelift wasn’t a good enough reason for the public to get the latest version.

Kia struggled a bit style-wise as they seemed to not understand how to design the cars to attract the customer. They experimented with different shapes and lines. Some worked, some didn’t. Classic horizontal headlights decorated the 2001 model whereas the updated 2003 model came with separate round headlamps paired with some extras on the outer side of the front fascia. They appeared questionable, to say the least.

Inside, Kia didn’t even attempt to hide the low-budget automotive expertise. Cloth seats were offered for base trim levels but the vehicles have standard power windows and locks, air-conditioning, a decent sound system, and power mirrors. They retained the split-folding rear seats which was a big deal for sedans back then. On the top trim level, customers for a premium sound system and leather-coated interior. A sunroof was found on the options list.

Under the hood, a 2.0-liter engine was added for the entry-level version whereas a V6 unit was installed for the top trims. An inline-four 2.4-liter was included in the base model especially for the U.S. market.

2006 – 2008 Kia Optima

In 2006, Kia revealed the Optima 2006 at the North American International Auto Show and that was the last piece of their lineup puzzle. Their 3-year regeneration process had been completed and the Optima was now on par with the Hyundai Sonata. Decent performance and good comfort at an affordable price were more than enough to drive potential consumers in.

The result matches the expectations and the Optima sold well across the world, being called different names like Lotze in South Korea and Magnetis in Europe.

Peter Schreyer oversaw the design, and his influence was stark. Starting with the wide grille with horizontal slats to the big headlights sweeping on top of the fenders and the back of the sides, the simple Sedan now had a classic, sophisticated feel to it.

Inside, passengers could be serenaded with a large sound system occupying the middle stack’s top side. The designer positioned climate control buttons under it. There was a four-dial panel in the instrument cluster along with the fuel level situated in the center, top side. Audi had the same design strategy – not a big surprise as Schreyer was one of the German automobile manufacturer’s top designers.

Kia offered numerous gasoline and diesel engines to choose from. However, there was only the gasoline version for the U.S. market (if you’re curious, do head over to our guide on what color is gasoline).

2008 – 2010 Kia Optima

Unveiled at the New York Motor Show in 2008, the 2009 Kia Optima was a major facelift for the otherwise basic lineup. It started the facelift for gen-2 of Optima, which began in 2005. Dissimilar to that, the latest version came with angled headlights rather than bulky ones from previous models. Underneath the body, however, the same platform was added with the reliable independent suspension.

Kia aimed for a sharper look with narrower headlights and lowered fog lights in the front apron. Reshaping was done to the grille and a “Tiger-nose” touch was integrated – a concept of Peter Schreyer. One more improvement was the inclusion of the extra inch both front and back in the overhangs – which really enhanced safety.

The dashboard was changed completely with the installation of new electronic devices. Now, the standard system was MP3 compatible and able to pair with Sirius satellite radio. Mild changes were made to the rest of the console and center stack. Thanks to the generous wheelbase, enough legroom was granted to the rear passengers.

Not only the exterior and interior but the equipment under the hood was changed too. A new generation of engines was added to the lineup. For the European models, a 2.0-liter diesel unit was selected. On some versions, the standard transmission was a five-speed manual, and others got the latest five-speed automatic.

2010 – 2016 Kia Optima

As Kia ushered their Optima lineup into the third generation, the technical platforms remained the same for the most part. Even with the 2010 models, the technical platform was the same as the Hyundai i40 or the Hyundai Sonata. A front-wheel and front-engine-drive combined with an all-wheel independent suspension powered these cars.

The engine lineup, although, got a full replacement. The universal GDI 2.4-liter four-cylinder unit was added, either integrated with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission paired with an Eco dash display. Other engines are still available outside the U.S., like two turbo-diesel models with a 2.0-liter and 1.7-liter displacement or an inline-4 featuring a 2.0-liter displacement gasoline. These can be mated with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.

Reviewing The 2016 Kia Optima

The Optima’s main competitors include the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion, among others. All these midsize sedans have similar features to a certain extent but some fine-tuning here and there are what set each apart. After thorough testing, here’s what we think about the 2016 Kia Optima. Get a few more perspectives too, like this review here.

Exterior And Styling

When you compare the 2016 Kia Optima and the 2015 Kia Optima side by side, the differences aren’t glaring. However, this isn’t exactly a bad thing as the 2015 model is a decent-looking car. The grille finishes vary on the 2016 and differ based on trim.

If you have a sharp eye, you will notice that the 2016 model features different dimensions, although the change isn’t drastic. The wheelbase is about 0.5” longer and the actual car is 1.1” wider.


We wouldn’t place the Optima in a luxury performance league sedan, such as a BMW, but the performance is quite great for a non-performance, non-luxury vehicle. Kia stated that they reintroduced the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for 2016 but this time it has a torque curve and a smaller engine to create more lb-ft of torque even at lower speeds.

In Kia’s words, the former engine’s tuning gave it power in one sudden jolt higher nearing the rev range. In comparison, the new model features a smaller turbo, giving a “grunt” feeling. The power range is broader – a much welcome change.

A new engine was added to the Optima mix in this model year – a 178 HP turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Seven-speed, dual-clutch auto transmission is included. The Optima struggles for the first few minutes when you’re moving up and down hills, but it’s quick to recover. The shifts are impressively smooth.

2016 Kia Optima Performance

The 2016 Kia Optima boasts a decent performance in bumpy roads, never losing its composure. Kia claims they revamped the chassis and included a new combination of ultra-high-strength and high-strength steel, and the suspension geometry along with its components were altered too. This entire work to develop the chassis dynamic paid off.

This is a quiet car too. Little to no road noise entering the cabin with minor wind noise. The improved chassis seems to have impacted the entire car, reducing cabin noise, harshness, and vibration.

Three engines are available in the Optima. The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder (one of the two that we tested), gets 28/39/32 mpg whereas the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (the second engine we tested) clocks in at 22/32/25 mpg. The third engine is a 185 HP 2.4-liter four-cylinder and gets 24/35/28 mpg.

Compared with the Altima, Accord, and Fusion, the mileage on the Kia Optima is competitive. The highest recorded mileage for the 2016 Ford Fusion is 28 mpg. With its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the 2016 Honda Accord gets 31 mpg combined. Lastly, the 2015 Altima gets 31 mpg like the Accord.


If you have someone who loves riding shotgun, they will love this car! It offers all the seat controls of a driver to the front-seat passenger too. Height adjustment is always a convenient modification for the ones of short stature. That being said, we noticed how the lumbar support on the side was not height adjustable – simply one thing to note (could be better with a lumbar support cushion for car).

Although the center controls are leaning toward the driver, the one sitting in the front passenger seat could easily check the navigation screen or adjust the climate settings without awkwardly moving up. There’s adequate space for the front-seat passenger – a feature even some of the best performance vehicles miss.

A Verdict On The Design

Overall, we found the interior design to be decent. It would have been a hit but there is something we can’t recover from. Kia has designed created a distinct horizontal border along the dashboard using a trim piece. A touch-screen exists over the line with physical controls under it. It works a little, but then the passengers get a great view of the empty dashboard and we found that a bit off-putting.

We didn’t enjoy the texture or graining of the dashboard but that’s more of a personal preference. In terms of material, there was padding where it was needed – you feel like you got what you paid for. You have to keep in mind that this is not a luxury car, so the design won’t be out of this world. For instance, the plastic graining on the horn button looks too plain.

When it comes to interior space, the Optima has more headroom rear and front and more legroom up front than the Altima, Accord, or Fusion, but the legroom is the least in the back. Backseat rooms tend to be competitive with class. You can go for long drives without feeling a tearing pain shoot up your legs and back.

Electronics And Ergonomics

The Kia Optima is a rather sound vehicle ergonomically. With easy-to-find and straightforward controls, nothing felt awkward. This is an enjoyable vehicle to drive.

In addition, the electronics impressed too, allowing easy shift between menus. While not on par with the Ford’s MyFord Touch variant, the graphics are good and doable for a non-luxury vehicle. One feature that piqued our interest, in particular, is the around-view camera setup. It gives you a 360° surround-view around the car. We found this system the best out of the other similar systems we have tested.

Kia does a good job of stretching the field of vision to give you a view of the general area. Other manufacturers could benefit by taking this into mind.

Cargo And Storage

As the 2016 Kia Optima features larger dimensions, the result is a slightly bigger trunk. According to Kia, the trunk is now half a cubic foot bigger than the previous model. While wide and capacious, the trunk isn’t the deepest you can find in this class.

Within the cabin, there’s a good selection of cubbies and bins for items like phones, water bottles, and notebooks. There is a tray in front of the gearshift paired with a second cubby between the cupholders and the tray.


The 2016 Kia Optima was the first car from the brand to earn the highest possible designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) – the Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+). The score reflects high grades in all of the 5 crash-worthiness tests in addition to the incorporation of active safety technology to prevent crashes. The Optima got a “good” crash-worthiness ratings along with a superior rating in the optional front-crash prevention system.

Let’s break down the safety features. Apart from required front airbags, an electronic stability system, and anti-lock brakes, Kia added a variety of safety features. This includes blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning paired with autonomous braking, lane departure warning, and the around-view monitor we mentioned before.

Remember that these are standard on some of the variants (like the SXL) while optional on other trims (like SX). The lane departure warning, around-view monitor, and autonomous braking system are not available on LX and EX models.


Let’s be real, Kia didn’t do anything revolutionary with the 2016 Optima. But the brand made some clever and efficient changes, quickly putting the Optima amongst some of the best of its class. Better interior quality and improved chassis are two of the highlights.

When you’re dealing with a good car, to begin with, it’s both difficult and easy to nitpick. It’s difficult because you already know the model is going to perform well. On the other hand, you want the manufacturers to solve the personal issues you have with it.

Substantial work has been conducted below the skin, but there’s little sign outward proving there’s been a redesign on the Optima. You have to drive the car if you wish to sense the improvements. Why is this important? Because in this extremely saturated midsize sedan market, every automaker has something to offer. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little glamor outside to show you’re driving the new Optima.

As it is, the brand has managed to improve their already decent sedan but failed to grab attention as a passing vehicle.

Facts about the 2016 Kia Optima:

  1. The 2016 Kia Optima has engine and transmission issues that limit its lifespan to around 150,000 miles.
  2. The vehicle is priced between $13,325 and $17,075, making it cheaper than other midsize sedans but still not a good value due to expensive repair costs and fast depreciation.
  3. The 2016 Kia Optima received an overall rating of 6/10 due to its engine problems and low performance scores.
  4. The interior quality of the Optima is better than other sedans in its class, with comfortable seats and soft-touch materials.
  5. The 2016 Kia Optima’s reliability rating is 6/10 and buyers should avoid models from 2011-2016.
  6. The 2016 Optima has a perfect 5-star rating in government crash tests and comes standard with a rear view camera.
  7. The vehicle’s gas mileage is rated at 8/10, with a fuel economy of up to 32 MPG and gas costs of $166 per month.
  8. The 2016 Kia Optima comes in four different models, ranging from the base LX to the luxurious SXL.
  9. The standard engine in the Optima is a 2.4L 4-cylinder, while an optional upgrade is the efficient 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder or the more powerful 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder.
  10. The 2016 Kia Optima is a comfortable midsize sedan with seating for up to five people, but taller passengers may feel cramped in the back seats due to limited headroom.

Bottom Line

The 2016 Kia Optima might not be the best midsize sedan money can buy, but it’s a performance-driven model at an affordable price. With many modifications over the years, the Optima line has been tweaked to deliver better service, so you won’t be disappointed.

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