Great styling sells cars, and you need look no further than the 2014 Kia Optima for proof. Until this current version of Kia’s midsize family sedan debuted for the 2011 model year, Optimas were either weird or they were bland. Then, after a decade of offering great warranty coverage and delivering impressive reliability failed to bring buyers to showrooms in big numbers, this third-generation version of the Optima arrived and Kia sales caught fire. Distinctive and desirable sheet metal finally did the trick.
Now, for the 2014 model year, Kia gives its popular family car an update, freshening the styling, improving the interior, and adding new safety and infotainment systems to ensure that the Optima remains competitive against newer alternatives.
Given the changes, I decided to get reacquainted with the Optima and spent a week ferrying my family around the Los Angeles suburbs in this Ebony Black SX Turbo. Except for arguments over who was going to get stuck in the front passenger’s seat, everybody was happy with this Optima.
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
Kia sells the 2014 Optima with a choice between two engines, and in LX, EX, SX, SX Turbo, and SX Limited trim levels. Prices start at $22,300* for the LX model and rise to $36,100* for the SX Limited.
The Optima LX is well equipped, and can be optioned with a Convenience Plus Package ($1,400) containing a 10-way power driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, a reversing camera, and a UVO eServices infotainment system. With that package and a set of floor mats, you’ve got a good-looking and nicely equipped family car for $23,815.
Wondering what the Optima EX ($24,750) has? Leather seats for starters, plus Smart Key passive entry with push-button starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, upgraded interior lighting, an auto-dimming interior mirror with a universal garage door opener, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. To this, the Optima SX ($26,300) adds 18-inch aluminum wheels, LED running lights, LED taillights, Supervision gauges, black cloth roof pillar trim, a black cloth headliner, fake carbon fiber dash trim, metallic alloy pedals, and stainless steel illuminated door scuff panel trim.
My Optima SX Turbo started at $28,300. In addition to its powerful turbocharged engine, this model includes bigger front brakes, HID headlights and Drive Mode Select technology. Premium and Technology option packages tacked on another $5,150 worth of equipment, bringing the total to $33,450. Those option packages added a premium sound system, a UVO eServices infotainment system, a navigation system, a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a reversing camera, rear parking assist sensors, and a Blind Spot Detection System with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
At the top of the lineup, the Optima SX Limited costs $7,800 more than the SX Turbo, and it could credibly be considered an entry-level luxury car. From its diamond-quilted premium Nappa leather (oooh! Just like a Bentley!) and heated steering wheel to its LED fog lights and power folding side mirrors, the SX Limited comes with everything Kia throws at the Optima as standard equipment.
* All prices include a destination charge of $800
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
With the Optima, Kia pulls off a rare trick in the midsize sedan class. The company has created a good looking and stylish car, a distinctive one that doesn’t resemble any of its competitors. Though this design dates to the 2011 model year and is actually one of the oldest in the midsize sedan class, the Optima still looks terrific. Kia definitely hit a home run with this car.
Nevertheless, for 2014, the Optima gets subtle changes to its appearance. Highlights include revised front and rear styling, new aluminum wheel designs, and on pricier models new LED running lights and LED taillights. The SX Turbo gets a new ‘Turbo’ badge in its front fender vents, too. The updates are appealing, but they’re barely noticeable, making me wonder why Kia spent money trying to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place.
Inside, Kia has updated the Optima’s driver-centric cabin with improved finishes and trim, and a new flat-bottom steering wheel is standard equipment. Again, the changes are subtle, but because the interior is where the Optima’s owner spends all of his or her time, investing in these upgrades makes sense.
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Cargo
If you’re driving an Optima SX Turbo, you’re probably going to be comfortable. A standard 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat helps ensure a perfect driving position behind the appealing new steering wheel. Seat support is excellent, and the perforated leather in the EX and SX models passes muster at this price point. My test car had heated and ventilated seats for both the driver and front passenger, but the heated steering wheel offered for the SX Limited is not available for the SX or SX Turbo trim levels.
Heated back seats are available, too, adding to already comfortable rear quarters. There’s no shortage of legroom, foot space, or thigh support in the back of an Optima. I also had no trouble installing my kids’ child safety seats using the LATCH anchors.
One of the Optima’s major flaws, though, is that the front passenger’s seat is mounted close to the floor and doesn’t offer a height adjustment of any kind. As a result, my wife hated riding in this Kia because she felt too low in relationship to the dashboard and door panel, and it was harder to gracefully enter and exit the car.
Pop the Optima’s trunk and you’ll find 15.4 cu.-ft. of space, which is average for a midsize family sedan. The space is nicely shaped though, and with some creativity you can cram lots of stuff into it. Handles release the 60/40-split rear seat backs, and then you just flop them down to load longer items. Once everything is in, swing the trunk shut using the grab handle.
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
Among the 2014 Optima’s upgrades are new instrumentation featuring a center information display, Smart Key keyless entry with push-button starting, a new navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen display, and next-generation Your Voice, or UVO, eServices technology.
The new UVO eServices system pairs with a smartphone and allows mobile apps to be run right from the in-dash touchscreen. The system is responsive, the touchscreen buttons work well, and the graphics are crisp and clear. Unlike with some touchscreen infotainment systems, I never found myself stabbing fruitlessly at Kia’s UVO system.
Features include My Point of Interest, which lets the Optima’s owner send a destination from Google Maps to the car’s navigation system. A parking minder system helps the owner to find the Optima in a crowded lot. There’s also a 9-1-1 Connect service that activates after a collision, helping to speed rescuers to the scene of the accident. For 2015, UVO eServices will provide geo-fencing, speed alert, and curfew alert features, practical applications for households with teenage drivers.
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: Safety Matters
In addition to the UVO eServices system’s 9-1-1 Connect technology, which automatically calls for help following a collision as long as a paired smartphone is aboard the vehicle, the 2014 Optima is available with a new Blind Spot Detection System, a new Rear Cross Traffic Alert system, and new rear parking assist sensors. These safety features help to maintain the Optima’s credibility as a modern family car.
By the way, if you’re planning to use the Optima as a kid hauler, rest assured in its ability to protect the people you love the most. That’s because the Optima is a ‘Top Safety Pick’ according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also gives the Optima high marks, with 5-star ratings in every assessment except for one, and that’s a 3-star rating for the driver’s side-impact protection. If Kia fixed that, this car would be right at the top of its class in terms of crash protection.
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
My 2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo test car had a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine under its hood, one that absolutely transforms the car’s personality. Think about it. The SX Turbo boasts 274 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter available from 1,650 rpm to 4,500 rpm, and is installed in a car weighing about 3,500 pounds. That’s 54 more ponies and 11 more lb.-ft. of torque than Audi extracts from the same size engine. Trust me. You’re not gonna miss having a V-6.
A 6-speed automatic transmission is the only one offered for this car, but it has an intuitive manual shift gate and, for the SX and SX Turbo models, paddle shifters. The SX model’s powertrain also includes three different driving modes, designed to maximize fuel economy when you need to (Eco), or to maximize driving thrills when you want to (Sport). In between, there is a Normal setting.
During my testing, I mixed and matched the drive modes, and ended up with 21.3 mpg. The EPA says this car should get 24 mpg in combined driving. This performance is pretty typical of Kia products; they always come in closer to the city rating than the combined rating.
As you might expect, the Optima SX Turbo effortlessly gathers speed. Whether you’re getting onto a freeway, passing slower traffic, climbing a mountain grade, or just trying to get ahead of the pack to change lanes and make a turn, this Kia makes it happen.
The automatic transmission shifts exactly how and when you want it to, unless you’re cruising in Eco mode. Then, it resists downshifts, causing the car to feel a little sluggish and unresponsive. In Normal and Sport modes, those traits vanish, and I find both the paddle shifters and the manual shift gate easy and intuitive to use.
Around town and on the highway, the Optima SX Turbo’s suspension demonstrates an impressive balance between ride quality and handling. This is not a firm setup. Yet the Optima is communicative and never feels woozy or disconnected from the pavement.
Get the SX Turbo onto a twisty mountain road, and it seems a little soft, but not in an entirely disagreeable way. Grip is excellent in corners, the steering usually proves accurate and confidence inspiring, and the brakes resist fade despite hard driving. I also noticed that it seems as though Kia has dialed back the stability control system’s sensitivity level with the refreshed 2014 Optima, even if it still steps in too frequently.
Overall, the Optima’s driving dynamics prove excellent in a wide variety of situations. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t get the gas mileage the EPA says it will, I’ve got no complaints. All that’s really missing here is an optional all-wheel-drive system.
2014 Kia Optima Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
Though it is one of the older models in its segment, and despite the fact that it frequently gets passed over in favor of the usual suspects from Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota, the 2014 Kia Optima remains an excellent choice among midsize family cars. This Kia is far more stylish than its price tag might suggest, is fun to drive in turbocharged format, and gets top safety ratings, too. Plus, the Optima is comfortable, practical, and offers exactly the kinds of safety and infotainment technologies that today’s car buyers seek.
Kia provided the 2014 Optima SX Turbo for this review
2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo photos by Christian Wardlaw
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