Cars

Kia Makes Subtle Upgrades for 2019 Optima SX

DETROIT — Kia made some incremental yet substantial changes to the Kia Optima for 2019.

We had the SX Turbo which is the top of the line. It was powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The combination made 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.

The EPA fuel rating was 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg combined. Although Kia doesn’t say it, the SX is the sporty rendition of the Optima. My test car had paddle shifters, two-toned red bucket seats and as slick a set of 18-inch alloy wheels as I’ve seen in a while.

For 2019, Kia added some high-tech equipment that amounts to a safety suite. The sedan had blind-spot collision warning, parking distance warning in reverse, rear cross-traffic collision warning, front-collision warning, lane-change assist, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning and an updated UVO infotainment system.

But none of that mattered because I had the Optima during the deep, deep freeze. I mean when temperatures did not get above zero for a couple days and it was in the low teens the day before and the day after the big chill. I wasn’t straying too far from home.

When I did go out, this is the equipment that the Kia Optima had that made a difference. There was push-button lock and unlock. That meant no fumbling with keys. The same was true for the push button start and stop.

Heated front and cooled front seats made a big difference. Guess which feature I used when it was 10 below zero. The heated steering wheel was a bonus. It meant after perhaps five or so minutes I could take off my gloves. I’ve never liked driving with my hands covered.

The turbocharger pumping hot gases back into the engine caused it to warm up a lot faster and the heat came on quicker than I expected.

And even though they are required, the backup camera kept me on a straight path as I backed out of the driveway. I once got stuck in the driveway with a car that was rear wheel drive and had no backup camera. It makes a difference when you stay out of deep snow while driving, no matter what speed you are going.

There were some exterior enhancements. The wheels were redesigned and there were new LED fog lamps.

Inside, there was a flat bottom steering wheel, sport bucket seats and soft red ambient lighting. That matched the two-tone black and red seating. The dash remained black. Kia was one of the first automakers to switch to a horizontal layout for the center stack. It still looked good but could use a little updating.

The retractable panoramic roof on the SX trim level has been made standard. There were four drive modes: comfort, eco, smart and sport. I climbed into the back seat easily. The doors were wide and the seats were comfortable.

Because the Optima was a front-wheel-drive midsize sedan the tunnel reaching to the rear wheels was minimal. Three people could have sat abreast in the back seat. Perhaps not for long but for a short haul, it would be bad. There was plenty of headroom even with the panoramic roof.

There were a USB jack and one 12V socket for back seat passengers. Add that to the two 12V sockets, the USB and auxiliary jacks up front and the USB jack in the center console.

There were paddle shifters which rounded out the sportiness of this trim line. Of course, there was a navigation system, Bluetooth, satellite radio, a TFT screen, smart cruise control, adaptive LED headlights and taillights, a premium sound system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Kia never fails to impress me with the quality of its products as well as its pricing. My test car had a sticker of $33,315.

Pros:

Styling still top notch

Good power out of four-cylinder turbo

Comfortable rear seats

Cons:

Dash layout is getting a little old

Heated seats, steering wheel need to be turned back on upon restart

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.

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