You'll Like The 2009 Kia Optima If...
If you're looking for a four-door sedan with responsive driving characteristics, a lot of features and an attractive price, the 2009 Kia Optima should be on your shopping list. It's handsome, offers impressive safety features and represents a good value for the money.
You May Not Like The 2009 Kia Optima If...
If you absolutely crave attention, the Optima's new exterior, which some may describe as subtle, still may not grab your eyes – or anyone else's. And, despite generous interior volume for the category, this midsize package won't be big enough for larger families.
The Kia Optima receives a major freshening, with a new front end, revised rear end and an upgraded interior. The 2009 model gains over two additional inches in length, as well as a new, more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Other news includes the addition of a new trim, the SX, and an available onboard navigation unit.
Kia continues to offer increasingly worthwhile upgrades in interior design, materials and safety. Even in base LX form, the Optima's interior materials rate well above merely acceptable. On those cars with leather we were impressed by the leather's tone and its perforated texture. However, the front seat cushions, though comfortable, could still do with a bit more upward angle. The new "barrel-type" instrument cluster imparts a racy feel, as does new red backlighting. As the Optima is intended to appeal to young families, safety receives an appropriate emphasis. Its standard airbag arrangement includes advanced dual front airbags and front seat-mounted side airbags, along with full-length side-curtain airbags.
While unobtrusively styled, the 2009 Kia Optima is still modern and attractive. The profile is fronted by an attractive yet vaguely Accord-like grille flanked by cat-eye halogen headlights. The passenger cabin provides a nice balance between outward visibility and efficient aerodynamics. Front and rear overhangs are fairly short, while the fenderwells are nicely filled with either the standard 16-inch or the available 17-inch tires. The overall effect is that the Optima looks balanced and secure, in a way that is modern and even sporting.
The Kia team has made a commitment to blending the Optima's features into a nice combination of driving capabilities. In what might be considered as unexpected for a Korean brand, the Optima is actually fun to drive. Movements of the steering wheel are rewarded with crisp reactions into corners, body roll is minimal and the Optima enjoys a balanced feel, particularly when you consider it's a modestly-priced front-wheel-drive sedan. We found it completely engaging and enjoyable.
With a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting around $18,000, the base 2009 Kia Optima LX's value is obvious. The four-cylinder EX starts around $21,000 and includes numerous worthwhile additional features, while the sporty SX starts closer to $22,000. More options can move the price upward from there, so budget-minded buyers may find the LX to be a better value. While the LX Optima's value is a no-brainer, a loaded EX enlarges the competitive field to include such vehicles as the Honda Accord and the Volkswagen Jetta. Unfortunately, the Optima's resale figures are near the bottom of the pack, falling well below the class leaders from Honda, Toyota and even Ford and Chevrolet.
The Optima continues Kia's tradition of providing a generous level of standard equipment for an attractive price. Our test LX model, with the four-cylinder engine, included power heated exterior mirrors, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, four-wheel disc brakes, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a split folding rear seat and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 compatible audio system with auxiliary and USB input jacks. Beyond that, it offered gas shock absorbers and front and rear anti-roll bars, features often available only as parts of "sport" or "handling" packages with other cars. Standard safety equipment includes front side airbags, side curtain airbags, traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes.
For those wanting a higher level of comfort, convenience and functionality, there is available leather seat trim, power and heated front seats, a manually-operated rear-window shade, power-adjustable pedals, automatic climate control, alloy wheels, power moonroof, Infinity sound system and subwoofer (part of the Premium Package) and other features and options. A new in-dash navigation unit is offered on all but the LX trim.
2.4-liter Four-Cylinder Engine
Although its specifications aren't too dissimilar from others in the midsize segment, the Optima's all-aluminum 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers a pleasant character that is involving for the driver. It offers crisp response and decent power, and is so good that, on balance, there seems little justification for either the additional expense or the greater fuel consumption of the V6.
Usually an option available only on top-of-the-line trims, Kia offers its navigation unit on all but the entry level LX.
Under the Hood
Our driving experience was limited to the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with either the five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. In both instances we were pleased by the new engine's responsiveness, and the transmission gearing was well matched to the engine's characteristics. The addition of variable valve timing helps bump output to a respectable 175 horsepower. Other than its superior passing and uphill acceleration advantages, we see little benefit in opting for the V6, given the balance, efficiency and entirely acceptable performance of the in-line four.
2.4-liter in-line 4
175 horsepower @6000 rpm
169 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/32
194 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
184 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28
The 2009 Kia Optima continues to offer buyers a well-built, well-equipped family sedan for less money than the competition. Based on the same platform as the Hyundai Sonata, the Optima distances itself with a new, sportier exterior and interior treatments, as well as a significantly lower base price. Over the last few years Kia has made impressive strides in both quality and content and, while not yet on par with such giants as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Optima comes very close. The Optima provides a roomy, comfortable interior, a large trunk and a choice between a fuel-efficient four-cylinder or a powerful V6 engine. Even the most basic models include such standard safety features as side-curtain airbags and front-seat active head restraints.