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Ask anyone familiar with the current Kia Optima, “What do you think of Kia’s midsize sedan?” and you’ll hear phrases like “great styling” or “looks like a luxury car” or “lots of value for the money.” Not a bad set of impressions, and proof Kia nailed the last Optima redesign in terms of exterior styling and feature content. In fact, if the Optima struggles with anything it’s awareness, with many Americans still oblivious to the Optima’s compelling value statement. These folks likely assume the Optima is a European luxury sedan when they see one on the road, an understandable error given Peter Schreyer, Kia’s head of design, worked at Audi for 15 years before transferring to Kia in 2005. Schreyer created one of the most attractive vehicles in the midsize sedan category when the third-generation Optima debuted in 2011.

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

This helped the Optima achieve 150,000 in annual sales, the first-ever Kia to reach that number in the U.S. market. This is critical because at Kelley Blue Book we’re watching the decline of car sales in favor of trucks, though Kia is fighting the trend with its attractive and value-packed Optima. But like any great design exercise the real challenge comes when its time for an update, forcing Kia to decide how much, or how little, to change. One look at the all-new 2016 Optima and it’s clear Kia went subtle versus sweeping. The short, wide grille (Kia calls it the “tiger nose” grille) remains, as does the fastback roofline and wrap-around taillights, though they’re now available with optional LEDs as part of the new car’s push into luxury and technology. The Optima’s wheelbase, length and height are up about half an inch, and it’s wider by 1.2 inches. These shifts give the car a bit more presence on the road and bit more space inside (104.8 cubic feet of cabin space versus 102.2 cubic feet in the outgoing model).

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

The 2016 Optima’s roomier interior means its got more space than benchmark models like Honda’s Accord and Toyota’s Camry. Material quality is comprehensively improved, with Nappa leather in Merlot and Aubergine shades available on top-trim SXL versions. Real stitching on the steering wheel, dash and door panels is contrasted with metal accents, and subtle touches like the damped center console door and clean center stack controls drive home the premium character Kia wants to broadcast with this car. The interior does feel quite roomy, though rear headroom was tight and rear seat thigh support somewhat compromised for folks over 6-feet tall. Kia has to balance that sleek roofline with rear headroom, and they’ve done a commendable job given the opposing nature of those goals. The front seats were reconfirmed for 2016 and their comfort is superb, with optional heated and cooled front seats available on premium models.

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

Cradling this larger, more luxurious cabin is a revised chassis with 150 percent more high-strength steel and an increased use of structural adhesives for 58 percent greater torsional rigidity. The 2016 Optima also features a revised suspension with dual lower-control arms in the rear, twice as many subframe bushings (4 versus the previous 2) and, on SX and SXL models, a rack-mounted electric power steering assist motor for quicker steering response and greater feedback. Increased insulation around the dash, acoustic laminated front windows and larger cross-member bushings all contribute to a quieter, smoother ride with improved handling dynamics. After driving the new Optima on a series of twisty roads in the Nevada mountains outside Las Vegas we were impressed with the car’s balance of performance and luxury, even on base LX models.

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

The base Optima LX is powered by a carryover 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. This engine is connected to a six-speed automatic, though an all-new 1.6-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine, making 178 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, is also offered in the 2016 Optima LX. This new turbo engine connects to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, marking the first dual-clutch transmission offered in a Kia. The mid-grade Optima EX also uses the 2.4-liter engine and six-speed automatic, while the upscale SX and top-line SXL trims feature a 2.0-liter turbo four that makes 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This 2.0-liter also uses Kia’s traditional six-speed automatic, but steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are included in the Optima SX and SXL.

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

Several new features appear on the 2016 Kia Optima, including upgraded safety and convenience options like smart cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, directional high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights (they turn with the steering wheel), and a standard rearview camera. These features join blind spot detection and rear-cross traffic alert, both of which were previously offered on the Optima. Another new-for-2016 feature is a Harman Kardon 630-watt, 14-speaker audio system with Quantam Logic surround sound and Clari-Fi technology. Clari-Fi basically adds in the missing audio information from compressed digital audio, and while it sounds like a black art that could result in horrible artifacts it’s actually extremely effective at making your MP3 and other digital files sound like full-bodied recordings. Android Auto will also be available on the 2016 Optima at launch. Kia reps told us Apple AAPL +3.36% CarPlay for the Optima will come “later.”

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

pricing for the 2016 Kia Optima starts at $21,840 for an LX model with the 2.4-liter engine and standard features like 16-inch wheels, a 6-way adjustable driver and passenger seat and a 5-inch central touchscreen. The Optima LX-T gets the 1.6-liter turbo engine and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission for $23,900. A $2,600 tech package for the LX turbo add navigation, satellite radio, front and rear USB ports and LED taillights. The Optima EX starts at $24,890 and comes with the 2.4-liter engine, 17-inch wheels, 12-way power driver’s seat, a heated steering wheel and heated leather front seats, dual-projection headlights, LED side marker lights, LED taillights and power-folding exterior mirrors. The Optima SX comes with all the EX features plus the more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, red brake calipers, a sport-tuned suspension, swiveling headlights, unique bumper and side sill designs and a rear spoiler for $29,690.

The top-end SXL adds chrome exterior trim, automatic high-beams, a panoramic sunroof, smart cruise control, the 630-watt Harman Kardon audio system, LED interior lighting, electronic parking brake, Nappa leather seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, blind spot detection, rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and a surround view monitor for $35,790.

Photo courtesy Kia Motors America

Kia had already established the Optima as a midsize sedan with near-luxury styling and amenities before this redesign. As Kia’s best-selling model the automaker needed to tread carefully when updating the car. The 2016 Optima reflects Kia’s desire to take a good thing and make it better, with enhanced styling, performance, technology and luxury offered at a value-packed price. For shoppers wanting maximum luxury at minimum cost it makes a compelling case in the highly-competitive midsize sedan segment.

Karl Brauer has spent over 20 years working in the automotive industry as a writer, analyst, web designer, online business consultant and media representative. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram