Test Drive: Kia Optima is a solid contender in its class

Having surpassed one million units sold in the United States since its introduction 16 years ago, the Kia Optima can lay claim to much of the credit for the success of Korean automakers Kia and Hyundai in the U.S. market. The front-wheel-drive Optima, a U.S.-built midsize sedan that was redesigned for 2016, remains a solid contender in a very competitive segment.

The base Optima LX starts at $22,400. Like all Kias and their Hyundai cousins, it's loaded with standard features. The high-end EX that we test-drove came with about $5,000 worth of options, above and beyond the long standard-equipment list, and had a sticker price of $30,615.

Powering our test car was a 2.4-liter, 185-horsepower inline Four. It provided strong, consistent power, though few would call its performance exhilarating. Fuel economy is 24 mpg city, 35 highway. Kia also offers a choice of 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter turbocharged engines, both of which deliver more pep than the standard engine. All-wheel drive is not available on this model.

The Optima is a nicely proportioned, well-built car that has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Its seats five comfortably; tall passengers have enough head room in the outboard rear seats, though not in the middle. There's plenty of leg room in front and knee room in back.

The driving position can be awkward for tall drivers who like maximum leg room. With the driver’s seat all the way back, the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is a little too far away. Our six-foot driver solved the problem by making the seatback more upright than usual to bring his upper body closer to the wheel.

Although there are quite a few buttons for the audio, telematic and climate controls, they're clearly labeled with large letters. It took no time to achieve a comfort level with the Optima’s controls.

As always, we were impressed with what we found in the small print: dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, push-button start, heated steering wheel, and audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls on the hub. The EX Premium Package included some desirable features such as a panoramic sunroof, navigation system and blind-spot detection, but it added $3,700 to the bottom line.

The Optima has an unusually large trunk – almost 16 cubic feet – and there’s a little more room under the deck because there’s no spare tire. The Optima comes with a kit for temporarily repairing and refilling a flat. Not everyone favors this feature; certain types of damage cannot be repaired with the kit provided.

Like all of today’s midsize sedans, the Optima serves up a smooth, quiet, composed ride on the highway, and handles competently. The list of competitors is long, beginning with the Optima’s cousin, the Hyundai Sonata. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Volkswagen and Fiat-Chrysler all build medium-priced midsize sedans that deliver comfort, durability and reliability.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2016 Kia Optima EX

Price: $30,615

Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 185 horsepower, 178 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,362 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17x7-in. alloy

Tires: P215/55R V all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 15.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline