History of the Kia Optima

History of Kia Optima

The history of the Kia Optima, Kia’s first mid-sized sedan, can be summed up as a commitment to value, motivated by a consistent pursuit of technological innovation. What follows is a timeline of sorts, highlighting the spec updates and overall evolution of the Optima, followed by a sneak peek of what the fourth generation has in store.


But why read about the Optima when you can stop by a Kia car dealership and check out the specs yourself?


Early Days

2001 Kia Optima - HistoryThe first generation of the Kia Optima was released between the years 2000-2005. Changes were primarily limited to minor wheel and engine upgrades, with a few trim options added here and there. Ideal for commuting, owing to its comfortable interior, the first generation Optimas lacked stability control, antilock brakes, and head curtain airbags.


  • 2000-2001: The Kia Optima debuted, featuring several trim levels and a 4 or 6-cylinder engine.
  • 2002: Featuring keyless entry, this model’s upgraded V6 engine provided 178 hp, larger 15-inch wheels, and new trim levels.
  • 2003: A redesigned body style, the 4-cylinder manual transmission was discontinued,but new trim levels were added and the sound system was upgraded to a premium infinity brand.
  • 2004: Moving up a size in wheels to 16-inch, the 2004 featured an upgraded V6 engine, but only minor trim updates.
  • 2005: For the first time, leather interior was offered as an option and the turning signal lenses were updated.


Baby Steps

2006 Kia OptimaNo major leaps or bounds marked the second generation, spanning 2006-2010; however, these models represented increased technological innovations, like antilock brakes and stability control.


By the end of the 2009 model year, the Optima was sporting greater power and more sophisticated styling, evocative of the more luxurious European sedans.


As the second generation made way for the third, and arguably more innovative, the Optima was available in three trim levels: base, EX, and SX. Each came standard equipped with a 175 horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. The EX and SX also had optional 194 horsepower, 2.7-liter V6 engine. The LX came standard with a five-speed manual transmission, with optional five-speed automatic, the standard transmission for the EX and SX models.


Other differences between the trim levels included the automatic LX, which featured air-conditioning, power accessories, antilock brakes, stability control, front and side seat airbags and full-length side curtain airbags, while the EX boasted leather upholstery, and the SX offered sport-tuned suspension.


  • 2006: This model, released mid-year, was dubbed the 2006.5 and sported an improved 4-cylinder engine.
  • 2007: A redesigned interior and updated body style defined the 2007.
  • 2008: Antilock brakes and stability control released standard across the line.
  • 2009: With a brand new V6 engine at 164 hp, and larger, 17-inch wheels, the 2009 Optima also featured new safety features and additional trim options, which, in short, translated as more power and styling.


Game Changer

2010 Kia Optima

The rubber finally met the road between 2011-2015, the Optima’s third generation. Owing almost entirely to the redesigned 2011 model, this generation is what keeps the Kia Optima a relevant and consistently well-ranked midsize family sedan, even now, five years later.


  • 2010: Remote start technology offered standard across the line.
  • 2011: A brand new, 100% redesign meant the family sedan now offered superior styling and value with better equipment upgrades. In the wake of the recession, this car could not have launched at a better time.
  • 2012: This model featured a technological upgrade, specifically the UVO voice command system, with redesigned front seats, but only minor trim changes.
  • 2013: The main changes to the 2013 focused on trim options. The EXTurbo trim was discontinued in favor of the SX Limited trim option and a trim level was added to the hybrid Optima.
  • 2014: The 2014 enjoyed some tech-savvy upgrades, included a new touchscreen, rear parking sensors, and a blind spot monitoring system.


Edging Past the Competition



2015 Kia Optima

Similar to other sedans on the market, for example the Honda Accord, which boasts similar fuel economy, but at a slightly higher MSRP ($22,105), the 2015 Optima is a roomier, more economical option at MSRP $21,690.


Another competitor, the Nissan Altima, ties with the Optima in the areas of fuel efficiency as they get the same number of miles per tank of gas (EPA estimated 38 mpg), and matched horsepower; however, the Optima’s higher torque gives it more power than the Altima, and the smaller turning radius allows greater maneuverability and precision.


Those in the market for a 2015 Optima should consider the following specs across the four available trim levels.



  • 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 200 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. of torque
  • Standard 6-speed manual, optional 6-speed automatic
  • Alloy wheels
  • Air-conditioning
  • Tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel
  • Stereo with a CD player, satellite radio, iPod/USB interface



  • 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 200 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. of torque
  • Standard 6-speed automatic
  • Alloy wheels
  • Air-conditioning
  • Tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel
  • Stereo with a CD player, satellite radio, iPod/USB interface
  • Keyless ignition and entry
  • Automatic climate control
  • Leather upholstery.



  • 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque.
  • Standard 6-speed automatic
  • 8-inch alloy wheels
  • Sport-tuned suspension
  • Upgraded gauges (with integrated display screen) and paddle shifters.
  • SX turbo also comes with xenon headlights.
  • SX Limited:
  • 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 274 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque.
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • Rearview camera
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Blind-spot monitor
  • Uvo voice-command system
  • Heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats
  • Upgraded audio and navigation system.



  • Four-cylinder gasoline engine with electric motor, combined output is 206 horsepower
  • 6-speed automatic
  • EPA estimated 36 mpg in combined driving
  • Keyless ignition and entry
  • Automatic climate control
  • Leather upholstery


Sneak Peek

Set to launch next fall, the 2016 Kia Optima will pave the way for the fourth generation of Optimas.


The new model will be more spacious, with additional head and legroom; however, there is nothing boxy or bulky about this design. Sculpted and sleek, inspired by contemporary architectural design, the 2016 Kia Optima will be available in not four, but five, trim levels, each corresponding with several different powertrains and three engine choices.


Technologically-savvier than its predecessors, the 2016 features upgraded audio systems and four new eServices on the Uvo system, including: Geo-fencing, Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, and Driving Score.


Luxurious details are evident throughout the cabin with an abundance of soft-touch materials and a cleaner, ergonomically-improved design.


Crystal Ball


If history can predict anything about the Optima’s future, it is that Kia will continue to perfect this ever-popular midsize sedan to impressive results, and to the delight of every Kia car dealership.




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