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2001 Kia Optima Road Test

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mid sized sedan

Category: $15,000 to $22,000 Mid-sized Sedan
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a competent mid-sized sedan at a bargain basement price
Comparable models in this class: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Sonata, Mitsubishi Galant, Saturn L-Series 

I confess, I like surprises. Especially when it comes to automobiles. The Kia Optima is a surprise, and a pleasant one to boot. Yes, there are unpleasant surprises, but we won’t go into those.
Kia is known for its line of small inexpensive-to-cheap sedans and sport utilities. The last Kia I drove, for example, was the Rio subcompact sedan, which is really at the bottom of the car chain.

dashboard midsize sedanBut this week the vehicle of choice was the Kia Optima. This midsize sedan is Kia’s new flagship vehicle, replacing, I would guess, the Sephia compact sedan. The Optima is Kia’s first venture into a larger vehicle and it’s a successful venture.

Let’s begin with the size and, therefore, the accommodations. The Optima is a full five-passenger vehicle. Up front are two comfortable bucket seats, with a reasonably wide bench in the rear. True, the center passenger would be cramped over a long ride, but in general, the seating is comfortable. In addition, the driver’s seat was power adjustable (my wife was upset because her side wasn’t). All seating surfaces were leather-covered (a $995 option). During our test weekwe drove to greet our newest grandson. My wife and I sat up front and our youngest daughter hitched a ride in the back. She was crowded in by gifts, luggage and an aquarium (don’t ask), but enjoyed the ride because there was more than adequate legroom.

Under the hood was a 2.5-liter double overhead cam V-6 that pumped out 170horsepower. This proved to be more than adequate for our long trip to the Washington D.C. area. The engine drove the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, Porsche’s version of an automatic stickshift. For the most part we just left the gearbox in “Drive,” but there were a couple of situations on winding roads where we downshifted and took advantage of the higher engine revs. The Tiptronic feature was another one of the surprises I didn’t expect in a $22,269 car.

front seats light grayOur tester was the top-of-the-line SE trim level. In addition to the leather seats, other options over and above the $19,949 base price included antilock brakes($795) and carpeted floor mats ($80). Normally I would scoff at the need for carpeted floor mats, but I have driven cars with the bare minimum, and the carpeting does make the ride more comfortable.

The SE has, as standard equipment, alloy wheels with Michelin tires, heated exterior mirrors, power-activated antenna, fog lights, moon roof, keyless entry and alarm, cruise control (a handy addition on a long trip), 120-watt stereo system with cassette and CD player, and the power seat. In addition, with the V-6 engine, the rear brakes are discs instead of drums.

I also was impressed with the Optima’s handling. The reason was an all-independent suspension, with double wishbones, coil springs and tubular shocks in front and a multi-link design with coil springs and tubular shocks in the rear. On the highway this offered a smooth ride with little road noise transmitted back into the passenger compartment. We also did some maneuvering over some twisty roads and the attitude of the Optima was generally flat. It wasn’t stiff, as in a sports car, but still inspired me with confidence that the car wasn’t going to get away from me and start driving itself.

engine honda accordWe brought a lot of packages down to my daughter’s house to greet the new arrival. So we appreciated the Optima’s 13.6 cubic foot trunk. This is slightly smaller than the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, for example, but proved to be just right for what we had to carry. I remember back to trunks of the past, which may have had larger nominal capacities, but had fewer useful cubic feet.

Since we had to keep in constant touch with the hospital to monitor the progress of the baby and mother-to-be, we had two cellular phones in operation at all times. We had two power outlets in the Optima, so both phones were well-charged.

The Optima is stingy with fuel. We averaged more than 25 mpg with the automatic transmission, the only choice with the V-6 engine. This was in almost full highway driving. The EPA estimates 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.

With a bottom line of slightly over $22,000, the Optima comes in with a lower sticker than its main competition. It’s a solid car with decent performance. There’s a lot of competition in the mid-size class, and we applaud Kia for jumping in with both feet with a car that can hold its own against that competition.

2001 The Auto Page Syndicate

left rear auto


Engine Type 2.5-liter DOHC V-6 aluminum block and head
Horsepower 170 @ 6000 RPM
Torque 169 @ 4000 RPM
Transmission 4-speed ECT automatic transmission with Sportmatic clutchless shifting
Tires P205/60 R15
Overall Length 185.9″
Wheelbase 106.3″
Width 71.5″
Curb Weight 3190 lbs.
Fuel Recommended Regular 87 Octane Unleaded.
Fuel Tank 17.2 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 19 , hwy 25
Acceleration 0 to 60 9.3 Seconds
Base Sticker Price $19,949  + Destination Charge of $495

2001 Kia Optima SE

Standard Equipment

  • 2.4-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder DOHC engine or 2.5-liter, 24-valve, V6 engine
  • Five-speed manual transmission (four-speed automatic standard with V6)
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Four-wheel independent suspension
  • Power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes ( 4-wheel disk brakes standard with V6)
  • Air conditioning
  • Power windows w/driver express down
  • Power door locks
  • 8-way power adjustable driver seat
  • Heated dual power mirrors
  • Power moonroof w/sliding sunshade
  • Theft-deterrent system
  • 120-watt AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo
  • 6 speakers with door-mounted tweeters
  • Fold-down 60/40-split rear seat
  • Alloy wheels
  • Dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors
  • Wood trim accents
  • First-aid kit

Major Available Options

  • Four-speed automatic transmission (standard with V6)
  • Leather-faced seats
  • Antilock Braking System (ABS) (only available with V6)
  • Mud guards

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