The Kia Optima for 2016 is roomier than its predecessor and more fuel efficient than ever, and it still won't break the bank.
The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2016 Optima LX 2.4 is just $22,900 with a 185-horsepower, non-turbo, direct injection four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
This base model includes LED turn indicators in the power-adjustable outside mirrors, rear camera, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for smartphones, power windows with power-down on the driver's window, cruise control, remote keyless entry, six-way, adjustable front seats with height adjustment, illuminated vanity mirrors, split folding rear seats that expand trunk space and chrome-accented outer trim including door handles.
A whole new version of Optima — the LX 1.6T that is the most fuel thrifty — is $2,090 more and surpasses more popular Honda, Toyota and Nissan sedans in fuel economy.
The federal government rates this model at 28 mpg in city driving and 39 mpg on highways.
The five-passenger Optima is 1.1 inches wider and 0.4 inch longer than its predecessor, which helped add more rear-seat legroom and trunk space.
It is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which predicts it will have "good" reliability.
The U.S. government gave the 2016 Optima five out of five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side crash tests.
It's worth noting that the Optima comes with the best warranty coverage in the auto industry: A full 10 years or 100,000 miles limited coverage on the powertrain and five years or 60,000 miles basic coverage with a roadside assistance plan for the same duration.
The Optima seems more expensive than it is, given the standard features that come with even the base model.
The new, 1.6-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that's in the Optima LX 1.6T is mated to a new seven-speed, dual clutch automatic transmission that worked superbly in the test-driven car to smooth the power delivery in many situations while allowing good response for acceleration.
This engine has peak horsepower of 178, compared with the 185 horsepower of the larger-displacement base engine that's not turbocharged.
But the palpable difference is the turbo's peak torque of 195 foot-pounds starting at a low 1,500 rpm and extending to 4,500 rpm. This compares with the 178-foot-pounds of peak torque at 4,000 rpm that's available in the base 2.4-liter non-turbo four cylinder.
The combination of power, responsiveness and fuel economy is real. The test-driven Optima LX 1.6T averaged the government's rating of 32 mpg in city and highway travel without the driver trying to emphasize fuel efficiency.
And the Optima LX 1.6T only requires regular unleaded, so filling the 18.5-gallon tank at today's national average price costs just $43. That was enough gas to travel 590 miles in the test-driven model.
The Optima's gauges are clear and easy to read, and while there's a good amount of plastic on the dashboard, its controls are well arranged and don't require a tutorial to use.
The radio, for example, includes a dial for tuning, and all buttons are larger-sized with readable text on them.
The interior was quieter than expected and the ride in the LX 1.6T was compliant to muffle road harshness but also had some firmness for handling control.
The front seats offer a notable 45.5 inches of legroom, with headroom of nearly 40 inches. Back-seat legroom has grown from last year's 34.7 inches to a more competitive 35.6 inches. But the Toyota Camry still has more — 38.9 inches.
The Optima's new, larger trunk with 15.9 cubic feet of room, however, is bigger than the 15.4 cubic feet in the Toyota trunk.