2006 Optima New Car Test Drive
Kia continues to climb upmarket, and the introduction of the new 2006.5 Kia Optima is a primary example.
This newest Optima features new engines that are more powerful and more efficient than before, and a new five-speed automatic transmission that offers improved smoothness, efficiency and acceleration performance. Highway fuel economy has been improved by as much as 10 percent over the previous-generation Optima.
Higher quality materials and improved fit and finish create a more comfortable interior. More powerful and fully featured audio selections entertain and soothe during trying drives. A lengthened body and higher roof add roominess. A new platform with a longer wheelbase and updated suspension combine with larger wheels and tires to deliver a smoother ride and more responsive handling.
It's priced aggressively, too, with the manufacturer's suggested retail price for the base LX model a mere $160 more than its predecessor, and that's with the addition of important safety features. The uplevel EX model's MSRP jumps $1500, but again, this is with the new safety features, added creature comforts and improved sound deadening.
Two important accident-avoidance features, antilock brakes and electronic stability control, are available only as options, but are remarkably affordable.
The competition hasn't stood still, of course. And at some levels, like on the top rungs of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry lines, even this newest Optima doesn't pretend to belong. But it's still a marked step up from its predecessor and as such, a very impressive package.
A cautionary note, however, regarding our repeated use of the word newest. For a while, there are likely to be two different Optimas in dealer showrooms labeled as 2006 models. One is the final iteration of the first-generation Optima. The other, and the one that's the subject of this review, is the first of the second-generation. Kia nominally calls this latter Optima a 2006.5 model, although it is, in fact if not officially, the 2007 Optima. This confusing overlap results from an arcane U.S. government regulation rooted in the yesteryear of automotive time when all new models appeared in showrooms in the fall of the preceding calendar year. Thus, if a U.S.-specification car today is first built in, say, the fall of 2005, as this Optima was in South Korea, it cannot legally be designated a 2007 model car. And for some silly reason, officials at the Korean companies actually think the year starts on January 1 and ends December 31.
Boiled down, the message here is, make sure you're looking at the new version as it's substantially improved over the outgoing version.
The Kia Optima is a four-door, five-passenger sedan available with a choice of two engines: a four cylinder with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission, and a V6 with the five-speed automatic.
The Optima LX with the four-cylinder and manual transmission is the most affordable ($16,355). It gets more expensive with the five-speed automatic ($17,650) and moves up another rung with the V6 and automatic ($19,345). With either engine, the five-speed automatic boasts a Sportmatic feature for semi-manual shifting should the driver decide to shift out of Drive.
Standard creature comforts on all Optima models include cloth upholstery; filtered air conditioning; power windows, central locking and heated, outside mirrors; six-speaker, AM/FM/CD stereo; six-way, manually adjustable driver seat; tilt steering wheel; and P205/60R16 Kumho tires on hubcapped, steel wheels. Swapping the manual transmission for the automatic adds, or substitutes, cruise control, keyless remote, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, and Michelin tires. Alloy wheels and dual exhaust tips are added when the V6 is ordered.
Options on the base LX comprise a rear spoiler ($200) and carpeted floor mats ($85). With the automatic, buyers can order an Appearance Package ($1000) with alloy wheels, blacked out headlight backing and grille, semi-luminescent instrument cluster, aluminum interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer, auto-headlights and fog lamps. The V6's Appearance Package ($800) upgrades 17-inch Michelin tires and alloy wheels.
The Optima EX comes with either the four-cylinder ($19,395) or the V6 ($20,400), both with the five-speed Sportmatic. Feature upgrades on the EX include automatic climate control; eight-way power driver seat; Infinity stereo with external amplifier, six speakers plus subwoofer, MP3 and cassette functions and in-dash, six-CD changer; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; and auto-dimming inside rearview mirror.
EX options include an Appearance Package ($1500) that builds on the LX Appearance Package with leather-faced seats and a black interior trim; a Leather Package ($1300) with leather seats, heated front seats, four-way power front passenger seat, power adjustable pedals and manual rear window shade; power slide-and-tilt sunroof ($800); and pearl white exterior paint ($100).
Safety features on all models include the mandated front airbags and child safety seat anchors (LATCH), plus front seat-mounted side airbags, to protect the upper body in side crashes, and front-and-rear coverage side curtain airbags, to protect an occupant's head in a side impact or rollover. Antilock brakes are optional ($300) but not available on the LX with the four-cylinder engine. Also offered only on the LX V6 and the EX is the Electronic Stability Package ($300) with electronic stability control, to assist the driver in controlling the car in emergency maneuvers and bad weather; traction control, to limit tire slippage under hard acceleration or on slick roads; and brake assist, which boosts and extends brake application when the system senses an emergency stop. Although priced separately, ABS and ESP cannot be ordered individually, to which we can't object, as we'd want both.