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Made-over Kia Optima is confident in own skin

2016 Kia Optima interior

Like most cars undergoing generational change, the Optima ($22,840, including destination) is a little larger this year.

Though you won’t notice it at a glance, Kia’s midsize Optima sedan is fully redesigned this year.

Like most cars undergoing generational change, the Optima ($22,840, including destination) is a little larger this year. Its cabin is roomier, quieter and more luxurious. Its cabin-tech array grows richer.

The Optima’s platform is lighter, stiffer and stronger. Myriad suspension tweaks — including a longer wheelbase — bring a new sense of refinement. A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine expands the powertrain lineup to three.

These are big changes; yet, aside from a nip here and a tuck there, there’s little to visually distinguish this car from its predecessor. Nothing screams “I’m new! Pick me!”.

2016 Kia Optima interior

As always, Kia raises the bar with abundant standard features and the availability of so-called “class-up” options.

The Optima has shed its previous bargain-basement aura and, with it, any need to prove itself. It’s not yet the equal of the segment’s best, but it holds its own in a very good field.

As always, Kia raises the bar with abundant standard features and the availability of so-called “class-up” options.

Every Optima includes full power accessories, cruise control, A/C, a six-way power driver seat (including power lumbar), a rearview camera, alloy wheels, a 5-inch central display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a fully equipped six-speaker sound system.

Available driver-assist technologies include adaptive cruise, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking assist, front collision-warning, lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking.

Also available: road-searing bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights with automatic high beams and adaptive bending lamps.

The Optima is also the first Kia to offer Harman Kardon’s QuantumLogic surround sound. The 10-speaker, 630-watt system employs H/K’s Clarifi, a technology that reconstructs audio signals lost during digital compression.

A trio of four-cylinder engines brings the power. There’s a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four that makes 185 horsepower; a 245-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four; and a new 1.6-liter four, also turbocharged, that makes 178-hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. The first pair are mated with a six-speed automatic, the third with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

Optima press materials nod to “athletic” and “sporty” but, though it’s composed and serene, the Optima lacks a sporty dynamic. Body control during cornering is very good and the suspension adjustments improve composure on rough surfaces. But, whether the drive mode is set to Sport or Normal, the Optima’s responses are measured. Its power-assisted steering system provides scant feedback, and turn-in is vague.

With its turbocharged, 245-hp mill, sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch alloys, my SX Turbo tester ($30,640) — the sportiest Optima — never provoked me into anything like road-play. Optima feels engineered to convey a sense of luxury-by-isolation, the kind of feel Lexus rode to popularity.

Accordingly, interior design is clean, simple and elegant. Simple design updates — a horizontal dashboard layout, wider console — lend a spacious, open feel. Controls are simplified, encouraging less reliance on the touchscreen and more on hard buttons, and ergonomics improved.

The infotainment system now includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The made-over Optima improves in all the ways it needs to; just don’t expect to see it all at a glance.

2016 Kia Optima SX Turbo
Vehicle base price: $21,990
Trim level base price: $29,690
As tested: $33,215
Options included panoramic sunroof; Harman Kardon OLS Premium Surround Sound; leather seat trim; premium headliner and pillar trim; power front passenger seat w/lumbar; heated and ventilated front seats; heated outboard rear seat cushions; blind-spot detection; rear cross-traffic alert; rear parking assist; 18” alloy wheels
EPA ratings: 25 combined/22 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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