Kia adds a new Optima to its updated lineup

May 05, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

Just when you think Kia is all done developing new models (at least for a while), along comes a new Optima.

The company's second-generation family sedan joins a busy and blossoming seven-model lineup: Four have been around for just 12 months or less, and the most senior of the bunch is barely three years old.

That's a fast-paced and impressive rate of renewal for any manufacturer, especially one as young as Kia, which has only been importing vehicles to the United States since 1994.

As one of the new kids on the block, the company's philosophy, it seems, is to try just that much harder than the competition to introduce fresh product and avoid being considered stale and outdated. And results of this energetic effort are clearly visible in the 2006.5 (it's a mid-year model, hence the designation) Optima, a vehicle that goes the extra distance to earn the respect of its peers while increasing showroom traffic.


Although the Optima aligns itself with the recently redone Hyundai Sonata (Hyundai owns Kia) on the mid-size sedan scale, it's more of a close cousin than a twin. In fact, the Optima is slightly smaller in most key dimensions than the Sonata.

There are also some obvious physical differences between the two Korean sedans. The Optima's headlight and taillamp pods flow smoothly into the fenders, giving it a flattering appearance, not unlike that of a Nissan Altima or even an Infiniti G35. As well, the rear-end overhang appears to be shorter than that of the Sonata, which probably explains the Optima's smaller (by about one cubic-foot) trunk space.

Lest you think that Kia's largest passenger car has been downsized, it's actually bigger than the car it replaces. It has also received a redesigned interior, which is more appealing than that of the previous model.

The base engine is a 161-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 23 more ponies than last year's 2.4. The optional 2.7-liter V-6 delivers 185 horses, a gain of 15. The four-cylinder comes with a five-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. Going with the V-6 gets you the latter (in this case, no manual is offered). As a point of differentiation, the Sonata's optional and muscular 3.3-liter V-6 is nowhere to be found in the Optima lineup.

Base LX four-cylinder cars equipped with the manual transmission arrive with air conditioning, power door locks and heated power outside mirrors. You'll have to spring for the automatic transmission to get keyless remote entry, cruise control and tilt/telescopic steering.

Moving up to the EX adds more gauges and interior trim as well as climate control, a premium audio system and an eight-way power driver's seat. The EX is also the way to go if you're looking for a leather interior with heated front seats, manual rear-window sunshade and power-adjustable pedals, all of which are on the options list.

All V-6 Optimas can be had with a sporty appearance package that includes 17-inch wheels, blacked-out grille and aluminum-look interior trim.

With the strong-but-steady growth in sedan sales of late, especially those with the capability of stretching each and every fuel dollar to the maximum, the latest Optima should do well in garnering its fair share of sales.

Factor in a reassuring five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage, and Kia has every reason to be optimistic about the Optima's future.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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