2009 Kia Optima LX

A ripened plain-jane calls for new bolt-ons to stay doable in this bread-and-butter midsizer orgy.

The midsize car segment could be a very intense interracial orgy. The Optima is one of the many fluffers on the set, faded in the background doing what needs to be done to stay in the trade.

The midsizer salad bowl, particularly in the U.S., is as attractive as the San Fernando Valley to some. Having a role in this ~3,000,000 unit (annual sales volume) cream pie has attracted many makes and models with different shapes and sizes from all over the globe.

From its amateur days, the Optima were never meant to be an achiever like some of its blockbuster colleagues. Regrettably the Optima has also aged, the facelift performed just cannot plaster the gangbanging mileage accumulated not to mention the nature’s ever-present gravity effect on the old bolt-ons.

The truth to the matter is being the top performer is not as critical as being able to blend into the blandness of this orgy. There’s plenty of pie for everyone. A fluffer has it role too.

Background – Behind the Scene

The Kia Optima was first introduced in 2000 [chassis code: MS] being the first midsize sedan in the model lineup. The MS was a rebadge of Hyundai’s (its sister company) fourth generation Sonata. The MS has received the typical badge engineering practice of making changes to the styling and equipment package.

A second generation [MG] was released in 2005 with the platform and mechanical components also shared with the fifth generation Sonata. A rather significant facelift came in 2008 to further deviate from the Hyundai shadow under the influence of ex-chief designer of the VW Group, now Kia’s chief designer Peter Schreyer. The most dramatic changes include the new Kia theme front-end style, tail lamps and the interior. The standard engine is also replaced by a newer 2.4L inline-4 engine.

The facelift has brought in freshness aesthetically and the more efficient engine pleased EPA emission and fuel consumption regulations. Together, they are the life supports to prolong the product cycle until the new model scheduled to be due in early 2011.

In 2009MY, a revised 2.7L V6 engine which offers 194hp and 184Ib-ft of torque is also available on the EX and SX trim levels. The option packages on the Optima are simple. There is only one option package available to each of the three trims in 2009: LX(base), EX and SX(sportier).

Our tester in Spice Red paint is the LX model of the lineup without any option with MSRP at $18,950. It is assembled in Kia’s Hwasung Plant in Hwasung, South Korea.

Blending In – The Making of XXX

In the five-year span that the MG has been roaming around, the Optima is on borrowed time considering the normal model replacement interval is every four years for majority of the Asian brands. After Peter Schreyer has applied his plastic surgery on the style, the Optima just still has the hints of all the past and present mainstream midsize sedan shadows. The rear end resembles the Honda Accord of the early ‘00s, the front grille seems to be taken out from early ‘00 Toyota Camry, the side profile is simulated from the mid ‘90s Nissan Maxima and the headlights appear to be inspired by Acura TSX. It has the style of submerging into the sea of sedans. Even the Spicy Red paint doesn’t catch any attention.

With bits and pieces melted into one, the Optima blends into this blandness perfectly. The matter of fact is the family sedan market is a colossal market in the United States – historical data indicates that 1 out of 5 vehicle sales are in this category. Having a dip in this wealth is a no brainer for car makers. It isn’t hard for them to find out majority of the shoppers isn’t looking for a car that “turns head” suggested by the best sellers in this segment – Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. These shoppers have high awareness in cost and dependability. Driving pleasure and uniqueness aren’t the terms they register.

Propelling the Blandness – Internal Cumbustion

The tester is equipped with Hyundai’s Theta II [Engine Code: G4KC] 2.4L I-4 aluminum 16-valves DOHC MFI engine with variable intake system and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) on both intake and exhaust camshafts. It generates respectable 175hp@6,000rpm and 169Ib-ft of torque@4,000rpm. Engine is transversely mounted, driving the front wheels via a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode, in Kia’s nomenclature, Sportmatic.

This Theta II engine also features equal length and diameter stainless steel header type exhaust manifold with integral catalytic converter to provide both optimal efficiency in performance and reduction in emission output. It has 88 x 97mm undersquare bore and stroke ratio, tuned to develop peak torque at lower speeds. Balance shafts are equipped to reduce engine noise and vibration.

The Theta engines are the current workhorse for Hyundai Kia Automotive Group. This 2.4L version can be found in the brand new Kia Forte SX, the family hauling Kia Rondo mini-van, and 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe.