For much of its life, the Kia Optima has been firmly pegged as an also-ran vehicle. Introduced as Kia's first midsize sedan, the first-generation Optima couldn't promise the refinement, documented reliability and assured resale value of its key Japanese competitors. The second-generation Kia Optima followed much the same anonymous playbook, though with considerably better results.
Kia's latest, third-generation Optima is a different animal entirely. With sleek styling, plenty of standard features, potent engine choices and substantial value, the current Optima is a top pick for a midsize family sedan.
Current Kia Optima
Under the skin, the current Kia Optima is very similar to the Hyundai Sonata, but to Kia's credit, the Optima has a distinctive European flair to it. Inside and out, the Optima looks and feels like a much more expensive car than its humble price tag would suggest. Optimas are available in four trim levels: LX, EX, SX and SX Limited. There's also the Optima Hybrid, which comes in a single trim.
Standard equipment on the LX includes alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a stereo with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The EX and Hybrid add luxury features such as automatic climate control, keyless ignition/entry and leather upholstery. The SX gets a turbocharged engine, a sport-tuned suspension and unique styling touches. Option highlights include a navigation system, the Uvo voice-activated electronics interface, a premium sound system and heated and ventilated front seats.
Optima LX and EX models are powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is standard on the LX, while a six-speed automatic is optional and standard on all other Optimas. The SX and SX Limited boast a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque.
The Kia Optima Hybrid is powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor. Combined, the two power units are good for 206 peak hp and work through a six-speed automatic. The EPA estimates the Hybrid will achieve 36 mpg in combined driving.
In reviews, we've found that the Optima stands out thanks to its distinctive styling and upscale interior. Headroom is a bit limited, however, and taller drivers would be well advised to test the car with and without the sunroof. On the road, the Optima has a pleasant ride quality without feeling too isolated. The base engine will likely satisfy the vast majority of drivers, while the turbo is the pick for more spirited pilots. The Hybrid, however, is a bit of a disappointment. Its braking and acceleration in city traffic is uneven and unpredictable, and fuel economy trails that of competing hybrid sedans.
Used Kia Optima Models
The current Kia Optima represents the third generation in its lineage, debuting in the 2011 model year. This generation is a dramatic departure from earlier Optimas due to its sharp styling, powerful engines and upscale features. Not much has changed, though the Uvo voice command system wasn't available in the first year. An EX Turbo trim level was offered for 2011 and '12 only. The SX Limited trim debuted for 2013.
Kia's second-generation Optima was produced from 2006-'10. Shoppers should be aware that the generation switch-over happened midway through the 2006 calendar year. Kia sold some first-generation models for '06 and then released the new sedan as the "2006.5" Optima.
At the end of this generation, the Kia Optima was offered in three trim levels: base, EX and SX. All came with a 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder as standard. The EX and SX could be had with a 194-hp 2.7-liter V6. A five-speed manual transmission was standard on the LX. Optional on the LX and standard on the EX and SX was a five-speed automatic transmission.
The automatic-equipped LX came reasonably well equipped with air-conditioning, full power accessories, antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The EX provided leather upholstery, while the SX came with a sport-tuned suspension.
Although the base four-cylinder provided class-competitive acceleration, the Optima's V6 was disappointing. It was significantly smaller and less powerful than other six-cylinders in the class. This Optima was reasonably fun to drive around town and provided a smooth ride quality, though many of its class contemporaries did a better job of isolating occupants from bumps and ruts.
This second-generation Optima had a few changes during its time. The most significant of these came in 2009, where the model received more distinctive styling and more power. The SX trim level also debuted. Previously, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder produced 161 hp, while the 2.7-liter V6 produced 185 hp. The other notable change came in 2008, when antilock brakes and stability control were made standard across the lineup.
The first-generation Kia Optima midsize sedan debuted for the 2000 model year. Mechanically, this model was very similar to the Hyundai Sonata of the time. Although it didn't include the finest-quality interior materials, it was well-suited for commuter duty thanks to a spacious cabin and comfortable ride quality.
First-generation models didn't have stability control or head curtain airbags, and four-cylinder models lacked the availability of antilock brakes. In road tests, we thought the 149-hp four-cylinder engine was a bit short in power and refinement. While the 170-hp V6 didn't inspire thrills, it was smooth and quiet, and offered better acceleration for highway merging than the four-cylinder.
For 2002, the V6 was updated to provide 178 hp. In its third model year (2003), the Kia Optima's front end was restyled (with rather dubious results). Improvements to the interior included a new center stack, door panels and fresh seat fabric. In addition, Kia began to offer Sportmatic manual-shift capability on four-cylinder automatic Optimas. Buyers might also notice that horsepower figures were revised downward that year due to a change in measurement technique, but actual output was unchanged.
Read the most recent 2013 Kia Optima review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Kia Optima page.