Vehicle Overview
Kia says the update of its 2009 Optima was an effort to spice up the car's styling. To that end, the midsize sedan's face has been thoroughly freshened, though its tail remains much the same. Revised engines add some power, but it remains to be seen whether these changes will help the Optima go head-to-head with a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

The Optima hits dealerships in late 2008; trim levels include the base LX, uplevel EX and sporty SX. A four-cylinder engine is standard, while a V-6 is optional.

The Optima's new face seems derivative of a lot of other cars — the headlights look like a Toyota Camry's, while the interplay between the grille and lights recalls a similar pattern on the new Honda Accord.

Overall length is up a couple inches over last year's model, and most of it has been added to the car's front overhang. Sixteen-inch steel wheels come on the four-cylinder Optima LX, while other trims have 16-inch alloys. The Optima SX has 17-inchers, along with a sport-tuned suspension, darker headlights, and turn signals integrated into the side mirrors.

Kia didn't alter the Optima's interior as much as it did the exterior; the most notable change is probably the gauges, now framed inside three binnacles instead of a one-piece display. The stereo has an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, and a navigation system is optional for the first time.

The Optima LX comes with cloth seats, while the EX steps up to leather. SX trims have electroluminescent gauges, custom leather seats and metallic trim.

Under the Hood
Both the Optima's engines have been upgraded, and Kia says gas mileage stays about the same. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 175 horsepower, up from 162 hp last year; the 2.7-liter V-6 is up to 190 hp from 185 hp last year. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the four-cylinder, while a five-speed automatic is optional. The V-6 gets only the automatic.

Active head restraints, side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows are standard. Unfortunately, antilock brakes, an electronic stability system and traction control are grouped together in an option package; the Accord and Sonata include those features standard.