2001 Kia Optima
This 2001 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2015.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The Kia Optima is another one of those new South Korean autos with a nameplate that won't impress neighbors. But it's a surprisingly good midsize sedan that has outstanding warranties.
The front-drive Optima is a sister model to the Sonata from South Korea's Hyundai, which owns Kia. Compared to the Sonata, the slick-looking Optima has minor styling differences and a different pricing and features mix. Both cars share virtually everything, including a 106.3-inch wheelbase, chassis, engines and transmissions.
The warranties have helped Hyundai sales soar and are expected to give the Optima a big push.
The Optima has the solid feel of the Sonata, which Hyundai redesigned for 1999 with the help of sophisticated supercomputer analysis. The Optima lacks the refinement of leading Japanese rivals such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but is far from being a bargain-basement special.
The SE adds a sunroof, power driver's seat, cruise control, an up-level sound system with a CD player and heated power mirrors. It also has such niceties as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a keyless entry/alarm system. You can even get the SE with a $995 leather interior.
All models have standard side airbags up front for extra protection.
Optimas cost $15,299 to $17,599 with the 4-cylinder and $18,499 to $19,949 with the V6.
The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder develops 149 horsepower. The 2.5-liter V6 provides 170-horsepower and 10 more lb-ft of torque that comes in at slightly lower rpm for better responsiveness.
While the V6 is smoother and stronger than the 4-cylinder, it isn't all that much bigger and doesn't provide a lot more torque.
The LX 4-cylinder comes with a 5-speed manual transmission or 4-speed automatic. The LX and SE V6 models come only with the electronically controlled 4-speed automatic, which costs $850 extra for the 4-cylinder LX and SE.
The V6 has a performance edge, especially during fast passing maneuvers on highways. It's also smoother because of its extra cylinders. But the 4-cylinder should satisfy many Optima owners, especially frugal-minded ones.
The 4-cylinder provides an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway with the manual transmission, and 20 and 27 with the automatic. The V6 figures are 19 and 25.
The power steering is quick and precise, but feels a little stiff, as if Kia wanted it to impart a sporty feel but didn't quite succeed.
All Optimas should have the larger wheel-tire combo. However, a sophisticated all-independent suspension, with double wishbones up front, provides a smooth ride and helps make the Optima feel like a larger car.
The brake pedal is firm, but that's preferable to a mushy pedal. It allows good brake modulation. Unfortunately, the $795 anti-lock brakes are available only for Optima V6 trims, which have a superior all-disc brake setup.
But the key fob for the keyless entry/alarm functions has tiny controls that even those with small fingers may have trouble using without occasionally accidentally activating the car alarm.
Other faults: The hand brake lever is too close to the driver. And the cover for the console-mounted front cupholders flips up to partly block driver access to them. Rear windows don't roll all the way down.
The trunk is large, with a conveniently low opening. Its lid has hydraulic struts that don't eat into cargo room, and an interior grip that lets it be closed without getting a hand dirty on outside sheet metal.
Kia is relatively unknown in this country, but the Optima should definitely help make it more visible.