In this guide, I’ll break down all Kia Optima generations, revealing the Kia Optima’s best years to buy and the worst Kia Optima years to avoid.
Our assessment derives from diverse, reliable sources, including NHTSA, JD Power, and firsthand owner reviews, ensuring an all-encompassing, unbiased outlook on the various model years of the Kia Optima.
You’ll know precisely why you should avoid the 2011-2015 Optima years, what Kia Optima’s everyday problems are, and which Kia Optima year is the most reliable.
Let’s dive right in.
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Kia Optima Generations
Since its inception in 2000, the Kia Optima has been acclaimed for blending a sleek design with a smooth drive.
Introduced with a 2.4L I4 or 2.7L V6 engine option, the initial models of Optima ensured a spirited performance alongside features like standard side airbags and optional ABS, paving the way for its subsequent evolution into a notable name in the midsize sedan market.
Below, we provide a brief rundown of the different generations of the Kia Optima from 2001 to 2020.
It’s important to note that the Kia Optima was discontinued in 2020 and replaced with the Kia K5 from 2021 and onwards.
|1st generation (MS)||2001-2006|
|2nd generation (MG)||2007-2010|
|3rd generation (TF)||2011-2015|
|4th generation (JF)||2016-2020|
Recognizing the different generations of the Kia Optima is pivotal, especially when considering purchasing a used model.
Kia Optima Best, Neutral, and Worst Years
In our rankings and categorizations for the best and worst Kia Optima years, a multitude of aspects are carefully weighed, including:
- Owner-reported reliability (surveys)
- Annual maintenance costs
- Safety ratings
- Consumer Reports reliability scores
- Consumer Reports owner satisfaction scores
- NHTSA recalls, investigations, and complaints
- Edmunds owner ratings
- JD Power owner ratings
- Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB) owner ratings
- VehicleHistory owner ratings
- Cars.com owner ratings
In the forthcoming graph, I combine scores from the sources above.
Subsequently, our structured table categorizes each model year as the best, neutral, or worst Kia Optima year.
|Generation||Best Years||Neutral Years||Worst Years|
|1st generation (MS)||2005|
|2nd generation (MG)||2009|
|3rd generation (TF)||2015||N/A||2011|
|4th generation (JF)||2017|
“Neutral Years” refer to models that neither exceptionally shine nor significantly falter in aspects like reliability and overall owner satisfaction, standing between Kia Optima’s beat and worst years.
Some factors, such as NHTSA recalls, have an inversely proportionate relationship with our reliability scores — more complaints and recalls typically signify lower reliability.
Let’s explore the Kia Optima’s best, neutral, and worst years.
Best & Worst Years for Kia Optima 1st Generation (2001-2006)
Although the 1st generation of the Kia Optima, introduced in 2001, offered a blend of reasonable pricing and ample features, the initial models faced considerable problems, especially concerning their mechanical and electrical reliability.
2005 and 2006 are the best Kia Optima years of this generation, while the earlier years – 2001 and 2002 are the Kia Optima years you should avoid.
The Best Years: 2005, 2006
Despite some engine and structural issues, 2005 and 2006 are Kia Optima’s best years if you consider purchasing a first-gen Kia Optima.
The 2005 and 2006 Kia Optima models featured more stable and refined engine options, like the 2.4L Sirius II I4 or 2.7L Delta V6, providing a somewhat balanced performance and decent fuel economy at a respectable 24-34 mpg.
Transmission options were split between a 5-speed manual and a 4/5-speed automatic, catering to different driving preferences.
Additionally, these years introduced better-quality interior materials and improved safety features, with available ABS brakes and stability control in upper trims.
However, they could not escape the shadow of issues from the preceding years. Complaints persisted regarding power window malfunctions, problematic door locks, and sporadic reports of engine troubles.
The Neutral Years: 2003, 2004
Due to considerable reliability issues, 2003 and 2004 sit between the best and worst Kia Optima years.
With engine options mirroring the best years, these models chose a somewhat reliable 2.4L I4 and a slightly more powerful 2.7L V6.
Transmission-wise, manual and automatic options were available, with automatic being more prevalent in consumer choices.
An average fuel economy of 21 city / 30 highway mpg was observed, considered standard for its class.
These years saw mechanical issues like unexpected engine stalls and premature transmission wear.
They continued electrical problems, notably with the door locks and power windows, aligning them neutrally amidst prior and subsequent years.
The Worst Years: 2001, 2002
2001 and 2002 are undeniably the worst Kia Optima years you should avoid.
The 2001 Kia Optima, despite providing multiple driving options, was heavily criticized for its unreliable performance.
Numerous complaints about transmission failures and engine stalling were registered, alongside gripes concerning suspension corrosion and structural problems, such as malfunctioning door locks and power windows.
A recall concerning a defective crankshaft position sensor, which led to engine stalling, plagued the 2001 Kia Optima.
The same problems persisted in the 2002 Kia Optima, too.
Best & Worst Years for Kia Optima 2nd Generation (2007-2010)
With a widened stance and a longer wheelbase, the 2nd-generation Kia Optima aimed to provide more interior space and a smoother ride.
2009 and 2010 are the best Kia Optima years of the generation, whereas staying away from the 2007 and 2008 Kia Optima models is wise.
The Best Years: 2009, 2010
With relatively fewer issues and high owner satisfaction scores, 2009 and 2010 are Kia Optima’s best years in the 2nd generation.
Fuel economy was slightly bolstered, offering up to 22 city/32 highway mpg, presenting a commendable option for those prioritizing fuel efficiency.
A new grille, updated interior materials, and an enhanced stereo system were introduced, collectively elevating the general aesthetic and functionality.
On the safety front, improvements were visible, with stability control being made standard and the introduction of brake assist fortifying its safety profile.
Despite these advancements, some owners reported intermittent issues with exterior lighting components and occasional transmission glitches.
The Worst Years: 2007, 2008
With many exterior lighting and transmission issues reported by owners, 2007 and 2008 are the Kia Optima years to avoid in the 2nd generation Optima lineup.
The 2007 model faced substantial complaints regarding dim and frequently burning out low-beam headlights, impairing night driving visibility, and incurring additional maintenance costs for owners.
Transmission issues also prominently surfaced, with reports of unintended and jerky downshifting.
Kia did acknowledge the transmission fault, initiating a recall about a defective automatic transmission shift cable.
However, this issue was also recurrently observed in the 2008 Kia Optima, diluting the efficacy of remedial efforts.
Instances of engine stalling and even compartment fires were alarmingly reported in these years, bringing forth legitimate safety concerns.
Best & Worst Years for Kia Optima 3rd Generation (2011-2015)
As the Kia Optima voyaged into its 3rd generation (2011-2015), it embraced a more contemporary aesthetic and amplified technical features.
I recommend you avoid the altogether 3rd-generation Kia Optima due to severe power train issues. 2015 is categorized as the best Kia Optima year in this generation, while earlier years – 2011-2014 – the Kia Optima years should be avoided entirely.
The Best Years: 2015
While still having persistent issues from the earlier years, considering safety and tech features, 2015 is selected as Kia Optima’s best year in this generation.
Notably, the vehicle boasted a range of powertrain options: a 192-hp, 2.4-liter Theta II I-4; a 274-hp, 2.0-liter Turbo T–GDI I-4; and a 199-hp, 2.4-liter hybrid, with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
These options provided drivers with the flexibility of choice, particularly on performance and fuel efficiency, which stood at a reasonable 23-24 city/34-35 highway mpg, depending on the configuration.
Additionally, the vehicle was endowed with a more sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing interior, alongside technological integrations such as Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, presenting a modern, connected driving experience.
However, despite its standing as the best Kia Optima year within the generation, issues such as paint chipping and lingering concerns regarding engine reliability were not entirely eradicated.
The Worst Years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
What are the bad years for the Kia Optima? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 are undoubtedly the worst Kia Optima years you should avoid at any cost.
The 2011 Kia Optima year was notably afflicted with engine, transmission, and exterior lighting issues.
Engine stalling, excessive oil consumption, and problematic low-beam headlights were prominent complaints among owners.
This model year was also recalled due to concerns like fuel leakage from the high-pressure fuel pipe and defective engine bearings that could lead to unexpected stalls.
Unfortunately, these issues did not resolve substantially in the subsequent years (2012-2014), as owners continued to report analogous problems, compounded by additional issues like premature paint wear and steering difficulties.
Is the 2013 Kia Optima a good car? Not. The 2013 model introduced new recalls related to fuel hose leakages, which posed a tangible fire risk.
Best & Worst Years for Kia Optima 4th Generation (2016-2020)
The fourth generation of Kia Optima, from 2016 to 2020, aimed to refine and elevate the model to new heights by integrating enhanced technology, aesthetic upgrades, and mechanical innovations.
Only 2016 is the Kia Optima year to avoid picking within the generation, while 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 are Kia Optima’s best and most reliable years.
The Best Years: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
The powertrain options showcased a 185-hp, 2.4-liter I-4; a 178-hp, 1.6-liter Gamma Turbo I-4; and a potent 245-hp, 2.0-liter Turbo I-4, thereby offering a balanced spectrum between performance and efficiency for prospective buyers.
Paired predominantly with a 6-speed automatic transmission, although the 1.6-liter Turbo I-4 offered a 7-speed DCT automated manual, these years managed a commendable fuel efficiency hovering around 24-27 city and 34-37 highway mpg depending on specific configurations.
Accolades during this period touched on the vehicle’s more stabilized reliability, aesthetic allure, and notably, the incorporation of safety and technological features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and advanced safety features like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, elevating the model’s allure in terms of connectivity and safety.
The Worst Years: 2016
With many NHTSA complaints and low ratings on platforms like VehicleHistory from owners, 2016 is the Kia Optima year to avoid in this generation.
The 2016 Kia Optima was significantly blighted by engine issues, notably excessive oil consumption and leakage.
Furthermore, owners relayed experiences with headlight malfunctions and defects, which, beyond being a nuisance, pose tangible risks in terms of nighttime and inclement weather driving.
The 2016 Kia Optima delivered notable fuel efficiency (24-28 city/35-39 highway mpg), especially in the turbocharged variants, and introduced features like a standard rearview camera and satellite radio.
See NHTSA 2016 Kia Optima recalls and complaints.
Kia Optima Average Resale Values
Explore the fluctuations in the resale value of the Kia Optima over various model years in the ensuing graph, providing a snapshot of its financial trajectory.
Navigating through Kia Optima’s rich history, it’s clear that model years 2017-2020 stand out for their notable reliability and enhanced features, making them Kia Optima’s best years for prospective buyers.
Which model year of the Kia Optima would you confidently recommend to a new buyer and why?
Share your insights below!