2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Simon Hill
When Kia’s current-generation Optima was introduced for the 2011 model year it represented a stunning breakthrough for the company, a car that replaced the inoffensive but utterly forgettable blandness of the second-generation Optima (called the Magentis in Canada at the time) with genuine head-turning style. The fact that it was also quite nice to drive only helped seal the deal.
Four years later the Optima’s athletic, coupe-like profile still looks thoroughly contemporary, so the Korean automaker has taken a conservative approach to the mid-size family sedan’s mid-cycle refresh.
Outside, the changes to the 2014 Optima are limited to revised front and rear fascias and some trim details (notably the decorative fender vents, which get a chromed slash bezel instead of a horizontal splitter). At the front, the fog light housings have been reshaped to create the impression of a narrower lower grille, and the SX now gets quad-pod LED fog lights. At the back, the taillights have been restyled, the diffuser panel widened, and the lower reflectors moved up a little.
None of the changes fundamentally alter the car’s overall look, and at first glance the casual observer might not notice them at all. I think the front end looks a little busier than it was before (so either more interesting or less cohesive, depending on your viewpoint), while the back end is a clearer win, with an edgier, more modern look.
Inside, the 2014 Optima has redesigned seats, and there’s a new larger 4.3-inch colour display screen nestled between the gauges in the instrument panel. Newly available features include blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and an eight-inch navigation and infotainment screen. The SX Turbo also gets an available drive-mode selector that allows the driver to change the powertrain response and steering weight.
In terms of its mechanical bits the Optima carries on unchanged. LX, EX, and non-turbocharged SX models get a 2.4L direct-injected four-cylinder engine that develops 192 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. SX Turbo models like my test car get a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that cranks out a V6-worthy 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels, with the SX Turbo getting paddle shifters and the drive mode selector.
2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo engine bay & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
When I picked up my SX Turbo test car I hadn’t yet researched all the changes, but after a fairly long drive on the highway one of the first things I jotted down in my notes was that the car had “very comfortable seats,” so I’ll give Kia a clear win on that front, too.
The different drive modes – Normal, Eco, and Sport – are accessed via a button under the right-hand spoke on the steering wheel. They work as expected, with Eco mode softening things up and short-shifting for economy, Sport mode firming the steering and holding the engine revs higher for maximum performance, and Normal mode striking a reasonable balance between the two extremes.
2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo paddle shifter. Click image to enlarge
Overall the Optima delivers a comfortable and pleasantly engaging driving experience. The sport-tuned suspension in my SX Turbo test car felt well sorted, providing good handling and a compliant ride over undulating road surfaces and larger bumps. It could sometimes be a little jarring over smaller, sharp-edge bumps, however, and I found the electric steering to be surprisingly numb regardless of what drive mode I used (I don’t imagine it helped that the test car was still fitted with winter tires, even though it was late spring when I picked it up). On the bright side, if there was any torque steer it was negligible enough that I didn’t notice it.
The 2.0L turbocharged engine in the SX Turbo pulls strongly even from low revs, and in Sport mode will haul the 1,573 kg sedan from 0 to 100 km/h in about 6.8 seconds, compared to 8.7 seconds for the bread-and-butter 2.4 GDI engine. In terms of economy, my test car was showing a long-term average of 12.4 L/100 km when I picked it up and I got pretty close to this during my week with the car, achieving an average of 12.8 L/100 km in mixed driving. In practice, I found that this translated to just over 15 L/100 km in the inner city, and about 9 L/100 km during suburban highway driving. Transport Canada’s official 2014 city/highway ratings are 10.3/6.4 L/100km, but using the more realistic upcoming five-cycle test the SX Turbo ends up rated 11.8 / 7.6 / 9.8 for city/highway/mixed driving.