Kia launched the Optima in 2000 and promoted it worldwide using several brand names throughout its four-generation production run.
The Kia Optima is a medium or midsize passenger car, which is equivalent to the D-segment or large family car classification in Europe. The first through third generations of Kia Optima are sedans, while the fourth generation is available as a station wagon as well.
1st Generation: MS (2000-2005)
The first generation is a rebadged Hyundai Sonata and thus shares the same underpinnings as the latter, save for minor changes in the exterior and interior design.
Marketed globally as the Optima, it also used the Magentis nameplate in Canada and Europe, where sales started in 2002.
In May 2001, the first generation was launched in Australia but was available only with a 2.5-litre Delta V6 petrol engine (127 kW, 229 N⋅m) and a choice of either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox.
In 2002, the facelifted version of the Kia Optima was presented, sporting a new and more efficient 2.7-litre Delta V6 engine (127 kW, 245 N⋅m) paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission. This enhanced model offered standard features that include sporty alloy wheels, slick full-leather interior, and active safety features.
In 2003, the car's grille was remodelled in time to represent the Optima model year 2004. It also received restyled headlamps later in the year.
In its maiden run, however, the 2001 Kia Optima received poor and average scores with an overall 1-star rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
2nd Generation: MG (2005-2010)
In November 2005, Kia Motors introduced its second-generation Optima model in South Korea. It was called Magentis in international markets, except for Malaysia and the US where it retained the name Optima. In South Korea, it took the name of Kia Lotze.
In Australia, it wore the nameplate of Kia Magentis from 2006 through 2010, while the previous generation continued to sell until 2006. The Magentis came equipped with a 2.4-litre Theta II inline-four petrol engine (121 kW, 222 N⋅m) with either a 5-speed Sportmatic automatic or 5-speed manual transmission, the same one that the Hyundai Sonata used. Unlike the earlier generation, the Magentis now used a Kia platform called MG. Kia offered a new powerhouse for the Magentis – a 2.7-litre Mu V6 engine (138 kW, 247 N⋅m) mated to a 5-speed auto gearbox.
In 2007, Kia introduced this generation in Malaysia, outfitted with a 2.0-litre Theta DOHC CVVT petrol engine and matched with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
As to the vehicle’s roadworthiness, active safety measures have been stepped-up as against the previous generation’s dismal safety ratings. It received a 5-star crash test rating from the NHTSA and a 4-star rating from the Euro NCAP.
The Kia Optima MY 2006 also attained marginal to good scores from the IIHS, a much welcome reprieve from the previous generation’s poor showing.
In Australia, sales of the Magentis never took off, with merely over 700 units sold in 2007. By 2008, Kia Australia discontinued the 2.7L V6 engine and the EX-L model, leaving the entry-level 2.4-litre EX as the sole offering.
In 2008, a facelifted Kia Optima debuted at the New York International Auto Show. Its revised features include both exterior and interior upgrades, such as:
- a new front-to-end design
- sleek tail lamps
- remodelled instrument band
- Sirius Satellite Radio/AM/FM/MP3/CD with auxiliary jack, and
- a satellite navigation system (optional)
The facelifted Optima took on the new Theta II 2.4-litre inline 4-cylinder petrol engine. It used Hyundai’s dual continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) with a variable intake system for increased power and efficient fuel consumption. Although the second-generation Optima 2010 facelifted model offered a high-tech Proximity Key with push-button start, somehow it failed to launch at all. A few were brought in for appraisal but were sold as demos eventually.
3rd Generation: TF (2010-2015)
The totally-redesigned Optima (aka the Kia K5 in South Korea and China and Kia Optima K5 in Malaysia) made its debut at the 2010 New York International Auto Show. For the first time in many years, the brand name Optima would be used globally, phasing out the Magentis name once and for all.
While it shared an identical platform with its sister Hyundai i40, the new-generation Optima showed a much sharper, sportier look and more elegant coupe-like profile. It now wore the Tiger Nose corporate grille, thanks to Kia chief design officer Peter Schreyer and his team.
Three trim levels were available for the Optima, viz.: the base LX, the upscale EX, and the sporty SX models. The powertrain consisted of a 2.4-litre Theta II GDI inline 4-cylinder petrol engine (148 kW, 250 N⋅m) fitted either to a 6-speed automatic transmission with an Eco-indicator display or a 6-speed manual transmission (standard on the LX trim level only).
The base trim had the following active safety features:
- anti-lock braking system for enhanced tractive contact with the road surface
- electronic stability control that detects and reduces traction loss
- cooled glove box
- Sirius satellite radio
- iPod connectivity, and
- Bluetooth connectivity
In October of 2013, the base LX models received the UVO infotainment system as part of Kia’s convenience package. The more upscale EX models have a few more frills on top of the base. Standard equipment includes a Proximity Key with push-button start, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic moonroof, integrated backup camera, and a handy navigation system.
The sporty SX models, on the other hand, include paddle shifters, illuminated scuff plates, metal pedals, a rear spoiler, and a black hybrid metal and carbon insert trim.
It was only in January of 2011 that the third-generation Optima started selling in Australia, initially with only one model – the Platinum. Before long, an entry-level Si model followed suit for the 2012 model year, which shared the same engine as the Platinum.
Except for satellite navigation, this model arrived with a complete array of accessories standard to the Platinum and was powered by a 2.4-litre inline 4-cylinder GDI engine (147kW, 250 N⋅m) paired to a 6-speed sequential automatic transmission, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
It came with 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, two sunroofs, rear camera and ARK parking sensors, a 530-watt, 8-speaker Infinity audio, cruise control, vented and heated leather seats, and dual-zone air-conditioning system.
Its active safety features include a standard electronic stability control (ESC) system, six front/side/head airbags, ABS on four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, and a Hill Start Assist technology.
The Optima (rebadged as Kia Optima K5) reached Malaysia in December 2011. The model ran on a 2.0-litre Theta II MPI engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine delivers 107 kW power with 190 N⋅m of torque.
4th Generation: JF (2015–present)
As in the previous Optimas, Kia designed this generation using a platform shared with Hyundai Sonata. The Schreyer-designed Optima went on sale first in its home market in July 2015 and international markets towards the end of 2015.
In Australia, two powertrain choices are available for the latest models of Optima. The Si model comes with a 2.4L Theta GDI I4 petrol engine (148 kW, 250 N⋅m) mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. Under the bonnets of the GT and the GT Nav models is a 2.0L Theta II turbo I4 petrol engine (180 kW, 350 (148 kW, 250 N⋅m), which sends power to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission system.
The IIHS rated the 2017 model year Optima with a Top Safety Pick rating. The Optima has three feathers on its cap by winning the 2013 and 2016 International Car of the Year (ICOTY) awards and the 2016 Red Dot Best of the Best award.