2013 Kia Optima

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2001 Kia Optima

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2015.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7
Pros:
  • Really reasonably priced for a V6, midsize sedan
  • Nice, mainstream looks
  • Decent V6 performance
Cons:
  • Past Kias haven't fared well in independent reliability studies
  • Questionable resale value
  • Automatic upshifts on its own at times

In the 2001 model year, Kia adds its most luxurious and largest car yet— the new midsize Optima sedan. Don't be surprised if, during a test drive, you wind up saying, "This is a Kia?"

You can be excused if you didn't know Kia sells a luxuriously equipped, V6-powered family sedan.

Truth is, the South Korean automaker, known for its low-priced small cars and small Sportage SUV, didn't have such a vehicle until late in calendar 2000.

But now that the 2001 Kia Optima midsize sedan is out, don't overlook it. With V6 and luxury appointments, this car can be thousands of dollars less than comparable Toyota Camry and Honda Accord models.

In fact, with all the options on it, the 2001 Optima flagship still carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge of under $23,000.

"It is the most luxurious car that we've had in the United States," said Geno Effler, director of public relations at Kia Motors America Inc. The Optima also is the first Kia with a V6, the first with a Porsche-designed Tiptronic automatic transmission and the first with side airbags.

"This is a breakthrough vehicle for us," Effler said.

In market with Camry, Altima, Accord
Kia officials make no bones about the fact they hope the Optima—which has a starting MSRP plus destination charge of about $19,000 for a V6 model, and under $16,000 for a four-cylinder-powered model—will become the "high-value, midsize alternative" to such well-known imported family sedans as the Camry, Nissan Altima and Accord.

It's a tall order, but the Optima looks the part of a contender in the big, 2.3-million midsize sedan segment.

It's nearly a foot longer than the compact Kia Sephia, which was the previous "large" car in the Kia lineup, and the Optima is just 2.8 inches shorter than the Camry. The Optima is 0.4 inch taller than the Camry, which helps explain why the Optima has a bit more front- and rear-seat headroom.

It beats the Camry as well as the Altima in back-seat legroom, too.

Loaded with optional leather seats and anti-lock brake system (ABS) as well as standard moonroof, air conditioning, power windows and doors, upgraded stereo, alarm, power driver's seat, automatic transmission and even heated outside mirrors, the top-of-the-line Optima SE V6 that was my test car topped out at just over $22,200.

Compare this with more than $26,000 for a top trim of Camry—the V6-powered XLE—and more than $25,500 for the top Accord V6 EX, and you can begin to understand why Kia officials are confident the Optima can do well.

V6 is best
The smart buyers will get the V6, not the four banger.

In fact, 60 percent of Optimas sold are expected to have the new-to-Kia V6, said Dick Macedo, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Kia Motors America.

This 2.5-liter double overhead cam six cylinder—which comes from Kia's parent company, Hyundai, and is used in the Sonata on which the Optima is based—sounds confident and works well with the up-level four-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic.

In fact, there's a decidedly sporty feel when you really push the car and use the Tiptronic to manually shift from gear to gear sans clutch pedal. I zipped around Highway 1 on California's coast with real vigor, keeping the revs high.

But I noticed some loss of sportiness when the electronically controlled transmission would upshift on its own at times, and this was without waiting to get close to redline.

The engine has a maximum 170 horsepower—the same as the Sonata with V6. Torque is 169 lb-ft at 4000 rpm versus 166 lb-ft at 4000 in the Sonata. The Camry V6 has 194 horsepower and 209 lb-ft of torque, and the Altima doesn't even offer a V6.

Nice, mainstream styling
The Optima's clean, un-gimmicky styling—reminiscent of a Cadillac Catera up front and a Mitsubishi Gallant at the rear—is pleasing.

It didn't turn heads during the test drive, but it doesn't date the car, either. And it comes as some competitors are starting to look old.

Inside, the optional leather seats on the test Optima were nicely done and looked as good as any you'd find in a Japanese import. So did the gauges and controls on the dashboard.

Too bad the blinkers clickity-click loudly and warning bells chime with an old-style harshness.

There's a lot of shiny woodgrain trim around the interior. It's not all real, but it does a nice job of conveying an upscale feel. The same can be said for the shiny silver-colored accents that even include doorsills. Now that's an item you don't necessarily expect to find on a Kia!

Pleasing ride, crisp handling
There was a surprising crispness to the handling of the new, front-wheel-drive Optima, which is based on the Sonata platform.

But the ride doesn't punish passengers. I noticed some minor vibration over road bumps; still overall, it was a comfortable ride.

The front suspension in the Optima is an independent double wishbone design. An independent multi-link configuration works at the rear. There are stabilizer bars at both the front and the rear.

Road noises from the SE's 15-inch tires came through during the ride, and at highway speeds, there was a bit of wind noise, too.

Many safety items standard
If you get a V6 Optima, rear brakes are discs rather than drums. But ABS remains a $795 option—rather pricey given competitor pricing.

Thankfully, other safety features are standard, including the front-seat side airbags, and shoulder belts and head restraints for all five passengers.

Trunk space already is competitive at 13.6 cubic feet, but the Optima's split, fold-down rear seatback adds more cargo room.

Still, Kia's models haven't fared well in independent quality surveys over the years. Macedo said the company is making gains since being acquired by Hyundai.

Also, in summer 2000 Kia added an industry-leading, new warranty program that includes 10-year/100,000-mile limited coverage on powertrains.

This is great for someone who keeps his or her Optima for 100,000 miles. But it's not clear what kind of resale value a luxuriously equipped Kia will hold if someone wants to trade it in after just a few years.

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BB03 - 9/16/2014 10:30:02 AM