Kia has long since ditched its previous history of shoddy build quality by becoming a leader in value. With a Kia, you’re getting high-end features that others charge an exorbitant amount for. There’s also the peace of mind that one of the lengthiest warranties on the road brings. With the United States going gaga for crossovers and SUVs, it’s tough to see the mantra continuing to work on sedans. Cars like the 2019 Kia Optima are not only competing with other midsize sedans, but with compact crossovers too.
If class leaders like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima can’t fight off the SUV uprising, how can Kia stop the walls from closing in on the Optima? By offering even more value, obviously. The sedan now comes with blind-spot collision warning, a reverse parking distance warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning, forward collision warning, forward collision-avoidance assist, lane change assist, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning, as standard. There’s also a more athletic design to go along with the new safety features.
One of the major aspects of the Optima’s refresh was to make it relevant again. Kia’s designers have done this by giving the sedan a nip-and-tuck, transplanting a more aggressive scowl from the Stinger onto the Optima. They’re not large changes, you’ll need to be looking at side-by-side pictures to spot the differences, but they end up to be meaningful ones that dramatically alter the Optima’s countenance.
The Optima wasn’t an ugly vehicle, but it was boring, never coming off as stylish or elegant. Instead, it was clearly a safe design that could be liked be a large amount of people. And while I hate to use the word aggressive to describe the Optima, the sedan clearly looks angrier.
Every time we got out of the car, I couldn’t stop staring at the rear end where Kia has attached a subtle rear spoiler and a not-so-subtle diffuser. The thing’s massive and with the two large exhaust outlets, you could fool another motorist into thinking you’re in something that’s genuinely quick. When outfitted with a lighter color — like the white on our press car — the black trim pieces on the black really do look sporty.
Kia swears up and down that it’s altered the Optima’s cabin in some way for 2019, but I wasn’t able to spot the differences. If you enjoy finding the differences between two images, you’ll thoroughly enjoy trying to spot what changes, if any, Kia has made to the sedan.
Get past the fact that the interior remains mostly the same from the previous year and you’re treated to something that doesn’t feel like it’s from a value-packed, South Korean brand. It looks and feels really nice in the cabin. The SX 2.0T that we drove was fitted with black and red sport leather seats that had the right amount of bolstering and coziness for a daily driver.
The reworked UVO system is now easier to use, which is a major plus. And the Harman Kardon 10-speaker audio system is also great. There’s not much to complain about with the Optima’s cabin and if you really squint, you can see a subtle hint of luxury.
With the Optima’s new look, you get into the sedan almost hoping for it to be overly sporty, like jarring ride, raucous exhaust note, and loads of steering feel. But you won’t find any of that here. The Optima, despite its new look, wants to appeal to a wide range of consumers and is built to be enjoyed everyday. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the exterior design promises more.
The powertrain lineup remains the same for the Optima, with the SX 2.0T being fitted with the 245-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It’s a strong engine that makes an ample amount of power for the sedan. It’s not the most characterful motor on the market, but it’ll impress the majority of drivers and even surprise some unsuspecting drivers off the line.
The SX 2.0T gets a sport-tuned suspension setup, but it still feels soft around corners and rolls slightly when pushed hard. Again, I hardly doubt that anyone will take their Optima for a spirited drive on a Sunday, but if they were to, the majority of drivers would be impressed, while the minority would find something to gripe about.
For everyday use, the Optima’s just fine.
The Optima continues to be one of Kia’s best-selling vehicles and for good reason. The gap in value between Kia’s cars and ones from other automakers is shrinking, but the South Korean brand is still sticking to its guns, branching out to high-tech safety features as standard. There’s also the Optima’s new look that’s inspired by the Stinger. Whether it works remains to be seen, but Kia has found a way to make the Optima a better value and give it a design that is begging for more performance.
Pricing for the Optima starts at $23,820, which includes the $920 destination fee. The SX 2.0T trim that we tested is priced at $32,820. You don’t get into an Optima because it’s the most enjoyable sedan to drive or the best-looking sedan, but because it’s a feature-packed car with an affordable price tag. The 2019 Optima builds on that, but adds a more athletic design to the formula. It’s now okay to want one because of the way it looks.