2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo
2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo
2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo
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 bay2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo dashboard
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
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.

Connect with Autos.ca