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2006 Kia Optima

2006 Kia Optima Review

by Denise McCluggage

In the automobile game Korea is Japan’s Japan. And don’t think that manufacturers like Toyota, Honda and Nissan aren’t aware of something breathing hard behind them. Clearly, as the likes of Kia and Hyundai set their products on a steep improvement track the Japanese realize that more than the usual players have to be considered these days. 

2006 Kia Optima Exterior

Kia has set such a fast pace for progress that a year is too long for them; thus the 2006.5 model of their midsize Optima sedan. And they haven’t simply added a few refinements to the front-wheel-drive five-passenger sedan and added a paint choice; the midyear Optima is a redesigned, more powerful, roomier, more capable, handsomer machine available in two trim levels.

The engine can be an inline four cylinder or a V6. A five-speed manual transmission is available only with the four, though the automatic four is expected to be the most popular. The V6 comes only with the five-speed automatic, which has a setting that allows manual shifting.

Kia understands that its name is not the first one to enter the average car buyer’s mind, so its plan is to jostle its way in there and leave a lasting impression. Kia’s technique: offer lots of safety and comfort features at a surprisingly low price. Kia likes to hear: “You get all that for that?

The midyear model with its serious upgrades was clearly not a ploy to raise the price. The 2006.5 is but $5 more than the 2006 making the base price $16,955. That’s for the manual four in the LX trim level. The LX has power windows and door locks, manual controls for the air conditioning, a basic six-speaker audio system (AM/FM/CD) and a six-way manually adjusted drivers’ seat.

Standard throughout the line are six airbags, tire gauge monitor and front-head restraints with an active anti-whiplash feature. Split rear seats that fold separately for cargo flexibility. Both the LX and the EX trim levels can be had with an automatic which brings among other things cruise control and a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel.

The EX model amenities include automatic climate control, an Infinity sound system (with MP3 player and six CD changer) and a eight-way power driver’s seat. Alloy wheels, foglamps, solar glass, optional leather seating and a power sunroof are options in the EX. TAke advantage of these and a V6 EX -- lavishly trimmed out -- can approach the mid twenties in price.  

The four cylinder 2.4 liter engine is all new and sports a 15% up-tick in power reaching 161 horsepower, better than its closest competitors. The V6 is the same 2.7 liter as in the 2006 Optima but it is both more powerful (185 hp) and more economical with fuel. (The V6 is EPA rated at 22 mpg city, 30 highway.

Directly competitive with the Chevy Malibu and Pontiac G6 which also start at $16,955, the Optima out-values both of them with more “stuff” at the same price points

This Kia Optima may be inexpensive but it is far from cheap. The interior could pass for a car of considerably higher price. The fit and finish is good and the cabin space generous. Kia says the interior is larger than the Camry, Accord and Altima.

2006.5 Kis Optima Interior

The Optima with it independent suspension handles with a saucy aplomb that felt both secure and pleasant on twisty roads amidst the vineyards of California’s Napa Valley. It tended toward the softer side of suspension set up so bumps were absorbed without sports car jarring. Certain road surfaces interacted with the tires to produce enough noise to require adjustments of voice levels or sound system volume, but most did not.

The four cylinder engine proved to be quite willing and also pleasant in sound. Some fours like to reveal how hard they are working for you with a straining buzz. This one did not.

The V6 is a fine power plant, but it could be a cost in original price and fuel that you don’t really need. Many buyers just knee-jerk for extra cylinders. The wise shopper will test both engines over the same route, preferably a route that is representative of the driver’s regular usage.

The single word best describing the 2006.5 Optima is “value.” If you’ve already laid out your car shopping plans this Kia is worth rethinking them. No wonder the Japanese are glancing over their shoulders. Now they know how America’s Big Three felt when the newcomers from Japan entered the US market.

For more information visit the Kia website here.

2006.5 Kia Optima Fast Facts
Mid-Size Sedan
Model options:

LX, EX (both offer V6 option)

107.1 inches
Overall length:
186.4 inches
Engine size:

2.4L I4: 4-cylinder
2.7L V6: 60-degree, 6-cylinder

2.4L I4: 5-speed manual standard (overdrive 5-speed Sportmatic optional)
2.7L V6: 5-speed Sportmatic standard
Rack and pinion, power assisted

Brake assist system (ABS)

Air bags:
2 (front) 2 (side) 2 (side curtain)
Fuel mileage city/hwy:

2.4L I4:
24/34 (manual)
24/34 (Sportmatic)

2.7L V6:
22/30 (Sportmatic)


Starting at $16,955