The New York show has special significance for Kia - the company launched both the Soul and the Optima here. The Soul is well-named as it's the youthful spirit of Kia, available in multiple flavours including an award-winning electric variant. I'd very much expect to see an all-wheel-drive variant before too long, based on hints given off about the Trail'ster concept.
If the Soul is the Kia's passion, the Optima is Kia's bread and butter.
However, if the Soul is the Kia's passion, the Optima is Kia's bread and butter. It is the mainstay of the brand, and while they can get away with some pretty quirky ideas for their pod-like mini-crossover, there's a lot less flexibility where a four-door family sedan is concerned.
Which is not to say this newly refreshed Optima is without weirdness. In particular, there's a very odd detail in the rear three-quarter of the roofline, with a very small window and a disappearing D-pillar. It's a pretty interesting and daring choice and I'm not entirely sure it's worked.
You can't really say that about the rest of the Optima, which is a polish and refresh of the original design, yet seems to have lost some of that original impact. Apart from the grille, it might be any mid-sized sedan. There's also a slightly regrettable "TURBO" badge on the fender.
The good news on the Optima is mostly beneath the sheet metal. Body strength and overall stiffness is up - but the car hasn't gained weight. The interior looks very well put together, and features a little more upscale look than the outgoing model. There's also some tricky stuff like carbon-fibre supports in the roof to help keep the centre of gravity down despite the huge panoramic sunroof. The car is now wider, and the suspension mounting points have been moved to help increase stability and handling.
Three engines are available in the Optima, two familiar and one new. The 2.4L four-cylinder makes 185 hp and the 2.0L turbocharged four makes 247 hp; both are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions, and Kia claims slight improvements in torque response and fuel economy.
New for 2016 is a 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The most fuel-efficient option, it's fitted with a seven-speed dual clutch, and is likely tuned to mine low-end torque for maximum economy. No official figures were given, but Kia noted that a 5.9 L/100 km (converted from US) rating was theoretically possible.
Like Hyundai, Kia makes its name with a huge swath of high-tech features available at a low price point. For the Optima, that includes safety features that are rapidly becoming expected, such as blind-spot detection, a standard rear-view camera, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking. Surprising niceties include a 360-degree all-around camera system and Kia's effective HID headlights, which include dynamic cornering.
It is, in short, a very nicely equipped car with any number of features for an eager salesman to point to as talking points. However, I can't help but feel like the Optima is perhaps a bit too tame for a bumptious company like Kia. Mid-size sedans sell on value, but this car faces considerable competition from the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and the Hyundai Sonata.
The Soul is the success that few expected, but that's because it offers a style and a driving experience you can't get elsewhere. The Optima's competition is far fiercer, and from here this evolutionary change might not be enough to let it surge ahead in the pack.