The latest version of the Optima hit Canadian roads back in 2015, and really cemented Kia’s momentum in the family sedan scene. The next-generation, 2021 Optima is slated to arrive in the second half of 2020, meaning this generation will soon be moving fully into used-vehicle territory.
Thanks in large part to above-average styling and feature content for the money, the Optima was popular with budget-minded shoppers after an upscale package that wouldn’t break the bank. With four doors, five seats, a decent trunk, there’s ample room for most family travels. Wider and longer than its predecessor, the 2016 Optima boasts more cargo space, headroom, and rear-seat legroom. Despite the increased size, the updated Optima’s chassis is lighter and stronger than before thanks to extensive use of high-strength steel in its construction.
Tweaks to the steering and suspension enable improved comfort and handling characteristics compared to the previous version, too. Owners commonly say this generation of Optima makes a nice upgrade from models past.
Safety-minded shoppers will find blind-spot detection, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, and forward automatic emergency braking. Convenience features range from a surround-view camera, adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, and a surround stereo.
Cross-shoppers should also look at the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima.
All units were front-wheel drive and equipped with an automatic transmission.
Most used Optima models you’re considering will come with a 2.4L four-cylinder, good for the better part of 200 hp, or a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, punching output to 245 hp and backing drivers with breezy access to heaps of low-end torque. A four-cylinder gas-electric hybrid engine was also available.
What Owners Like
The Optima seems to have sealed the deal with many owners thanks to its reasonable price and hefty list of standard features. Technology features are logical and approachable, while handy touches like wireless charging add further flair. Most owners rave about a comfortable ride and plenty of rear-seat legroom.
What Owner’s Dislike
Most owner gripes centre around the Optima’s sportier side – or, perhaps more appropriately, the lack thereof. Common complaints include a numb and vague feel to the brakes, lazy steering with minimal feel, and dull engine sounds no matter the powertrain. Drivers after a sport sedan experience have better options.
Pro Tip: Freshen Up Your Ride
Minimize potential headaches with a new-to-you Optima by budgeting for a little added TLC – especially if service records are unclear. A fresh battery, as well as fresh fluids, filters, and spark plugs can go a long way towards fending off numerous potential headaches before they happen.
The Test Drive
First up, an important issue to look into: some models were recalled to update engine software to improve vehicle safety in the event of engine failure, which could cause stalling or a loss of control. Like all recalls (full list here), this is intended to fix a latent safety defect, and associated work is performed by dealers free of charge.
Long-Term Engine Care
All Optima engines use direct injection for improved engine output and fuel consumption. Over time, however, this type of engine may accumulate high levels of intake valve gunk that can cause problems. Keeping this gunk at bay is largely a function of timely, high-quality maintenance.
Familiarize yourself with the Optima’s maintenance needs by reading the owner’s manual. Pay close attention to the fuel, oil, and filter replacement requirements. Be sure to refuel using quality gasoline from a reputable retailer at all times. Use the octane grade outlined in the owner’s manual, too.
Some owners choose to change their oil and spark plugs more frequently than advised in the manual for added peace of mind.
Drivers should operate the automatic transmission on any model they’re test-driving at light, moderate, and full throttle. The Optima should shift cleanly and smoothly, both up and down. Anything less indicates potential trouble.
At any sign of hard shifting, clunking, or any unwanted noise or harshness from the gearbox, plan to have the vehicle inspected professionally before you buy. Usually, the fix is a simple software update to the transmission’s computer, but you’ll want to be sure before you buy.
Open and close Optima’s sunroof several times on your test drive, being sure to cycle the roof between all possible positions. Note any hesitation, straining or unwanted noise in the process, and confirm that no squeaks and rattles are apparent while you drive.
Whether in the open or closed positions, unwanted noise from the sunroof may require pricey repairs if the vehicle is out of warranty. Refer to the owner’s manual for servicing and lubrication instructions, which can help fend off future problems.
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Beware Previous Owners (Check the Brakes)
A multitude of factors determine how quickly a vehicle’s brakes wear out and require servicing, but Optima test-drivers are advised to pay close attention to the brakes on the model they’re considering – and particularly the rear ones.
Some owners have reported that rear brakes may seize up, wear quickly, rust, and cause other problems. While a common cause is actually their own failure to maintain the braking system properly via regular inspections and lubrication, be sure to double-check that the brakes look and feel like they’re in good shape on your test drive, and ask a professional for help if you’re not sure.
Beware Previous Owners (Check the Warranty)
Some versions of the Kia Optima have a turbocharged engine. Sometimes, owners of turbocharged engines use non-factory computer programmers to tune that engine to increase output. Fun though it may be, it also voids the engine’s warranty.
If the former owner of the Optima you’re considering voided the warranty this way, you might be in for a nasty surprise. Translation? The average shopper is best to avoid a used Optima that’s been modified by a previous owner with upgrades like these.
If you’re set on a hybrid-powered Optima, a few additional checks and inspections are advised before your purchase. First, have the vehicle treated to a full diagnostic system scan, including a scan of the hybrid driveline and battery, in a dealer setting. This scan can reveal a multitude of possible problems within the hybrid system, if present.
Further, ensure that all software updates have been applied to the vehicle, which can optimize or correct the operation of various systems related to the hybrid driveline. With a satisfactory diagnostic scan and all software updates installed, you’re on your way to the most reliable operation possible.
Used Optima shoppers have little to worry about – though a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) in a dealer setting, as well as a check for any outstanding recall work or software updates can go a long way towards further peace of mind.
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2016)
IIHS: Top Safety Pick + (2016)