You don't want to be caught asleep at the switch in the midsize sedan segment. With the recent arrivals of the Honda Accord, Mazda 6 and Toyota Camry, Kia wanted to make sure the 2019 Kia Optima stayed fresh both in looks and in the minds of sedan buyers. Updates for this year include styling revisions, along with additional safety and entertainment features.
You Might Need to Squint
You'd have to park the 2018 and 2019 Kia Optimas side by side to spot the specific differences, but the styling refinements enhance Kia's design language. Every trim level gets its own subtle tweaks to freshen it up. The LX has a new wheel design, Kia Stinger-esque LED daytime running lights and a matte gray grille. The S receives projector-beam foglights, LED taillights, dual exhaust, gloss black exterior trim and 18-inch alloy wheels. The EX gets new 17-inch wheels, and the SX sees new 18-inch wheels and LED foglights.
On the inside, the changes are fewer but still important. The S gets push-button start, power front windows with one-touch operation, and a key fob that opens the trunk, too. The EX gets new leather seats with seat heaters, optional ambient multicolor interior lighting and a heated steering wheel. SX buyers can option red and black or bronze and black leather seats with the SXL package.
Some Things Haven't Changed
Kia left the Optima's range of engines and transmissions well enough alone. The LX and S trims get motivation from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque and a six-speed automatic. The EX uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque and comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The SX comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 245 hp and a stout 265 lb-ft of torque that's hooked up to a six-speed automatic. All Optimas are front-wheel-drive.
Our seat time in the 2019 Kia Optima was spent in the SX, and we're pleased to report the way it goes down the road hasn't changed at all. The turbo engine gets you around town and up to highway speeds on such a broad wave of torque that you seldom feel the need to wring the motor anywhere near its 6,500-rpm redline. Gear changes aren't quite as crisp as those from a dual-clutch transmission, but in exchange you get an easy and smooth driving experience in slow-moving traffic. Should you want to hustle the Optima down a stretch of your favorite road, calling up Sport mode gives you sharper throttle response and makes the transmission hold onto gears a bit longer. Of course you've got paddle shifters if you want to change gears yourself.
The steering, ride and brakes haven't been tinkered with much either, and the Optima retains good body composure in day-to-day driving situations and remains as user-friendly as ever. Our only real beef comes from the low-profile tires, but we always have a love-hate relationship with those. In exchange for a slightly better turn-in response, the ride tends to suffer more than it should on broken pavement. To its credit, the Optima's suspension makes the best of it, but we'd like to see a bit more sidewall on this top trim level.
It's Not All Looks
Kia has also updated its safety and entertainment technology, and made sure to sprinkle it throughout the lineup. All Optimas get a driver attention warning system added to Kia's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. That suite of features includes blind-spot warning, reverse park distance warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning and mitigation, lane change assist, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning. Smart cruise control with stop-and-go functionality is standard on the EX and SX trims.
All Optimas feature an 8-inch touchscreen display, but Kia has restructured the Uvo entertainment system into three tiers. The first, Uvo Play, comes on the base LX and brings phone integration by way of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Midgrade S and EX models come with Uvo Link, which adds a 4G LTE hotspot to the previous system. Lastly, a version of Uvo Link with navigation is optional on the SX.
The Slightly Unknown
Pricing and fuel economy for the 2019 Kia Optima haven't been revealed yet, but you can expect them to be similar to last year's models, with the LX starting in the upper $22,000s to the SX breaking through the $30,000 barrier. Fuel economy is currently 29 mpg combined (25 city/36 highway) for the 2.4-liter, 31 mpg combined (28 city/37 highway) for the 1.6-liter, and 25 mpg combined (22 city/31 highway) for the 2.0-liter. Shoppers can expect to see the refreshed Optima on sale near the end of June, with pricing information being released close to that date.