NAPA VALLEY, Calif. – Ask Kia executives pointed questions about the redesigned 2006.5 Optima midsize sedan, questions about the underwhelming V6 engine option, questions about why antilock brakes and traction control are options rather than standard equipment, questions about missing features like a navigation system, and they all spin the response to a single concept: value. That’s the driving theme behind the all-new 2006.5 Optima sedan, though advertising for the new car is going to pitch interior room, cabin quiet, and performance.
After spending several days driving the new 2006.5 Kia Optima along beautiful country roads in California’s Napa Valley region, on the crowded city streets of San Francisco, and on a six-hour run down Interstate 5 to Los Angeles, we think Kia’s marketing department might want to focus more on the value equation and less on the Optima’s roominess, quietness, and performance. The Optima is certainly accommodating; given the right tires, road surfaces, and cruising speed the Optima is quiet; the standard four-cylinder engine is class competitive if not as thrifty as it should be; and the optional 17-inch Michelin tires provide entertaining handling capability. However, the car isn’t a standout in the midsize class. But the value story – now that holds some water.
According to the Comerica Auto Affordability Index, the average price paid for a new car in 2005 was near $28,000. A 2006.5 Kia Optima EX V6 with all the bells and whistles runs $24,200, including the $600 destination charge. And that’s the sticker price, which is a blue sky proposition in the midsize market. With most of the Optima’s competitors going for invoice, or less, due to intense competition that forces even the class front-runners, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, to discount, nobody’s gonna buy this Kia for what’s shown on the window label. At the very least, that number represents the amount you’re rolling out the door for: tax, title, license, and killer warranty plan included.
That puts a handsome car in the driveway, one with room for the spouse and kids, and one with both upscale touches and creature comforts. The 2006.5 Kia Optima is an entirely agreeable automobile, one designed to age gracefully while offering long-term protection from catastrophic component failure. But it’s not the most comfortable car in its class, it’s not the quietest car in its class, and it’s not the best performing car in its class. And that makes marketing the Optima as a spacious, quiet, performance sedan a difficult proposition.