Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book
KBB.com 2003 Kia Optima Overview
Good as Gold
In the world of family sedans, there seems to be as many choices as there are colors to go with them. What you may have already discovered is though most sedans look good on paper, the devil is usually in the details. Once you begin to add on popular options like power windows, air conditioning and a V6 engine, the low advertised price that drew you to the showroom in the first place seems to evaporate faster than dew in the desert. Wouldn't it be nice if someone actually built a car that offered you everything you wanted without forcing you to take a second mortgage to afford it? Well someone has and they work for Kia; if you're looking for a comfortable, roomy and powerful mode of transportation, you owe it to yourself to test-drive the company's flagship sedan, the Optima.
If you had to sum up the Optima in a single sentence, it might read something like this: a handsome, almost elegant front-wheel-drive sedan with plenty of room for passengers and cargo and a generous standard equipment list. That should be enough to peak your interest and make you want to dig a little deeper into the car's merits. Kia offers two trim levels, each equipped appropriately for the type of buyer that usually gravitates toward this type of car. The first model, the LX, is a bargain shoppers delight. With an MSRP of just $15,995 you get a comfortable, smooth riding sedan with a 5-speed manual and perky 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The Optima's four has good power for its size, but it is not as smooth or refined as those from Honda or Toyota. What really grabs you about this entry-level Optima is the long list of standard equipment that includes power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, rear defroster, dual power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with CD, dual front and front side-impact airbags, cruise control and a tilt steering wheel. So what if your engine is smooth but not buttery smooth, you got a boatload of standard equipment and still have some cash left over for options like the Sportmatic auto/manual transmission and 2.7-liter V6 engine.
The other Optima is the SE, which appeals to the more decadent mid-level family sedan buyer. The SE also comes with either the 2.4-liter four or 2.7-liter V6, but adds the Sportmatic transmission as standard equipment. It also adds automatic air conditioning, power antenna, keyless entry, alarm system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto dimming rearview mirror, AM/FM CD with cassette, power glass moonroof, 8-way power driver's seat and alloy wheels. Options include leather seating, anti-lock brakes, CD changer and rear spoiler. Even when fully loaded, the Optima with the V6 engine will not break the $23K mark and may even be less if you qualify for the $2000 loyalty rebate.
Now we know what your thinking and we'd be just as skeptical, after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch; then again, the Optima is not free, just affordable. We found that there was no part of this sedan that disappointed us. From the quality and fit of the exterior panels to the tasteful choice of high-quality interior materials, the Optima aims to please with bulls eye accuracy. You'll find a very comfortable set of front bucket seats, complete with driver's lumbar support. The instrument panel is simple yet informative and all of the switchgear have a nice, dampened feel. We think for a standard OEM audio system, the Optima's AM/FM CD stereo sounds terrific, with good base and surprisingly distortion free highs. We liked the little touches too, like the folding rear armrest with integrated cup holders, the lighted visor vanity mirrors and the delayed-off dome light. If you plan on using your Optima for business, your rear seat passengers will be just as comfortable as your front passenger, with plenty of head and legroom and the added safety and comfort of rear seat head restraints, including one for the center occupant.
Once in gear, you'll find that the Optima feels lighter and easier to maneuver than its appearance would lead you to believe. The variable-assist steering is effortless when parking and nicely weighted when at speeds over 35 mph. The Sportmatic automatic transmission is one of the best shifting automatics we've experienced, with practically no lag time when kicking down into lower gears and smooth, seamless up-shifts when accelerating. About the only part of the Optima's performance we found average was its cornering ability. The car is sprung very softly, which makes for a terrific highway ride, but also allows the vehicle to dive and squat under hard braking and acceleration and to lean and roll a bit more than we'd like when pressed hard into sharp turns. Still, this is not a sport sedan so we can't really complain. Then again, if you wanted to add some aftermarket springs, stiffer shocks and bigger wheels and tires, you'd have a pretty slick ride for thousands less than even the most Spartan sports sedan.