New & Used Kia Optima: In Depth
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The Kia Optima used to be an also-ran in the brutal mid-size sedan segment. In 2011, all of that changed. It's now a stylish, high-tech mid-size sedan that’s a serious contender in its class. It’s a competitor to vehicles like the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and its platform-mate, the Hyundai Sonata.
MORE: Read our 2015 Kia Optima reviewWith the first-generation Optima, Kia reached beyond its usual crossover and hatchback offerings to take on the mainstream mid-size sedan market. From 2000-2005, Kia was still in its infancy in the U.S., and as a result, the Optima was substantially the same as the Hyundai Sonata save for some cosmetic differences. It was offered with a four-cylinder engine, and a small grille that differentiated it from the Sonata.
For the second generation, the 2005-2010 Kia Optima was styled more distinctly from the cousin Hyundai. In 2008 updated look influenced by new design director Peter Schreyer, and updates to equipment including Bluetooth and satellite radio. It remained a compact to mid-size sedan, but in the second generation it added a V-6 option.
These models came with either a 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 194-hp, 2.7-liter V-6. The four-cylinder gets better fuel economy, while the V-6 doesn't offer much more power, so we did recommend sticking with the base engine. While this Optima wasn't a style leader, it did have a spacious interior and an airy feel, with good outward visibility. Safety ratings were quite good; front side airbags are standard, along with side-curtain airbags that cover both rows, and front-seat occupants get active headrests.
The 2011 Kia Optima was the first of an all-new, third-generation car. The new sedan is longer, wider and lower than before--and much more attractive, with some of our editors liking the Optima's look better than that of the Sonata. The Optima shares the Sonata's powertrains, including a 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine, a 274-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, and a new Hybrid model. Fuel economy ratings for the base engine are as high as 35 mpg highway, and up to 40 mpg for the Hybrid, though its refinement leaves it a tier below the more refined performance of Toyota and Ford hybrids.
Today, the Optima shares an assembly plant in West Point, Georgia, with the Kia Sorento, though Optima Hybrid sedans are made in South Korea.
The Optima's standard and optional features lists are stronger than for those of most other mid-size sedans in this price range. Bluetooth and a USB port are included even in base models, mid-level EX trims get dual-zone climate control and a smart-key system, and top options include Infinity audio, full leather upholstery, and heated rear seats. A navigation system is available, as is UVO, an enhanced system for smartphone connectivity.
The Optima was carried over through 2013 with no major changes. For 2014, the Optima received a light refresh, including a new front-end look as well as upgraded infotainment systems and new blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert systems. Kia also improved the drivability and mileage of its Optima Hybrid late in the 2013 model year, with EPA numbers of 35 mpg city, 39 highway.
The 2011-2013 Optima Hybrid was one of a group of cars that have been found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 35/40 mpg and 37 mpg combined to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Optima Hybrid's actual tested fuel economy to be 34/39 mpg or 36 mpg combined. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
For 2015, the Optima received the latest version of Kia's UVO infotainment system.