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2006 Kia Optima reviews

March 21, 2006 11:27 AM EST | Kia , Sedans | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageThe Optima is a decent choice if you need a family sedan for well under $20,000, but the newer Hyundai Sonata offers better performance and a roomier interior.

Pros
Low price, pleasant highway ride, refined V6, lots of storage space, excellent warranty.

Cons
Feeble bottom-end acceleration with either engine, tepid handling, some cheap interior bits, tight rear legroom, ABS isn't available on four-cylinder models.

What's New for 2006
With a redesign coming in for the 2007 model year, the Optima stands pat for 2006.

Introduction:
Introduced late in the 2001 model year, the midsize Optima sedan is the first progeny of 1998's Hyundai-Kia merger and shares its underpinnings with the 1999-2005 Hyundai Sonata. While unable to promise the legendary reliability and assured resale value associated with uber-family haulers like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the Optima has always been an appealing alternative to those who frown at the idea of paying $20 grand for a four-cylinder Camry or Accord. For thousands less, you get an Optima fully equipped and with V6 power.

Kia's midsize sedan has never been in a position to steal any sales records from the leaders in this class, but it offers solid build quality, a comfortable ride and adequate acceleration. You won't find the finest-quality interior materials or cutting-edge safety features like stability control or head curtain airbags on the current sedan, but that will change for 2007 when the Optima receives a complete redesign. For 2006, the Optima is still a decent choice for bargain hunters, but most buyers will be happier with the fresh-out-of-the-box Hyundai Sonata, which offers better performance and interior room.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The midsize Optima sedan is sold in two trim levels -- LX and EX. The LX comes with 15-inch wheels (16s on V6 models); side airbags; a CD player; air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; a 60/40-split-folding rear seat; and cruise control. The EX comes with quite a bit more. On the outside, there are alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors, keyless entry and a power sunroof. Inside, you'll find upgraded cloth upholstery, a power driver seat, wood grain trim, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a 120-watt sound system with a CD and cassette player. Options include a sound system upgrade for LX models, a leather upholstery package (with a power front-passenger seat) for EX models and antilock brakes for vehicles equipped with the V6 engine (available on both trims).

Powertrains and Performance:
Optima buyers have two engine choices. A 138-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder is standard on the LX. Optional on the LX and standard on the EX is a 170-hp, 2.7-liter V6. In our experience, the four-cylinder comes up short in power and refinement. While the V6 won't inspire thrills, it's smooth and quiet, and offers passable acceleration on the highway. The four-cylinder can be mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode; the V6 comes with the automatic only. Mileage ratings are 23 mpg city/30 highway with the four-cylinder and 20/27 with the V6.

Safety:
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, but only V6 Optimas are eligible for optional ABS. Side airbags for front occupants and three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions are standard in every Optima. In government crash tests, the Optima earned four stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. It also received a four-star rating for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. The IIHS gave the Optima a rating of "Acceptable" (the second highest of four) after conducting its frontal-offset crash test. In IIHS side-impact testing, the Kia rated "Poor" (the lowest).

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the Optima offers attractive if not upscale accommodations. The seats are plush and most drivers will be able to find a comfortable driving position. Interior materials are on the economy side, but they're acceptable in a car that costs less than $20,000. Drivers will find logically arranged radio and climate controls, along with plenty of storage areas for cell phones and spare change. The 14-cubic-foot trunk offers a low lift-over height and closes with struts and hidden hinges to avoid crushing cargo.

Driving Impressions:
The Optima will appeal to commuters who want comfortable transportation for the day-to-day grind. The ride is stable and smooth, though bumps and ruts are transmitted to the cabin a little more harshly than they should be. The steering, while light and somewhat flighty on the highway, is nonetheless linear and direct, and around-town maneuvers are accomplished with ease.

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