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The Kia Optima Then and Now: A Stunning Design Transformation

Posted: July 2, 2012 at 6:45 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

We’re now on our third installment of “Then and Now”, a Kia-Buzz series that takes you through a brief, yet informative history of Kia cars that have undergone amazing design shifts in relatively short periods of time.

The star of this edition is the Kia Optima, whose astonishingly rapid transformation has captivated drivers and auto enthusiasts across the globe to such a degree that the current Optima is often referred to as one of Kia’s most stunning design achievements. Let’s take a look at how this mid-size sedan blossomed over the past 12 years.

 2000 – 2002

First launched in 2000, the Optima, (then known as the Magentis in certain markets) was an all-new midsize sedan that brought a higher level of comfort and luxury to the Kia lineup. Underneath the hood, it completely shared the same platform and powertrain as its sister model the Hyundai Sonata, including a 106.3-inch wheelbase, chassis, engines and transmissions, but differed in terms of exterior styling and an altered features set.

2003 – 2004

2003 marked the first major facelift for the Optima, which featured a new grille with a horizontal design and a Kia badge. The V6 trims featured new alloy wheel design and 16-inch Michelin tires, and the SE trim became the EX.

2005 – 2008

In 2005, Kia went beyond a cosmetic facelift, and launched a completely new model inside and out. This was a key turning point that separated the all-new Kia Optima from the Hyundai Sonata, which up until 2005, was virtually the same car underneath the hood. The Optima now featured more horsepower and torque from both of its available engines. Design wise, the new model was styled to create a clean, voluminous, bold and dynamic image. When it came to the front view, its radiator grille and character lines on the hood provided an elegant and modern image. Also, the large headlamps enhanced the voluminous exterior design cue. Meanwhile, a refined side molding, a sharply curved C-pillar and a new 17” alloy wheels all helped to generate a dynamic and sporty look.

2008 – 2010

The Optima received a major facelift courtesy of Peter Schreyer, Kia’s Chief Design Officer, and this was a key event that marked the sedan’s new design direction. It featured refreshed styling cues and changes from the front fenders forward with a new front-end that adopted the signature tiger nose grille, as well as new tail lamps. The Optima’s exterior had a sportier flair with an updated interior to match, which included a new instrument panel design, red illumination and new materials.

There’s no denying that this facelift was a peek into something very big on the horizon.

2010 to Present (June 2012)

The show stopping all-new Optima that we all know today arrived in 2010. In a stark contrast to its predecessor, the 3rd generation Optima showcases Kia’s brand image with mainstream attractiveness in terms of style, dimensions, and powertrain. The Optima truly became a game changer in the mid-size sedan market with class-leading competitiveness and unique characteristics, such as its 2.0 turbo GDI engine, a rare performance spec in the mid-size category.

This was one of most dramatic design shifts undergone by a Kia model, and the new stylishly sporty sedan gave the world yet another powerful reason to believe in the design prowess of Kia, especially since it also earned the world’s most renowned red dot ‘best of the best’ design award in 2011, the competition’s highest distinction, for which only the best products in each category are eligible.

Its lower, wider, and longer body shell, complemented by a sleek, coupe like roofline for a more elegant and confident presence, and enhancements under the hood, all work together for a high quality and high impact driving experience.

2011 – Present (June 2012)

2011 marked the introduction of the Kia Optima Hybrid, our second hybrid vehicle, which is powered by a full parallel hybrid system. The Optima Hybrid can be driven in full-electric mode or in combined gas-electric mode at any speed. Estimated fuel economy is 36 mpg city and 40 mpg highway (North America). The European Optima Hybrid adopted a 2.0L gasoline engine to lower CO2 emissions instead of the 2.4L, which is applied to the North American model.

The Optima Hybrid also features the UVO, powered by Microsoft, a hands-free and voice-activated infotainment system.

Wrap up

We at Kia-Buzz like to compare the astonishment of the Optima’s transformation to that wow moment you experience when you see an old ‘plain Jane’ from high school blossom into a head turning beauty 10 years later. It’s truly the power to surprise at work, and it’s the type of reaction our designers and engineers strive for when developing new vehicles.

In its young 12 year history, the Kia Optima went from selling 85,825 units globally in 2001 to 219,256 at the end of 2011. This giant leap is remarkable, especially when you compare it to the growth of competitor sedans that had 40-plus years of manufacturing to achieve similar volume per year, and this is only the beginning for the Optima.

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