2006.5 Kia Optima

2006, Kia, Optima

Sonoma, CA - "This is a great car" my girlfriend Carol says as we're heading out on our drive. I haven't even settled in, figured out the route or looked through our goody bag and she's already evaluated the car. How can she know so quickly? "The price was already great and as soon as I got in I liked the layout and when I started driving I liked the feel of the suspension and the steering." Now what do we do for the next 4 hours of driving?

First let me address the 2006.5. Though it wasn't really said, it was probably done because of CAFE and EPA rules, commonly known as politics in my book.

Carol's right. The price of the cars are great. We drove two different Optima EXs. We probably would have only driven one, but I was on the hunt for one with heated seats. I had a backache and I'm one of those people that believe that a good cup of coffee and a heated seat can cure pretty much anything.

There are five models, two engines in the mix and lots of options. The first Optima EX we drove was a 2.7-liter V-6 with a 5-speed automatic. The base price was $20,400, with anti-lock brakes (ABS) available for $300 and another $300 gives you the optional package including Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS) and Brake Assist System (BAS). Add $800 for power steering with tilt and another $1,500 for something called an appearance package. $600 for a destination charge brings the total up to $23,900.

I would have ordered the leather package for $1,300 instead of the $1,500 that gave me a black interior key color and leather seat trim. The leather package (PL) for $1,300 includes leather seats, heated front seats (of course), power front passenger seat, rear window manual sunshade and power adjustable pedals.

I had to look twice to understand this, but the anti-lock brakes (ABS) available for $300 and another $300 gives you the optional package including Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS) and Brake Assist System (BAS). First off, you only have the option of buying those if you are getting an LX V-6 or an EX package. That's only three of the models. Secondly, you have to get both, so they should have just combined them and said $600. A little confusing.

The second Optima EX beige/beige leather was a 2.4-liter inline-4 5-speed automatic with a base of $19,395. My leather package with the heated front seats cost $1,300, another $800 for the power sunroof with tilt and $600 for destination charge came to a total of $22,095.

The four hours of driving was spent trying to see if we could feel that much difference in 20 horsepower. The 6-cylinder has 185 [email protected],000 rpm with a torque of 182 [email protected],000rpm and gets 22city/30highway mpg. The 4-cylinder has 161 [email protected],800 rpm with a torque of 163 [email protected],250 rpm and gets 24city/34highway mpg. The driveability of both cars was great and we didn't have any problems passing anyone.

I can understand why 80 percent of the buyers purchase the 4-cylinder automatic. And it is priced below the competitors; Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima.

Kia is at a very pivotal point in their business life cycle. The decisions they make now will decide whether they are a follower, willing to always be smaller than Toyota, or a leader, listening to the markets they are forging ahead in, particularly the United States.

Kia Motors Corporation (KMC) recently announced plans to construct a $1.2 billion automotive assembly and manufacturing plant in West Point, Ga.. The facility will be Kia's first manufacturing plant in the U.S. and will begin production in 2009. The manufacturing facility has an expected production capacity of 300,000 vehicles a year.

A couple of years ago Kia sent a crew to a press event. They asked me to describe what I thought when I heard the word Kia to them. I said inexpensive, good warranty, decent quality. The problem is, those words don't make a company stand out, especially not in todays world. In today's world you have to be seen as innovative, as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Toyota has positioned themselves as part of the solution, providing innovative advanced technology with their hybrid system. It would cost Kia mega millions to follow in those foot steps and that is just how it would be seen.

The United States has some of the dirtiest diesel fuel in the world. Our diesel fuel contains about 300 parts per million (PPM) of sulfur, whereas Europe's diesel fuel contains about 15 ppm of sulfur. This is supposed to change by the end of 2006. If it does, Kia should make the decision to bring their diesel engine to their Georgia plant right away.

Len Hunt, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Kia, knows diesel engines. Hunt, used to be executive vice president-Volkswagen of America Inc., and worked with both Volkswagen and Audi. According to Hunt, "Diesels are 50 percent of the market in Europe. When I worked at VW, we couldn't keep diesels on the U.S. shelves, they are so hot." Hunt could help Kia bring diesels to the United States.

Kia already has a 2.0-liter common-rail diesel (CRD) engine in the UK, in the Kia Magentis. The Magentis has a Korean built diesel engine in it that can be paired with a four-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. According to Diesel car magazine, Kia will launch sixteen new vehicles in the next four years, including five diesel powered passenger cars in Europe. Why not the United States?

I went to a UK website, whatcar, where the Kia Magentis CRD is listed at 47 mpg, while the petroleum (gasoline) engine gets around 31 mpg. That's about a $750 savings every year. If the diesel engine cost about $3,000 more than a gasoline engine it would take less than 5 years for a breakeven on the diesel engine. That would be Kia to Kia.

If I take the top level Kia Optima EX V-6 at $20,400 it gets roughly the same mpg as Toyota's Camry XLE V-6, 24 mpg. The 2006 Toyota Camry XLE MSRP is $25,805, almost $6,000 more than the Kia. Add $3,000 to the Kia Optima for a diesel engine, but deduct 125 gallons of gas you won't need because of the added mpg of diesel. You'll save $2,400 on the car and about $300 a year in gas money.

Hunt was involved in public awareness of biodiesel when he worked with Volkswagen. America is starting to wake up to Europe's biodiesel and BTL. Biomass-to-liquids is a biodiesel that is made from cellulose and molecularly turned into diesel.

The next thing Kia could do is start making flex-fuel vehicles. Korea has not seemed as concerned about energy security as Japan. If Kia looked at Brazil, a country that is almost completely off imported gasoline, and looked at where big money was putting venture capital in the United States they would look at flex-fuel vehicles as well. Shell Oil Company owns 50 percent of Iogen Corporation, a cellulose ethanol company. It costs just a couple hundred dollars per car to make a vehicle flex-fuel. Kia could be the Asian leader in flex-fuel vehicles.

When Hunt was approached with these ideas he said, "Diesel customers are very loyal. They loved the torquey driving characteristics and were always proud of the almost 50mpg they achieved on a pretty regular basis. I have always been a believer in what Diesel has to offer the customer and the environment when the latest technology is applied in the US."

By Lou Ann Hammond

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Images of the 2006, Kia Optima

2006.5 Kia Optima
2006.5 Kia Optima
a new front for the Kia Optima
a new front for the Kia Optima
the interior of the 2006.5 Kia Optima
the interior of the 2006.5 Kia Optima
a sideview of the Optima
a sideview of the Optima