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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.

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

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.

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.

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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