First Drive – 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo a Quintuple Threat

2016 Kia Optima SXT
by Tony West and Sommer Thornton
2016 Kia Optima SX
2016 Kia Optima SX

Kia’s best-selling Optima continues to push the boundaries of an affordable premium sport sedan. The 2016 Optima SX whip delivers on a promise to provide an innovative athletic mid-size design with a fresh premium interior. The base model Optima LX, with a MSRP of just $21,800, is a fun sedan with major mpg’s. But the 2016 Optima SX Turbo whip boasts a thrilling powertrain with torque on demand. And even with a sporty performance, its 4-cylinder engine is still efficient with a 32 mpg highway EPA!

The new Kia Optima SX Turbo has much of the same comfort/safety technology and top-notch infotainment as many of its peers priced over $40k, like power-folding outside mirrors, a 4 inch TFT LCD dash display, an 8 inch touchscreen, push button start, and auto-leveling headlamps- all standard.

The 2016 Kia Optima is offered in 5 trim levels: the base LX, LX Turbo, EX, SX, and SXL. The LX has a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine, and the LX Turbo boasts a 7 speed Dual Clutch Transmission matched to a 1.6 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, with a starting price of $24k. The Optima EX also offers a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder, but with lots more standard and available dynamic driving tech, all for $24k.

We reviewed the 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo – Snow White Pearl with black accents, merlot leather interior and major road chutzpa.


Stylish Upgrades and Sporty Add-ons

The exterior design of the 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo stands out among its other models. The Optima adds 3 dynamic paint jobs to its lineup- a new ocean blue, a dynamic grey with olive undertones, and a deep red created with aluminum pigments. The Snow White Pearl SXT we reviewed beamed on the road, and black accents give it a more sinister look. The raked A-pillar and sweeping C-pillar give the Optima SXT a more aggressive look.

2016 Kia Optima SXT 5

The 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo boasts HID headlights with auto leveling, Sport LED tail lights, chrome tipped dual exhausts, and power-folding heated outside mirrors – all standard. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels with black accents trick out the sedan, along with chrome trim on the side intakes and a chrome and black grille. Kia’s signature tiger nose grille is hot-stamped giving it a “3D” effect that resembles the K900.

2016 Kia Optima SX
2016 Kia Optima SX


Chrome lines the headlights, air intakes, and lower front fender. And the 2016 Optima SXT has a raised decklid, same as its previous model. The 2016 Kia Optima SXT is a surprising head-turner. It got a lot of compliments in the Midwest during my holiday travels. Many people couldn’t believe it was a Kia, which I guess is a good thing. The low-slung sedan has a sensual silhouette, but shows power in the front and rear, a prelude to what to expect from the interior and its powerful road character.



Sporty Powertrain Super -Efficient

We ripped the road for one glorious week in the Kia Optima SXT, trekking across 3 states. Surprisingly, we rarely had to stop for gas. Though the Optima SX Turbo is cool on the outside and sexy on the inside, its biggest advantage is its spirited athletic powertrain.

The 2016 Kia Optima is available with three engine choices, striking a balance between sportiness and fuel efficiency. Two engines, the 2.4 liter GDI 4-cylinder on the LX and EX and the 2.0 liter GDI turbo engine available on the SXL and SX turbo models are carried over from previous years.

All new for 2016 is a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder turbo engine offered in the LX that boasts 178 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm.

2016 Kia Optima SX
2016 Kia Optima SX

The Optima SXT’s 2.0 liter turbo engine features Gas Direct Injection and boasts 247 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 1,350 rpm. Performance is impressive in the SXT, even in eco mode. Beastly torque is available a millisecond after tapping the gas. The SX Turbo roars as its gets up, levels out and stays up for optimal high speed cruising.

Both the 2.0 liter and 2.4 liter GDI 4-cylinder engines are matched to a 6 speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic shifting. The Optima SX Turbo adds paddle shifters. The 2.0 liter 4-cylinder has been retuned for fuel economy and better performance with max torque available at a lower rpm. It also features an Active Eco System.

The impeccable performance of the sporty Optima SX Turbo is made even better by its combined EPA of 25 mpg (22 mpg city / 32 mpg highway.) Numerous components help save weight, aid aerodynamics, and boasts efficiency in the SXT. Start-Stop technology is the most seamless I’ve ever experienced, saving a boatload of gas. After a half a minute or so idle, the Optima SXT quietly shuts down the engine, and instantly ignites it when I pull off.

The 2016 Optima body is made with high strength steel alloy variations, and chassis comprised of Advanced High Strength Steel. The result is a lighter, more rigid sporty sedan with a quiet ride.

The new Optima is the first Kia to feature a panoramic sunroof support structure made with carbon fiber reinforced plastic, which drops pounds and lowers the center of gravity. A larger full floor under cover helps reduce wind noise and aid fuel efficiency. Increased dash insulation windshield molding and the increased use of structural adhesive ensures a quiet ride with reduced road and wind noise.

2016 Kia Optima SXT
2016 Kia Optima SXT

The 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo handles excellent on the highway and in dense city driving. I loved how the sporty sedan could dip and swerve in and out of lanes and make tight turns at high speeds if needed.

I like how the Optima SXT is efficient even in Sport mode, and how the whip can jet from a standing stop and still leave other cars in its dust. Suspension has been moved outward for a smoother ride. Increased lateral stiffness is achieved with a four-bushing mount system resulting in improved steering response and more even cornering. Available Rack-mounted Motor Driven Power Steering enhances steering response with a higher gear ratio.

The new Optima ST Turbo also has a standard Drive Mode Select that adjusts powertrain, braking, steering, and throttle mapping. In Sport mode, revs are held at a higher rpm for torque-on-demand and tighter braking. Normal mode is a great combo of efficiency, prowess and high comfort. And Eco mode is super-efficient, well-balanced with rpms and still very peppy.

I drove in Eco mode most of the time with little desire to switch modes. Sport mode is a thrill ride on the highway, but too much torque for city driving because the whip holds my rpms high and jets off with a tap of the gas. I almost rear-ended a few cars.

The 2016 Kia Optima SXT also features standard advanced safety features like the Vehicle Stability Management System, ABS, Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control. The SXT Launch Edition add-ons include a Blind Spot Detection System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Parking Assist System and available Dynamic bending Lamps, and High Beam Assist. Available on SXL models, High Beam Assist recognizes oncoming traffic and automatically switches the lights back to low beam.

The SX Technology Package ($4,800) includes Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Front Collision Warning, Electronic Parking Brake, Lane Departure Warning, and Autonomous Emergency Braking. If a front collision is impending, Autonomous Emergency Braking can stop the car.


Cabin has Ample Comfort and Infotainment

With a $21k starting price, a powerful efficient powertrain, stylish interior, and tech savvy interior, the 2016 Kia Optima could snatch the crown in its segment. The driver-focused cabin of the 2016 Optima SX boasts standard leather seats – merlot red leather in the SXT we reviewed. The merlot colored seats and black trim is set off perfectly against the white pearl paint job with sporty black accents – making the seats pop visually from the outside.

The Optima SX Turbo’s interior also has a leather wrapped steering wheel and leather wrapped shifter with red stitching. Nappa leather is offered in Premium Optima EX models. A heated steering wheel is optional on the SXT model.

Driver and front passenger both have heated and ventilated seats in the SXT, and the driver’s seat has a 10-way power function and 2-position memory. Passenger seats can be upgraded with a power adjustment. The SXT also has heated rear seats.

2016 Kia Optima SX interior
2016 Kia Optima SX interior

The cabin of the Optima now has a cleaner more unified design scheme with a wider center console – a welcomed improvement from the last model. The media buttons are on the center row, climate controls on their own row beneath, and many of the settings for phone and infotainment are assessable via the 8 inch touchscreen and the steering wheel.

The interior of the 2016 Optima SXT also features a standard push button start and keyless entry. The Optima’s standard Yes Essentials offers anti-microbial protection, stain repelling and releasing fabric, and anti-static protection.

The steering wheel has controls for phone, voice command, cruise control, audio, and the multi information display in the instrument cluster. The dash of the Optima SX Turbo has a standard 4.2 inch color TFT LCD meter cluster with a speedometer, tachometer and center digital multi info display that can be adjusted to display info like fuel range, outside temperature, average fuel economy, navigation, audio, a digital odometer, and driver settings.

I like the rear sunshade and power-folding outside mirrors that auto open as I approach the car and close after I exit the whip. The interior of the Optima SXT also has abundant legroom for all 5 passengers and stiffer more comfortable seats. A stiffer seat frame reduces vibrations and soft foam in the headrests, upper back and thigh support areas allow occupants to nestle into seats with deeper side bolsters made with denser supportive foam.

2016 Kia Optima SX interior
2016 Kia Optima SX interior

The Kia Optima SX Turbo also has an impressive infotainment suite that rivals Infiniti and Lexus sedans. The SXT utilizes an 8 inch touchscreen display with navigation and Sirius XM Satellite Radio along with Bluetooth, UVO technology and an available 360 degree around view monitor.

I really enjoyed the navigation on the Kia Optima SXT, as it displays clean view of the road, with street names and icons presents in a concise, easy-to-follow format.

A six-speaker audio system is standard on the 2016 Kia Optima, along with a USB and 12 volt outlet in the front and a separate USB and 12 volt outlet in the rear center console. The 2016 Optima also offers a 14-speaker Infinity Premium Audio System with Clari-Fi technology that restores audio signals lost in the digital compression process. The Infinity Sound System also features QuantumLogic Surround Sound technology with pristine playback. The sound system in the Optima SXT is bangin, adding to a long list of W’s the whip boasts.

For an extra $2,700, the SXT Launch Edition adds a panoramic sunroof, LED ambient lighting, a premium tricot black headliner and a Harmon Kardon Premium Sound System.

Kia’s cutting-edge connectivity system, UVO is standard in the Optima with four added eServices – Geo Fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, and Driving Score. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are also available to allow drivers to access music, messaging, navigation, and phone calls with their smartphone.

The 2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo is simply one the best buys for under $30, beating out most whips in its segment. It seemingly accomplishes what many luxury sedans have not, an affordable sporty efficient powertrain with a tech savvy interior and a style inside and out that sets it apart. The Optima was a winner since it debuted a few years back. Now this pop-sedan’s sporty older brother will flood the road this year. I already have many friends that are looking to purchase the Optima as their next new car. Toyota, Ford, Mazda, and Chrysler ought to take notes, and step up their game.

Check out more photos from our First Drive with the 2016 Kia Optima SXT on our Facebook Page!

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