I was really in the market for an '06/'07 Hyundai Sonata. However, I was finding better deals on comparable Kia Optimas. I ended up with an '06 Optima (new body style) because of this and got a lot of car for a very good price.
My '06 Optima is the newer, larger body style, which I much prefer over the previous generation. I think it's a great looking car inside and out and drives great. It's roomy, comfortable, and offers all the amenities I wanted, like power windows, locks, mirrors, tilt wheel, and a CD stereo.
My Optima is equipped with the 2.4L 4cyl. and 5-speed manual. With this powertrain configuration, the car has plenty of power and I never feel like it needs more. It accelerates effortlessly, and when I need extra punch to pass or get up steep hills, the power is there. With the 5-speed manual transmission, rarely do I feel the need to downshift for more power. It's great!
The 5-speed manual feels rather notchy and is a bit difficult to get into first gear sometimes. It's not a problem, but it's noticeable. This may just be a characteristic of manual transmissions. I'm accustomed to automatics. I realized after driving the car a few weeks that the clutch doesn't need to be pressed all the way to the floor for starting or shifting. Halfway down suffices. I transition from gear to gear more smoothly now that I realize this. I'm enjoying driving this car quite a bit now!
The steering is the perfect balance of firmness and responsiveness. The brakes feel pretty darn good. Not spongy, not stiff, and grab strongly. My only complaint is the lack of ABS. Suspension technology must have come a long way in the past decade because this car rides firm, yet smooth, and the handling feels like that of a sports car to me compared to every other older car I've owned or driven. It's perfect for my taste. A very nice balance of ride and handling.
Interior noise isn't bad. It isn't great either. Wind noise is very low. Engine noise is silent while cruising at any speed and at reasonable levels during normal acceleration. However, I think there is too much road noise from this car. On the highway especially, it just seems a little loud. Not economy car loud, but too loud for a car of this character. It's far quieter in every respect than my previous '97 Mercury Tracer, so I can't complain much.
The interior is attractive, intelligently designed, and very comfortable. The gauge cluster is clean and uncluttered. The gauges are very easy to read. The digital temp and fuel gauges add a touch of fun. The stereo and climate controls are placed high on the dash. All the buttons and switches are where you'd expect them to be. The seats are large and comfy. The standard height-adjustment feature is nice. All in all, it's a well thought out car.
Reliability has been fine overall, but I'm a little nervous with this being my first Kia and it already having some trivial issues at only 36k miles. I'll keep posting updates to this review as time goes by.
It's a really nice car for the money. I couldn't have gotten anywhere as nice of a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry for what I paid. In all actuality, I couldn't have gotten any other comparable midsize car for the same money. The Optima represents an excellent value. Overall I'm loving this car and have no regrets. Any little problems it's had Kia has been very helpful with resolving. Go get yours now. I doubt you'll be disappointed.