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Kia Optima review

The Kia Optima is a mid-size saloon car that is a stylish alternative to the more mainstream Ford Mondeo, VW Passat and Mazda 6. It offers great value for money thanks to its seven-year warranty. In 2016 the car was given a facelift that brought with it minor styling changes and improved running costs.

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This score is awarded by our team of
expert reviewers
With nearly 60 years of experience between them, carwow’s expert reviewers thoroughly test every car on sale on carwow, and so are perfectly placed to present you the facts and help you make that exciting decision
after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Good looks
  • Spacious interior
  • Good value for money

What's not so good

  • Not very rewarding to drive
  • Only one engine
  • Could do with a bigger boot

Kia Optima: what would you like to read next?

Is the Kia Optima a good car?

A new dashboard design is the most notable change and the Optima’s interior now reflects what you’ll find in the Sportage and Sorento SUVs. Interior quality is improved over the previous generation and a larger touchscreen for the infotainment results in fewer buttons dotted about the dashboard. The new Optima is also longer and more spacious as a result of the extra length.

Testers say the Optima is now better to drive thanks to decent body control and better steering. Nevertheless it’s still not up there with the best from Ford and Mazda. It is, however, quiet and comfortable on the motorway.

The US market Optima gets a range of engines, but for the UK market it has only one – a 1.7-litre diesel. It’s arguably the company’s best engine – decently powerful and fuel efficient, but some buyers might want more choice. A great addition is the new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that is smooth and fast-changing.

Kia wants to steal customers from its well-established rivals so it offers more equipment as standard. That includes a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment and a rear-view camera on every model.

The Optima is a decent car surrounded by excellent rivals

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

Underneath, the new Optima is a better car than the old one in almost any way – it’s more spacious, has improved interior quality, the engine is now up to rivals’ performance and the ride quality is decent. It combines all that is good about it’s rivals in a package that is smart-looking, but lacking in character. Think of it as a greatest hits album played by a talented tribute band and you’ll not be far off the mark.

How practical is it?

The Kia Optima is a spacious car, capable of carrying four six-foot adults in comfort, but the boot is smaller and more difficult to access than a Ford Mondeo’s

The amount of space for passengers inside the Optima is very impressive, but if you want to make the most of it, avoid the optional sunroof, which reduces the headroom a little

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
510 litres
Boot (seats down)

The new model is wider as well as longer and the increase in body size liberates more rear headroom. The headroom-sapping panoramic sunroof now uses carbon reinforced plastic to minimise the amount it eats into cabin space.  

Kia knows that buyers at this end of the market will spend a lot of time inside the car, driving, so storage areas are well thought out. The door pockets and cupholders may be on the smaller side, but the Optima compensates with an air-conditioned glovebox and a deep cubby under the armrest.

Boot space has increased from 505 to 510 litres – more than the 486-litre Mazda 6’s boot. However, main rivals such as the VW Passat and Ford Mondeo have bigger load bays at 586 litres and 550 litres respectively.

What's it like to drive?

A stiffer suspension set-up means the new Optima is more agile in corners and doesn’t get out of shape when you ask it to perform quick changes of direction.

You're not exactly spoiled by choice

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

While the Ford Mondeo has 14 engine choices, the Optima gets just one. The 1.7-litre four-cylinder diesel is the same as in the old model, but gets a modest five horsepower boost and an increase in torque, up from 239 lb ft to 250 lb ft. It doesn’t sound like much, but reduces the amount of gear changes needed to keep up with traffic.

The upgraded 1.7-litre engine also brings better fuel economy efficiency– fuel consumption has improved by 10mpg to 67.8mpg combined and CO2 emissions are down by 20g/km to 110g/km. Sprinting from 0-62mph takes 10 seconds – faster than 1.6-litre rivals such as the VW Passat (10.8 seconds) and Ford Mondeo (12.3 seconds).

Another bonus is that the old six-speed automatic gearbox has been ditched for a modern dual-clutch version with seven speeds, which provides smooth shifts and doesn’t harm fuel economy.

The suspension is still comfortable, soaking up the worst bumps in the road even when the car is fitted with larger 18-inch alloy wheels.

Kia has also revised the car’s steering rack – it’s now more direct, making it easier to drive the through a quick series of corners. While the improvements to driver enjoyment are definitely noticeable, the Ford Mondeo or Mazda 6 are still better choices if you’re looking for a dynamic family car.

Where the Kia feels most at home is on the motorway, where extensive sound deadening means it’s quiet and relaxed, although the larger wheels do amplify road noise.

What's it like inside?

Inside, the new Optima is a more premium and high-quality place to sit than the old model, but still not up to the standards of rivals such as the VW Passat.

Next Read full interior review