2019 Kia Optima SX Review: A Sporty Daily Driver You Could Fall in Love With
Between its roominess, power, and abundant technology, this midsize Kia four-door makes a solid case for itself.
Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 Kia Optima SX.
The 2019 Kia Optima SX, By the Numbers:
Base Price: $32,820
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, 245 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque; six-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
0-60 MPH: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver testing, 2016 model)
Quick Take: The Kia Optima SX, the top trim, is the perfect stylish daily driver for the enthusiast that needs the space of a family car but doesn't want to lose the torque of a hot hatch.
One Big Question: Does the Kia Optima SX still feel like a Kia?
Yes and no. Historically, Kia hasn't been synonymous with sexy, but their new styling language has become more and more head-turning inside and out, without losing the practicality that makes a Kia a Kia. This isn't a brand that's trying to reinvent the wheel; Kia just wants to improve on it.
The leather upholstery feels good in your hands, the flat bottomed steering wheel is a welcome sporty touch, and the dials and switches are all well-placed for easy use. There's none of the cheapness somebody on the street might assume about the Optima because of its Kia badge. It isn't over the top luxury—it is still a Kia—but it delivers an expensive-feeling drive without seeming elitist.
Kia Optima SX—The Pros:
- The Kia Optima SX is a good-looking sedan. The LED running lights, the sporty body kit with the aggressive front splitter and the rear spoiler, the lines of the body, and the red brake calipers peeking out from behind the black-and-chrome rims add up to a car that's pretty dang nice to look at. The grill mirrors that of the sporty, more luxurious Stinger and the top-of-the-line K900—but to be honest, I think the Optima is better looking.
- The gorgeous panoramic sunroof stretching from the driver's seat to the rear bench lets in tons of sunlight.
- There's a ton of driver safety technology in this Optima. Blind spot warning, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, and front and rear parking cameras all make this Kia feel more expensive than it actually is.
- Who says a Kia can't have luxurious touches? The Optima SX has a heated steering wheel and heated and cooled seats. Does anyone need these things? No. But are they amazing, especially on a 95-degree day in a car with a black interior? Yeah, I'd say a cold seat is appreciated.
- The controls are simple and intuitive; there's no odd design here. The steering wheel buttons are laid out in a user-friendly way, with phone controls on one side, and driver's menu and music dials on the other. Likewise, the controls in the dash are laid out simply; the climate controls are straightforward, with temperature dials and fan-speed buttons.
- The 245-hp motor answers the call when you step on the gas pedal; there's not a whole lot of lag, making the Optima seem content to get up and go at any time. For the size and purpose of the car, the power level is perfect. On top of that, this Kia has an incredibly smooth ride. Gliding along without worry, leaping to speed in an instant? Sign me up.
Kia Optima SX—The Cons:
- As with every Kia I've driven, even the sporty Stinger, the steering feels a little loose; the front wheels always feel a little disconnected form the driver's hands. But it certainly isn't a deal breaker. This isn't a Jaguar, after all.
- The infotainment screen's border extends two inches out on each side, which looks a little awkward, considering the screen doesn't fit that entire space. And the SD card slot sits within the border to the right of the screen, rather than tucked away in the center console or glovebox—and it isn't the prettiest thing to look at. It would look a little more premium if the screen filled the slot all the way to the border.
Between the technology, the styling, the performance, and the space, the Kia Optima SX is a hard bargain. The top-trim Toyota Camry XSE may have more power, but at a cost of a few thousand dollars more—and the Optima never feels lacking in power for what it's meant to be, especially in sport mode. The infotainment is a quick-acting touch screen, the interior has luxurious touches, and let's not forget the sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel. All this for less than $33,000.
If the highest-trim Optima SX is out of the budget, the base Optima LX starts at $22,900 and has many of the amenities that make the SX an amazing value, just with a smaller engine. And from the outside, it'll be hard to tell the difference.
Kia Optima SX—The Bottom Line:
If you've got $32K to spend at a Kia dealership and don't want to be the sort of outwardly-sporty person who buys a Stinger, the Optima SX is an excellent choice for a sporty daily driver. Kia has come a long way; the technology, the sport-tuned suspension, and the quality make this a desirable everyday ride—and on top of that, this Optima is just the right amount of quick quick. By the end of my days with the Optima SX, I was sad to see it go.