The 2006.5 Optima combines revamped styling with a longer wheelbase, a wider track, increased horsepower, better fuel economy and dramatically improved driving dynamics.
Base prices start at $16,355 for the LX and top out at $20,400 for an EX with the V-6. Standard equipment includes six airbags, including full-length side-curtain airbags; air conditioning; power windows; power locks; heated outside mirrors; six-way adjustable driver's seat; AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers; 60-40 split folding rear seats; four-wheel disc brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system.
A four-cylinder LX with automatic transmission comes equipped with cruise control, keyless entry and alarm, manual tilt and telescopic steering column, audio system controls on the steering wheel and floor mats. The LX V-6 model includes dual exhausts and alloy wheels.
All EX models feature alloy wheels, fog lights, solar glass, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, automatic temperature control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer and an Infinity AM/FM/Cassette/six-disc premium audio system.
A top EX with anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, heated leather seats, power sunroof, power adjustable pedals and rear spoiler has a sticker price of just under $24,000.
I drove both a four-cylinder and a V-6, but I am reviewing an EX with the V-6.
Kia said the Optima's 107.1-inch wheelbase and increased width provide more interior volume than most midsize sedans, including segment leaders such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.
Inside, the new Optima is considerably more refined, and that is especially evident with the optional appearance package that adds black interior trim accents and black leather seats. The seats were soft to the touch and looked expensive. The nicely styled instrument panel had a low-gloss finish, and the gauges were attractive because of the white and blue color scheme.
The 360-watt premium audio system in the EX has nine speakers in seven locations, including a subwoofer in the rear. Kia said the system uses eight channels of amplification. Sound quality was quite good.
Sensors control the dual front airbags and determine if the passenger seat is occupied. If it is, a weight sensor determines whether to activate a single- or dual-stage airbag. The front headrests move up and forward to help mitigate neck injuries in the event of a rear-impact collision, and an energy-absorbing steering column helps reduce the severity of chest injury in a collision.
While the 2.4-liter, 161-horsepower engine is certainly adequate, the 2.7-liter V-6 with 185 horsepower feels more refined. The V-6 is considerably smaller than the V-6s from Honda and Toyota.
The five-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually.
While the Optima isn't exactly a sports sedan, it feels nimble. MacPherson struts are used in front, and a multi-link axle is in back. The ride is biased toward comfort, but the 17-inch wheels that come with the appearance package grip the road well.
The base price of the test vehicle was $20,400. Options included 17-inch wheels, black leather seats and power sunroof. The sticker price was $23,300.
Five years or 60,000 miles, with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.