The Many Engines of the Kia Optima

August 14th, 2020 by

The rear of a white 2020 Kia Optima is shown driving on a highway.

The 2020 Kia Optima is one of the best Kia car models. A comfortable midsize sedan, the Optima boasts a roomy interior, plenty of trunk space, a wide array of features, and a number of cutting edge technologies. However, on top of the more obvious choices of color, features, and options, the various versions of the 2020 Optima come with a wide variety of different powertrains. So here is a brief primer for those interested in learning what engines are offered in the Kia Optima. To begin with, there are five different powertrains available, although unlike with some other car models, each trim of the Optima comes with a specific engine.

The Kia Optima’s engine options include three different pure gasoline powertrains available as well as two different hybrid powertrains. With everything from the most basic four-cylinder, to a sporty turbocharged engine, to a highly efficient plug-in hybrid, the Kia Optima offers an engine for everyone.

Reliable Power

The standard engine in the 2020 Kia Optima is a 2.4L four-cylinder. This is a fairly common type of engine in midsize sedans, and while it may not live up to the modern turbocharged engines in terms of power or efficiency, it has fewer moving parts and provides simple and reliable power. And while the base engine is a somewhat older technology, it still produces a solid 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. This is enough to make the 2020 Kia Optima more than comfortable in daily driving and provides noticeably superior acceleration than the average compact car or crossover SUV.

The base engine is found in the LX, S, and Special Edition trims of Kia’s midsize model and comes paired with similarly simple and reliable six-speed automatic transmission. This transmission provides a more engaging driving experience than the continuously variable transmissions found in many competing vehicles, and even comes standard with Kia’s Sportmatic manual shift mode for greater driver control. In the S and Special Edition trims, this combination provides a combined fuel economy of 27 MPG, although the bare bones LX trim manages to make 29 miles per gallon. Altogether, the base 2.4L engine may not be particularly exciting, but is an excellent choice for drivers looking for a no-nonsense engine to get them from point A to point B.

A closeup shows the Turbo GDi Engine in a 2020 Kia Optima.

Turbocharged Efficiency

But for those who do desire something more interesting and efficient, the EX and EX Premium trims of the 2020 Kia Optima come standard with a more modern 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder. By combining a smaller engine with a turbocharger, these Kia models can burn less gasoline when cruising while still having enough power when it is needed. Further, the 1.6L turbo comes paired with a more efficient and faster-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Together, this combination allows the midsize sedan to achieve an excellent 31 MPG combined.

While fuel efficiency is greatly improved, with only 178 horsepower, the Kia Optima’s 1.6L engine is actually technically weaker than its base 2.4L engine. However, thanks to the turbocharger, the upgraded engine does have a significantly higher 195 lb-ft of torque, which will help the car’s acceleration from a stop. This is doubly true since all of that torque is available almost from idle, rather than being buried halfway up the engine’s rev range. So while the 1.6L engine will not transform the 2020 Kia Optima into a sports car, it will provide better fuel economy and give the vehicle a generally more responsive feel

The Optima SX

The sporty variant of the Kia’s midsize sedan is the Optima SX. And as befits this model’s more performance oriented design, it is equipped with a much more powerful engine than the other models. The engine in question is a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. While these figures are a bit lower than some other options in this segment, they are more than enough to turn the Kia Optima into a legitimately fun car. Particularly since this engine is tuned for an even more aggressive torque curve than the Optima’s 1.6L turbo, producing peak torque at an incredibly low 1,350 rpm.

With a torque curve like that, the Optima SX excels at sudden acceleration even if it may not be able to keep up with some of its competitors at the sort of sustained high speeds that would probably put you in prison anyways. The Optima SX is also the only version of Kia’s midsize car that comes with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters as well as the Sportmatic shift lever, allowing easy manual gear changes without removing your hands from the wheel. And despite the much higher power of this engine, its fuel economy is not all that bad. At 24 MPG combined, it is actually better than many SUVs that have dramatically inferior performance.

The Hybrid Option

Three of the available Kia car models available for the Optima, a black, a blue, and a silver 2020 Kia Optima are parked on a pier near Freehold, NJ.

Kia is one of the leaders in hybrid and battery-powered car models, and it should be no surprise that the 2020 Kia Optima is available with a fuel-saving hybrid powertrain. This state of the art system combines a 2.0L four-cylinder engine with a 38-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.76-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, giving it exceptional fuel economy without sacrificing power. In fact, with 192 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque, the Kia Optima Hybrid is actually significantly more powerful than Optima models equipped with either the base 2.4L engine or the 1.6L turbo.

Unlike almost all the other hybrids on the market that use efficient but soulless CVTs, Kia equips its Optima hybrid models with an innovative six-speed automatic that eschews a traditional torque converter in favor of an electric boost that provides crisp and fast gear shifts. However, this attention to performance in the Kia Optima Hybrid does not mean that this car sacrifices fuel economy, and it is rated for an excellent 42 MPG combined. Although in contrast to most hybrids, the Optima does better on the highway than in stop and go city driving.

Plug-In Power

The final engine option in the 2020 Kia Optima is a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Unlike a conventional hybrid that only uses regenerative braking to recharge its battery, as the name implies, a plug-in hybrid can be recharged by plugging it into an outlet or charging station. This means that for short trips, a plug-in hybrid can even act as a pure electric vehicle, cutting gasoline usage to zero.

To fully capitalize on the potential advantages of a plug-in hybrid, the Optima Plug-In Hybrid uses a significantly different powertrain than the standard Optima Hybrid. While the 2.0L gasoline engine remains the same, this model has a more powerful 50-kilowatt electric motor and a considerably larger 9.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack. This extra battery capacity means that the 2020 Optima Plug-In Hybrid can travel 28 miles on battery power alone. And when operating in hybrid mode, it achieves the equivalent to 101 miles per gallon. But in addition to allowing for this incredible level of efficiency, the larger electric motor also gives Kia’s plug-in hybrid model no less than 202 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque. This makes it one of the best Kia car models for anyone seeking both performance and efficiency.

Posted in Kia Car Models