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2006 Kia Optima EX V6

Good Product, Boring Wrapper

A three-quarter front view of a 2006 Kia Optima EX V6

In short: A well-built, comfortable sedan with great value.

The Optima is yet another link in Kia’s rapid evolution toward being an industry leader. The Korean carmaker’s bread-and-butter family sedan, the Optima is also arguably its most important model, since it aims to go head-to-head with the category’s powerhouse models, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Although it is missing a certain degree of visual and driving excitement, the Optima is ultimately a very competent, well-made entry in this ultra-competitive market definitely worth checking out.

The first thing you’ll notice when looking at the Optima is that you don’t notice much. Kia must have been going for that witness protection program look, making it seamlessly blend into the background with an exterior that’s as adventurous as the weekly shuffleboard tournament at Shady Acres Retirement Home. This “offend no one by appealing to no one” idea worked great for most Camry generations, but even Toyota has tried to add in some visual pizzazz to its every-man mobile. Also, Kia’s uncreative, no-frills emblem evokes the company’s not-too-distant past of shoddy, low-rent penalty boxes. Petty, superficial observation, yes; but it’s guaranteed that potential buyers consider such things.

Kia Optima interior offers excellent materials, a clean look and logical ergonomics

Once they climb inside the spacious cabin though, the exterior’s anonymity is soon forgotten. The dash design is clean and attractive, with logical, well-placed controls for all major functions. The interior materials absolutely shame those found in domestic models and in some Japanese sedans, with our tester’s optional black leather trim providing a classy, high-rent environment. The sporty blue and white electroluminescent dials look as if they were boosted from an Acura. Standard equipment is plentiful and includes automatic temperature control, eight-way power driver’s seat, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto headlights, side curtain air bags, tire pressure monitor, and an Infinity sound system with MP3, CD changer and cassette deck for books on tape and that old Paula Abdul album. Our tester came with the $1,500 appearance package that features leather, aluminum trim and blacked-out front grille, and an $800 sunroof. Antilock brakes are a necessary $300 option.

Power comes from two engines, a 162-horsepower inline-4 and the optional 185-horsepower V6 found in our test car. It’s definitely on the slow side and falls woefully short of its competitors’ optional V6s that can make upwards of 80 more horses with similar fuel economy (Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry). The standard four-cylinder, however, is on par with the others’ base models in terms of power, acceleration and gas mileage. It is also pretty dang close to the Optima’s own optional V6. Until Kia drops in the Sedona’s kicking 244-horsepower V6 or even the 235-horse V6 from the related Hyundai Sonata, stick with the four banger Optima that comes with the same amount of interior niceties.

You’ll never confuse this Kia with a sports sedan, as its steering and suspension are tuned more for ease and comfort than corners. But many buyers are much more concerned with their family sedan being comfortable, well-made and well-equipped—which the Optima most certainly is. And with an as-tested price of $23,400 and a five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, it’s also a very wise financial choice. Now, if only it weren’t in the witness protection program.

Read a review of the 2008 Kia Optima EX

Kia Optima isn't the most exciting design ever penned

Warranty/Service: Five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty; ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty; seven-year/unlimited-mile rust protection; five-year/unlimited-mile towing assistance.

Base Price: $20,400 / As tested: $23,900

Technical Specifications

Performance Data

Vehicle type: front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Engine: 2.7-liter V6
Horsepower: 185 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 182 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Curb weight: 3,287 lbs
Wheelbase: 107.4 in
186.4/71.1/58.3 in
Turning circle: 35.5 ft

Brakes: 4-wheel disc with optional ABS and optional electronic brake assist
Suspension: independent front and rear

Traction: optional traction control; optional vehicle stability control

front airbags; front side airbags; side curtain airbags; tire pressure monitor

0-60 mph: 9.1 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph (est.)

EPA City: 22 mpg
EPA Highway: 30 mpg

Likes: high-class interior; long features list; low price; long warranty
Dislikes: boring exterior; outgunned V6

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(Updated: 02/11/09 SV)

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