The mid-size Kia Optima has had difficulty to be a solid go-to car. Since its first release back in 2000, it isn't seen as one of the best options in its class. Sales and reviews haven't been as rosy as Kia hoped it would be. The trend is to fall behind more-preferred Japanese and European competitors. But the company never pulled the plug on the car's production and development. After more than a decade, and three generations of being in the market, the Optima has improved in one way or another for it to be a serious choice for anybody looking for a decent and reliable sedan.
First generation (2000-2005): Little optimism
The early models of the Optima were manufactured by fellow-Korean company Hyundai as a rebadged version of the Hyundai Sonata. Differences were only found in exterior trims and some features. For those who gave the car a fighting chance, there were a few things worth mentioning. Its cabin space and modifiable seating was praised for giving a roomy interior enough for an everyday car. Air conditioning, stereo system, power windows, locks, and mirrors were part of its interior features. Antilock brakes and airbags were provided for added safety.
Engine options included a four-cylinder or six-cylinder which didn't really appeal to consumers because of the rising gas prices at that time. The Optima as a whole also couldn't live up to expectations in refinement, reliability, and overall value. It just couldn't overcome the strength of its competition such as the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
Second generation (2006-2010): A grip on the market
Kia formally took over control for the production of the second generation Optima. For starters, the car slowly veered away from relying heavily on the designs of the Hyundai Sonata. Independent suspension and disc brakes improved handling. A new DOHC and CVVT engine made the car more powerful and efficient. Inside, the car's expensive and fresh look is enough to remove the belief of the Optima as a cheap car.
However, reliability issues--mostly regarding engine and electronics--plagued owners as the car needed multiple visits to the garage. Even mechanical upgrades, new safety features, interior trims, and a price lower by $1000, weren't enough to make the car a serious option.
Third generation (2011): Edging closer to success
Third time's the charm. Kia may finally have something to be proud of with the third-generation Optima. The car's sleek and modern look inside and outside can be head-turning. Cabin size is still not an issue considering how spacious it is. There are plenty of electronic features and driving assists included. Other than a 2.4 L engine, there's an all-new hybrid version for the environmentally conscious.
Early reception has been great. It may still not be the best, and it may not still be enough to defeat the VWs, Toyotas and Hondas on top. But the car has made a leap big enough to make the competition worry.