Going on sale in July 2012, the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market. Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.
It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class. The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.
First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling. The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous. Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.
Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling. That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car. Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold. The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way. Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall. The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest. Nissan calls it “Altimaness”.
I’m really not a hypermiling type of guy – I usually drive a twin-turbocharged V6. When the opportunity to drive from Miami Beach to Key West came up, I admit the allure of Key West was more than the chance to get the maximum fuel economy out of a Kia Optima Hybrid and new Kia Rio. Having grown up in Florida, the northern part, I had never been to Key West – got as far as the Everglades a couple of times.
Kia Optima Hybrid and Kia Rio
The cars did not disappoint and Kia threw in the chance to attend GRAND-AM Continental Tire/Kia200 Sports Car Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Raceway. So how could I refuse?
Optima – Elegant Mid-Size Style With Maximum Fuel Economy The Optima is one of my favorite mid-size cars. Its styling is great and interior is very easy to live with. From my perspective, the Optima style is very sophisticated and European. Coming from the “junior” Korean manufacturer, the Optima is much better looking than the swoopy Hyundai Sonata that has turned so many heads since its introduction in early 2010. My guess is that the Optima style has more staying power than the Sonata which may age pretty quickly.
Adding the Hybrid model to the Optima lineup gives Kia a price-efficient, fuel-efficient combatant in the growing fuel economy battleground among mid-size cars.
All New Rio – Bottom-Feeder No More This was the first chance I have had to drive the all new Rio. As the bottom entry in Kia’s lineup, the Rio has evolved from a cheap, cheap tin can to a very worthy small car. Of course, it is not cheap, cheap any more, but it is reasonably priced. The model we drove was priced a notch above $20,000 but had everything on it including a navigation system, sun roof and leather seats. In previous generations, it would have been unheard of to have this level of equipment available in the lowest priced car from a mainstream brand. With a front seat package rivaling a mid-size car in size, folks are no longer “sentenced” to drive a small car.
Kia Becomes Instantly Relevant in the Premium Mid-Size Segment The new Kia Optima is set to challenge the top of the premium mid-size car category with its 3rd generation 2011 model year version due out by the end of 2010. The Optima is arguably the most strikingly gorgeous cars in the class. It looks upscale, elegant, sporty and highly desirable.
Optima is a sibling of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata that set records in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Sonata became the top scoring vehicle EVER in AutoPacific’s research and won AutoPacific’s first-ever President’s Award. Part of the reason Sonata won was because of its aggressive styling which was important to its buyers and highly satisfying to them. Over time, though, the swoopy Sonata styling may wear a bit thin even as it sells over ten thousand cars a month. Optima looks just as modern and contemporary, but more elegant. Optima may have more legs. We’ll have Optima’s VSA results in April next year.
Optima Sales Will Increase Kia Volumes by Over 50,000 Units Per Year Optima will be largely incremental to Kia in the USA. All previous Optima sedans have been cyphers – not really competitive. Just good, basic value transportation. This new Optima moves Kia into the big leagues. Kia will be fighting with the rest of the world for Optima output so its volume cannot match that of Hyundai with its Sonata production here in the USA, but selling 120,000 Optimas a year is not out of the question.
Kia‘s New York auto show stage held both concept and production surprises. We believe that the KOUP concept, though too cutely named, hints at the next-generation Spectra. Kia described the KOUP as “closer to production than you might think,” strongly hinting Kia may add the coupe itself. The production surprise was the facelifted 2009 Optima. This new look takes Optima a step forward.
Kia KOUP: Is there a pocket rocket in Kia’s future?
2009 Kia Optima gets a fresh look
Reality and Fantasy on Kia’s 2006 North American International Auto Show Stand
Alongside a vision for a small car-based utility in the form of the Soul concept, Kia introduced the second generation of its Optima sedan at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents at the show have reported back on their first look.
The Optima was first launched for the 2001 model year, and is related to the Hyundai Sonata. After serving Kia well for a little more than five years, the latest version arrives at dealerships in spring 2006 as a 2006.5 model year vehicle. An international version went on sale in late 2005. Though the Hyundai Sonatas sold in this market are now built in this market and those sold internationally are built in Korea, Optima production continues solely in Korea.
Differences between the Optima offered in the States and that in international markets are minimal. Compared with the first generation, Optima brings a longer wheelbase and a some extra width, resulting in a bit more interior passenger room and more cargo volume in the trunk. The U.S. Optima is available with the Global Engine Alliance 162HP 2.4L DOHC 16v I4 and the updated 185HP 2.7L V6. The I4 can be had with a five-speed manual transmission, but most models will be equipped with the four-speed automatic.
The new Optima is no longer the clone of the Hyundai Sonata its predecessor was. Clearly, Hyundai Motor Corporation is using the introduction of the new Optima to further differentiate Kia from Hyundai. The new made-in-America Sonata is clearly more upmarket than the Optima. It is larger and has a larger V6 engine. While Kia likely would have preferred a larger, more powerful Optima, the new car will fit with its lineup strategy very well.