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Midsize Kia Optima offers thrills on pavement, value in pocketbook

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When I talk about midsize family sedans, especially those that strive to be considered a value buy, there are not many that can hold the proverbial ‘candle’ to the styling and performance of a 2018 Kia Optima.

For starters, the Optima’s exterior looks project distinctive styling that feels far more upscale than the base price requires. Safety scores are excellent and the warranty is at the top of the class. For a range between $23,395-$37,500, you get a very reliable, stylish sedan that doesn’t look just like everything else on the road.

Optics

The Optima is clearly reflecting a German-inspired design scheme and that is just fine with me. It is a gorgeous sedan that doesn’t try to establish itself by going over the top using exaggerated design cues.

I really like a low-slung sedan and this Optima makes it look easy and natural. The sculpted lines create an aggressive overall feel, with a beltline that steeply dives from the rear trunk to the nose and establishes the athletic stance. My SX tester featured 18-inch wheels and bright red brake calipers shone through for maximum sport impact.

Interior

Inside the cabin of the Optima you get roomy spaces for the front row and slightly tighter room in the rear, though it is never cramped for legroom or headroom. The trunk is very big and can easily accommodate two golf bags.

The materials in the Optima include soft-touch surfaces and leather seating. The fit and finish is very good and it helps create the more-value feel from Optima.

Optima offers an impressive list of standard and available features, including a 10-way power passenger seat, a huge panoramic glass sunroof, heated rear seats and the audiophile’s dream: a 10-speaker Harman Kardon system.

Performance

Optima has power on demand. You can choose between two turbocharged engines and one normally aspirated power plant, as well as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid version. Standard on the LX, S and EX trims is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder offering 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy is rated at 24 city/34 mpg hwy; a 1.6-L turbocharged engine is only available on the LX trim. The 1.6-L turbo, which produces 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, is paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (28 city/37 hwy).

I tested the 2.0-L turbo, available only on the top-level SX and SXL trims, and this engine was a blast to drive. Offering 245 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, and mated to the 6-speed automatic, there’s plenty of quick starts and easy acceleration to be had all over town. The 2.0T gets 22 city/31 hwy.

Safety

The Optima earned five out of five stars in every test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All 2018 Optimas come equipped with standard airbags, including front-seat side, full-length side-curtain and driver’s-knee airbags. Electronic traction and stability control are standard, as is Kia’s Vehicle Stability Management system, hill-start assist and a tire-pressure monitor.

At $31,395, my SX tester has a long list of great features, including an upgraded steering and suspension setup, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, 18-in alloy wheels, chrome dual exhaust tips, red brake calipers, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated sport fronts seats, 10-way power passenger seat, HID Dynamic Bending headlights, a rear spoiler, a 4.3-in LCD display panel, satin chrome interior accents, metal pedals and rear-door sunshades.

Kia is well-known for its ability to deliver a well-equipped vehicle at a modest price, and the 2018 Optima sticks to the philosophy. Even the base model comes equipped with features one wouldn’t expect in a sedan at that price.

This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication