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2016 Kia Optima first drive

Kia's best-seller gets even better


What is it? 

It's important! Particularly if you're a Kia dealer. 

In fact, according to Kia product planning VP Orth Hedrick, the 2016 Optima sedan is "the most important vehicle in our franchise." Given that the Optima accounts for roughly a quarter of Kia's U.S. sales -- about 120,000 units so far in 2015 -- Hedrick's statement is spot-on and, ironically, also the reason the car you see in the gallery above doesn't look much different than the outgoing model … at least upon first glance.

Kia opted not to reinvent its best-seller, instead following a policy that keeps what's working while refining everything else. "We have momentum with the current car, even in its fifth year," explained Hedrick, "so we wanted to continue that." The Optima's styling, penned by the venerable Peter Schreyer, has aged well, and for its 2016 refresh, the car maintains its overall DNA, including the trademark "tiger nose" fascia. Behind the familiar sheetmetal, though, the car has grown in nearly every dimension, leading to a lower, wider stance and improved interior packaging -- packaging that was already among the best in the midsize segment.

2015 Kia Forte5 SX review notes

Roomy, stylish and packed with features


EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR KEN ROSS: I spent four days with the Kia, which I actually ended up using for school work. As part of my ongoing study on the defensive use of firearms, I took a vehicle-safety class from Safety Solutions Academy in Toledo, Ohio. Gun-specific safety topics aside, it was extremely instructive to just learn how to secure a vehicle and its passengers. The bonus: It was all done very comfortably in the Kia Forte 5. At 6-foot-2, I was a little concerned going in that I would have trouble repeatedly getting in and out of such a small car, but it wasn’t a problem at all; my long frame fits easily into the driver seat, and the door opening provides excellent ingress and egress. The passenger seat has just as much room and is extremely comfortable.

As for driving, the six-speed manual transmission is responsive, and the engine is surprisingly peppy. While no race car, it accelerates well both off the line and in highway passing. The exterior design is stylish, too, while inside, the utility is unmatched for the size. Once you let the backseats down and open the hatch, there is more than enough room to fit a pop-up tent, folding table, four bags, three tarps, a folding chair and a large cooler. 

The Kia GT4 Stinger concept may or may not be built. We're hoping for "will be built."

We drive the Kia GT4 Stinger concept


As you’ll recall, Kia's GT4 Stinger debuted at the Detroit auto show almost a year and a half ago. From there, it went on tour around the world, everywhere from Russia to Brazil to Philadelphia. Everyone, we are told by Kia, loved it. So why are we writing about it now, all this time later? Because we just drove it. Yes, Kia called up and asked if we could come down to Kia Motors America in sunny Irvine, Calif., to their design studios and drive the GT4 Stinger around on California streets.

Of course we said yes. But being suspicious of pretty much everyone’s motivation about pretty much everything, we had to ask ourselves why this ginormous corporate entity would suddenly want to get publicity on a year-and-a-half-old concept car. Perhaps because Kia Motors America wanted to arm itself with some positive press to show to the high llamas back in Seoul to convince them there really is a market and not just enthusiasm for Stinger? Perhaps. Are we therefore being used as mere pawns in this product planning chess game? Possibly. But pawns just wanna have fun, and in this incidence, we didn’t mind being used. So off we plunged into LA freeway bedlam down to the OC to drive it.

Refined interior, cutting-edge technology and striking road presence maintain Soul’s iconic status.

2015 Kia Soul review notes


ONLINE FEATURES EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: Ignoring the Kia Soul’s weird looks, it’s a decent little scooter that’s extremely well-equipped for point-A-to-point-B duty. That’s basically all I did with it.

This car has nearly every option one could want in a daily commuter, which is something that Kia is getting good at. The heated (and cooled!) seats are comfy and warm up quick. The heated steering wheel is a bonus that you don’t think you need, until you try it, and then it becomes a necessity. The satellite radio/navigation system is easy to use and it hooked up to my Apple iPhone right away.

Power from the 2.0-liter is good. It’s tuned for quick takeoffs, which I like, and it revs high, which I also like. I do wonder how close you could get to that 31 mpg, with all that redlining. The transmission jumps around a bit, almost any movement on the pedal will bring a downshift, but again, it makes it feel quicker, so that’s OK.

The clean profile is easily recognizable as Sorento, enhanced with stronger shoulders and a long hood to deliver a more aerodynamic and sleek appearance.

2016 Kia Sorento SX Limited review notes


DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: “This car smells like Ikea!” shouted my daughter within 10 seconds of buckling herself into the 2016 Kia Sorento SX Limited.

“Yeah, Ikea and cucumbers!” her younger brother chimed in.

“You mean ‘a Kia’?” I asked, impressed that they could already tell brands by smell, but they both insisted they were indeed referring to the Swedish home superstore.

Thus it was determined that the Sorento smells of flat-pack furniture, cinnamon buns and salad, and that we as a family should spend less time wandering the halls of Ikea on snowy winter days.

Further pummeling the metaphor, the Sorento parallels Ikea in more than just its scent: This Kia SUV also delivers a convincing aura of quality and premium features in an unassuming shell. Problem is, there’s not much of a value here -- the $45,000 MSRP of our admittedly loaded tester is well into top-shelf Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot territory, which forces me to wonder out-loud to whom Kia is planning to sell this Sorento?

Improved aerodynamics and the absence of engine noise, combined with special sound-proofing materials, result in an exceptionally quiet ride.

2015 Kia Soul EV review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I’m not sure what particular alignment of incentives and mandates occurred to make the Kia Soul EV a quasi-viable product, but I’m not really mad that it happened, and I’m glad Kia didn’t seem to make a half-hearted attempt at it. Like every EV I’ve driven so far, it’s a pleasant, borderline fun way to zip from point A to point B (and maybe even back to point A) in luxurious, serene silence.

It doesn’t hurt that the refreshed Soul is a clean and even somewhat futuristic-looking box of a car. A revised suspension eliminated much of the tippiness that hurt the first-gen Souls, and I have to assume that adding a heavy battery pack low in the car doesn’t hurt stability, either.

Steering isn’t great, but sadly that’s nothing new for Kia. While I’m griping: The heaters have the smell of a hot glue gun while they’re warming up (an EV can’t really use a heater core like a liquid-cooled car can), and there was a super high-pitched whine present at times in the cabin -- like a squealing television. I couldn’t trace it to a particular system.

2015 Kia Sedona SX Limited review notes


ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I have to say, this 2015 Kia Sedona is a fantastic looking van. A large, wide version of the tiger grille dominates the front end and helps give the illusion of a lower slung vehicle. That fact that our tester is a range-topping SX Limited model with additional body jewelry like 19-inch wheels, LED running lights and chrome door handles probably helps a little, too.

The interior follows in the footsteps of other Kias: simple design with controls that still include a fair number of hard buttons, which is something I applaud. I’ll take traditional buttons over having most controls integrated into a touchscreen. Materials are of decent quality, but there is still a good amount of road noise that seeps into the cabin. I know, it’s a van and no minivan is going to be whisper quiet, but it seemed louder in there than, say, a Honda Odyssey.

On my one night with the Sedona, I loaded it up with six friends and took them to check out the Detroit auto show. So the Sedona was packed to the max with a total of seven adults. No one really complained about being too uncomfortable, but the full load definitely taxed the poor 3.3-liter V6. Pinning the throttle the to the floor was required for expressway merging, resulting in quite a bit of engine racket and not a lot of acceleration. After the trans eventually shifted up into a higher gear and things quieted down, one of my friends in back asked, “Is that it?” It wasn’t dangerously slow, but to be fair, we had seven adults in there.

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX review notes


EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: I’ve said before that I think the Kia Optima is the best value, if not the best car, in its class. That said, the efforts to subdue the car’s styling with the most recent refresh are kind of a bummer. The Optima is still distinctive, still arguably the sharpest-looking car in its class, but it’s not that standout that it was -- though, I’m not sure if buyers in this segment are looking to stand out. I did appreciate that Kia didn’t feel the need to go nuts with a bunch of hybrid badging and tacky plastic addenda.

If the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX we recently tested is any indication, Optima interiors are still great. The materials aren’t uniformly fancy, but Kia did a really nice job choosing the right materials for certain applications. Rather than using the cheap leather everywhere, they applied some really nice leather where the occupants are likely to look at and touch it.

With a large four-cylinder and an electric motor, I expected this car to accelerate a little more quickly than it did. It’s not quite a slug and there is that nice electric-motor feeling on acceleration, but if you’re looking to have some fun behind the wheel, Kia offers a really nice 2.0-liter turbo four. The hybrid system isn’t at all intrusive -- you’ll notice when you’re running on electricity and you’ll notice when the gas engine kicks on, but I wonder if non-car-people would.

2015 Kia K900 review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: Kia did a fine job “taking inspiration from” the BMW on this K900. The shape is nearly identical, I’ve only seen it in BMW-ish colors and even that tiger nose grille is starting to look a little “double-kidney” to me. That’s not to say it’s a bad look. The 7-series is a big, imposing, handsome car, and so is this. I’m not a fan of chrome though, so, new wheels, new door handles and get rid of that strip in the back.

Power feels very BMW-ish as well. Throttle weight and tip-in are perfect, it doesn’t jump off the line like many Mercedes vehicles do. It has a nice progressive acceleration feel. Sport mode seems to do very little to change that, though I do enjoy the futuristic digits for the speedo and tach. The brakes were a little soft for such a big car. I found myself having to push a few inches down farther than I thought I should, to come to a stop.

2015 Kia Sorento SX review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: Wow, this 2015 Kia Sorento SX is $40K? No, thank you. As I was driving recently, I was thinking to myself how this is a pretty good SUV, and wondering if American buyers would eschew their Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ford Explorers for this. I thought, “At $25K, for sure.” This is a lot more than $25K.

It’s a decent-looking little SUV. The shape is right, though it does look a little stubby, front to back. The grille mesh has little “tiger nose” shapes in it. Do I think it looks better than a Ford Escape or Jeep Grand Cherokee? Still no.

The SX trim is well equipped with navigation, iPod connections and power everything. The dash controls are straightforward and easy to find and use. The materials feel a little chintzy, though -- some of it is hard plastic and some of it is a little softer. All of it has that plasticky pattern on it. The seats were comfortable, but the faux leather doesn’t look very good.

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