Midsize car; Built in South Korea
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,600 – $5,900*

2001 Kia Optima

2001 Kia Optima

2002 Kia Optima

2002 Kia Optima interior

2003 Kia Optima

  • Instruments/controls
  • Ride
  • Automatic-transmission performance
  • Rear-seat room/comfort

In terms of equipment and comfort, Optima and Sonata offer impressive value for the money. Though they serve as bargain-priced Camry alternatives that have little need for apologies. Both have suffered from low resale values associated with South Korean cars, this can be good news for used-car shoppers. Generous warranties, however, do not offset the quality concerns.


After finishing the 1990s with only subcompacts cars and an SUV, Kia introduced a large compact four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan named Optima for 2001. The Optima was based on the Hyundai Sonata, produced by Kia’s South Korean corporate parent. Sales of the five-passenger “flagship” sedan began late in 2000.

Both LX and uplevel SE Optimas used the Sonata’s four-cylinder and V6 engines. The four-cylinder teamed with a manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission, but the 2.5-liter V6 was automatic-only. Optimas with V6 power had Tiptronic technology, with a separate gate for manual shifting, when desired.

Front side airbags were standard. Antilock braking and leather upholstery were optional with the V6 version, though Optima did not offer the Sonata’s available traction control. Optimas with the V6 also had rear disc brakes in place of drums.

As it did with other products, Kia promoted the Optima’s low price and abundant standard features, compared to Japanese-brand competitors. At 106.3 inches, the Optima’s wheelbase was nearly identical to the Honda Accord. Overall, the Optima was 3 inches shorter than an Accord, but about the same as a Nissan Altima. Optimas had a fully independent suspension and either 14- or 15-inch tires.

Standard LX equipment included air conditioning, power windows and locks, power mirrors, and variable intermittent wipers. The SE added alloy wheels with Michelin tires, fog lights, a moonroof, keyless entry, a cassette/CD player, and an eight-way power driver’s seat.

Yearly Updates

2002 Optima
A larger V6 engine topped the short list of 2002 changes to Kia’s compact sedan. The V6 grew from 2.5 liters to 2.7 liters this year, with a gain of 8 horsepower. In other 2002 changes, 15-inch wheels replaced 14-inchers as standard equipment, and SE sedans gained standard automatic headlights and an available power front passenger seat.
2003 Optma
Exterior styling revisions marked the 2003 Optimas, including a new grille and hood, larger bodyside moldings, and freshly-designed taillights. Inside, a revised center stack housed new audio and climate controls. LX models gained a standard CD player. Both engines returned for 2003 with reduced horsepower ratings.
2004 Optima
The Optima got larger wheels, 16s instead of 15s, and a newly designed grille for 2004.
2005 Optima
No changes of note were made this year.
2006 Optima
There were no major changes for the 2006 Optima.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

In the Optima’s first season, the dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine produced 149 horsepower, versus 170 hp for the 2.5-liter V6. Either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission worked with the four-cylinder, but all V6 models came only with automatic. For 2002, Kia replaced the original 2.5-liter V6 with a 2.7-liter version, gaining 8 horsepower. Both engines had lower horsepower ratings in 2003.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.4/144
Engine HP 138-149
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 159
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 170
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 169
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic


dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.7/152
Engine HP 170-178
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 181
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic


Road Test

In performance and accommodations, Optimas mirror comparably equipped Hyundai Sonatas. Optimas and Sonatas with the four-cylinder engine have modest acceleration: about 10 seconds to reach 60 mph. Acceleration with a V6 is noticeably quicker. A 2001 model with the 2.5-liter V6 did 0-60 mph in a reasonably brisk 8.5 seconds with the automatic transmission. The 2.7-liter models feel slightly stronger.

Automatic transmissions are fairly smooth, and the manual-shift feature helps make up for its tardy kick-down action that lengthens midrange passing response. The automatic is also too eager to upshift, which makes use of the manual shift gate more appealing.

As for economy, 2001 sedans with V6/automatic averaged 18.7 to 20.2 mpg. A four cylinder will be slightly thriftier. Both engines use regular fuel.

Compliant suspensions soak up most bumps with ease, though these sedans float a bit over large dip and humps. Comfort-biased tires keep impact harshness pleasantly low.

Steering/handling is modest but predictable, despite noticeable body lean in fast corners. Later Optimas have 15-inch wheels.

Simulated panic stops were only class-average short, even with ABS. Brake-pedal feel is a bit numb, and brakes are a bit touchy in routine use. Non-ABS systems resist lockup, however, and nosedive is well-checked.

Road noise is louder than wind noise at highway speeds, but not objectionable. Bumps come through with a loud thump. The V6 is quiet at idle, and produces a muted whine under full throttle. Still, both engines are on the coarse side, compared to Japanese rivals.

Dashboard design places everything within easy reach. Most buttons and dials are large and easy to use. All power-window switches are lit at night. Materials are hard to fault for the price. Higher-line models feature glossy woodgrain plastic trim.

Front head and leg room are ample. Seats are comfortable and offer either manual or power height adjustment, for a commanding view. Top-line models were available with leather upholstery that lacks richness.

Back seats are wide enough for only two adults, who have marginal foot room and just-acceptable head room, and must sit knees-up if the front seats are pushed far back. Seat cushions are somewhat low and a bit too soft for best support, but the rear has a fold-down center armrest.

The flat-floor trunk has a smallish opening but good volume, and hinges don’t dip into the load area. The seatback folds easily but not quite flat, and the pass-through is not full-width. Interior storage is generous, with a two-tier console box, two covered cupholders, console and dash bins, map pockets, and a decent-size glovebox.


Model Tested: 2001 Kia Optima SE V6

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 5
Fuel Economy - 5
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 5
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 7
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
Cargo Room - 5


Value - 4

Total: 53


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
106.3 186.2 71.7 55.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
13.6 17.2 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.0 37.6 43.3 36.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2003 Optima 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Engine stalling
Description: Problems in the wiring to the throttle-position sensor may cause drivability concerns such as momentary stalling. (2001)

Recall History

Description: Side-airbag wiring harness could be mis-routed, possibly rendering the airbag inactive in the event of an impact. Dealers will inspect and replace any affected parts.
2001-02 w/V6
Description: Two seperate recalls for improperly manufactured crankshaft-position sensors could result in engine stalling while driving. Dealers will replace affected parts.
Description: (vehicles originally sold in or currently registered in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.)
Road salt applied during the winter months may result in progressive, internal corrosion of the front sub-frame, and may result in thinning or perforation of the sub-frame steel. The corrosion is frequently visible and often discovered during inspection or routine maintenance, and owners may also hear noises or notice tire misalignment and steering pull. Dealers will measure the thickness of the front sub-frame and inspect the front sub-frame for corrosion damage and, if necessary, the front sub-frame will be replaced with a new sub-frame that incorporates additional holes in the upper and
Description: The fuel tank assembly valve on some vehicles may not close properly and cause a possible leakage. Dealers will inspect and replace affected parts.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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