G. Chambers Williams

Kia updates midsize Optima sedan for 2019 with design tweaks, new technology features

Kia’s midsize Optima sedan got an exterior and interior “freshening” for 2019, the first key changes since the gasoline-only models moved into their fourth generation for 2016 and the hybrid versions arrived in their second generation for 2017.

There are four gasoline-only trim levels for 2019, starting with the LX 2.4 ($22,900, plus $920 freight), followed by the S 2.4 ($24,900), EX 1.6 Turbo ($26,800), and the top-of-the-line SX 2.0 Turbo ($31,900), which we tested for this report.

For 2019, there are two hybrid models: the base EX for $27,985 plus $920 freight, and the EX PHEV -- plug-in electric hybrid – for $35,290.

The PHEV model’s hybrid battery pack can be connected to an external power source for recharging, which means that it can run on electric power alone if the battery is kept charged and isn’t allowed to run down. If the battery does run down, though, the PHEV can continue going on its gasoline engine, just like the regular EX hybrid. The plug-in model was added to the hybrid lineup for 2017.

Three gasoline engines are available in the gas-only models, beginning with a normally aspirated 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, standard in the LX and S models, with 185 horsepower and 178 foot-pounds of torque. This engine is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

EX models get a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder with 178 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque, mated with a seven-speed, dual-clutch performance automatic transmission.

Our SX model came with the most-powerful engine option: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 245 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. It’s paired with a different six-speed automatic transmission.

The hybrids have a 2.0-liter, 154-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine, coupled with a 50-horsepower electric motor in the standard model, or a 66-horsepower motor in the plug-in version.

Total combined output of the engine and electric motor is 192 horsepower and 271 foot-pounds of torque in the base hybrid, and 202 horsepower and 276 foot-pounds of torque in the PHEV.

EPA ratings for the gasoline models are 25 mpg city/35 highway/29 combined (LX); 24/33/27 (S); 27/37/31 (EX); and 21/30/24 (SX).

Hybrid EPA ratings are 39 city/45 highway/41 combined for the base hybrid, and 38/43/40 for the PHEV, which has a 29-mile range on battery power alone.

As for the 2019 changes, the Optima got some new design features inside and out, but not enough to qualify it as a new generation. It also received expanded Advanced Driver Assistance Systems technology, new UVO infotainment options, and available European-inspired red and black two-tone sport leather-trimmed seats (standard on the SX),

There are also new alloy wheel choices, ambient LED interior lighting, and a new Passion Red exterior color. Our SX model came with a Sparkling Silver exterior and black interior (except for the two-tone seats), and 18-inch alloy wheels.

LX models get new Kia Stinger-inspired LED daytime running lights, new 16-inch alloy wheels and a matte gray grill.

S – or Sport -- models now have projector-beam fog lights, LED taillights, dual exhaust, sport side sills with gloss-black trim, a gloss-black grill, and 18-inch alloy wheels. They also come with a smart key with pushbutton start, smart trunk, and power front windows with auto up/down.

Besides the 1.6-liter turbo engine and dual-clutch transmission, the EX now has an adaptive Smart Shift drive mode; new leather seats with front-seat heaters; new 17-inch alloy wheels; Smart Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go; and the fog lights, LED taillights and dual exhaust from the S model. Options include multicolor interior lighting and a heated steering wheel.

SX models can be dressed up further with the SX Limited Package ($3,800, not included on our tester), which adds 18-inch Dark Satin alloy wheels with P235/45R18 Michelin tires; black headliner and pillar covers; chrome accent side sills; front and rear upper door trim and instrument panel with silver perforated stitching; heated rear outboard seats; leather wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel with black perforated stitching and paddle shifters; upgraded Nappa leather seat trim; body-color outside mirrors and rear spoiler; rear side-window sunshades; and a Surround View Monitor.

New LED fog lights, ambient interior lighting, sport steering wheel and Smart Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go are standard on the SX model, which also comes with a panoramic sunroof; Harman Kardon premium audio system with UVO link and navigation; heated steering wheel; gloss-black door pillars and side moldings; and a sport bumper with LED fog lights.

The new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems include such features as Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, which automatically applies brakes to reduce speed to avoid a frontal collision; a Forward Collision Warning System, designed to detect a potential collision with the vehicle ahead, giving the Optima driver audible and visual warnings; Driver Attention Warning, which keeps an eye on the driver for signs of fatigue; Lane Keep Assist, which can keep the vehicle from drifting out of its intended lane; and Lane Departure Warning, which lets the driver know if the vehicle is drifting out of its lane without a turn signal being activated.

Kia’s UVO telematics and infotainment systems have been updated for 2019, with a variety of features depending on trim level. They include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

In the hybrid models, there is a lightweight, high-density lithium-polymer battery pack, placed under the trunk floor.

Gasoline models have a roomy 15.9 cubic feet of trunk space, with a 60/40 split-folding rear seatback. Regular hybrids have 13.4 cubic feet of trunk space, and the PHEV has just 9.9 cubic feet (in both hybrids, some space is lost to the battery pack).

Unlike some hybrid sedans – such as the Toyota Prius – the Optima hybrid looks almost identical to its gasoline-only sibling. But the hybrid does have a few unique styling cues, including a front air curtain, beveled rear bumper, rear diffuser shrouding the exhaust tip, and aerodynamic alloy wheels.

Included on our SX was the hands-free smart trunk opener, which automatically pops the trunk lid open if someone stands behind it for more than three seconds with the key fob.

Among standard safety features are front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, driver’s knee air bag, electronic stability control with traction control, antilock disc brakes, hill-start assist, and tire-pressure monitoring.

We had an abundance of power from the 2.0-liter turbo engine, with very little sign of turbo lag or the torque-steer effect often associated with front-drive cars,

Our time in the SX included a weekend trip with three adults on board, and occasionally four or five in the car for restaurant and sightseeing outings. The front seats are quite comfortable, as are the rear outboard positions. The middle position is OK for a small adult or child, but tight for a larger person.

The ride was smooth and reasonably quiet, even on some bumpy roads.

There were no options on our 2019 Optima SX. Total sticker price was $32,820, including freight.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.

2019 Kia Optima

The package: Midsize, four-door, four-cylinder gasoline or gasoline/electric hybrid powered, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger family sedan.

Highlights: Kia’s midsize sedan got a complete makeover for 2016, and the gasoline-electric hybrid model was updated for 2017; for 2019, there are numerous upgrades and styling tweaks. This is the best Optima yet, looking more like a luxury car than an affordable, mass-market vehicle.

Negatives: Headroom is tight for taller people in models with the sunroof.

Engine/power: 2.4-liter normally aspirated inline four-cylinder gasoline (LX, S); 1.6-liter turbocharged gasoline inline four-cylinder (EX); 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder gasoline (SX); 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine and 50 HP. electric motor (base hybrid); 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine and 66 HP. electric motor (PHEV).

Transmission: Six-speed automatic (LX, S, SX, hybrids); seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (EX gasoline).

Power/torque: 185 HP./178 foot-pounds (2.4); 178 HP./195 foot-pounds (1.6 turbo); 245 HP./260 foot-pounds (2.0 turbo); 154 HP/140 foot-pounds (hybrid, gasoline engine alone).

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard, including traction control.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain, both rows.

Length: 191.1 inches.

Trunk capacity: 15.9 cubic feet (gasoline models); 13.42 cubic feet (base hybrid); 9.9 cubic feet (PHEV).

Curb weight range: 3,230-3,558 (gasoline); 3,486-3,788 pounds (hybrids).

Fuel capacity/type: 18.5 gallons/unleaded regular (gasoline models); 15.85 gallons/unleaded regular (hybrids).

EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city/35 highway/29 combined (LX); 24/33/27 (S); 27/37/31 (EX); 21/30/24 (SX); 39/45/41 (base hybrid); 38/43/40 (PHEV).

Major competitors: Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Mazda6, Honda Accord.

Base price range: $22,900-$32,900 plus $920 freight (gasoline); $27,985-$35,290 (hybrids).

Price as tested: $32,820, including freight (2019 SX, no options).

On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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