2003 Kia Optima

  • 2003 Kia Optima LX Sedan

    LX Sedan

    • MAX MPG
    • SEATS
    • ENGINE
      2.4L I4
    • MSRP
  • 2003 Kia Optima SE Sedan

    SE Sedan

    • MAX MPG
    • SEATS
    • ENGINE
      2.4L I4
    • MSRP
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  • Review

2003 Kia Optima Review

Well-equipped sedan.

Reviewed by Automotive on


The 2003 Kia Optima sees its third year on the market. To celebrate, Kia has packed it full of new features and has added a few new design elements. Although it isn’t exactly at the same level as some of its Japanese competitors, it offers quite the package at a fraction of the price.

The Range

Body Styles: sedan
Engines: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 2,7-liter V-6
Transmissions: four-speed automatic, five-speed automatic
Models: Kia Optima LX, Kia Optima SE

What's New

The 2003 Kia Optima receives several changes. It has a new front end styling for its third year on the market, including double light clusters in a European style. Wheel design is changed as well. Inside, it boasts a new center stack and instruments. A manual transmission is no longer available on the SE models. The LX model now has cruise control and a standard CD player. The SE also receives standard climate control, Homelink and Infinity speakers, and leather and wood trim throughout.


The 2003 Kia Optima has a few styling cues taken from Japanese competitors that dominate the market. However, this isn’t to say it isn’t its own vehicle. Stylistically, the Hyundai Sonata is the closest, but the vehicles differ in two major ways. The Optima has a different nose and a distinct grille that set it apart. However, the two share the same wheelbase, measuring in at 106.3-inches in length. The Optima is a bit short than some of the competition, but it sure is handsome. Some standard exterior features include 15-inch steel wheels, all-season tires, full wheel covers, inside mounted spare tires, variable intermittent windshield wipers, and a rear defogger.


The 2003 Kia Optima will seat five occupants very comfortably. The rear is fitted with a three-seat bench, while the front has two bucket seats. The trunk is quite large, and with the rear seat folded down, the trunk extends cargo capacity to 13.6 cubic feet. For a cheap vehicle, it doesn’t feel like it. Standard features on the base model include power door locks, power mirrors, one-touch power windows, cruise control, front console with storage, front door pockets, a first aid kit, overhead storage, remote trunk release, speed-proportional power steering, 12-volt outlets, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, air-conditioning, front reading lights, dual illuminating vanity mirrors, clock, tachometer, six speakers, and an AM/FM stereo.

Performance & Handling

The 2003 Kia Optima comes equipped with a choice of one of two engines. A 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower is one option. The other option, a 2.7-liter V-6, produces 170 horsepower. The four-cylinder engine comes with either a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission. The V-6 engine model is only available with the four-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder engine has its share of problems. Worst of these problems is the terrible noise the engine makes when travelling at highway speeds. Even if the windows are up, there’s no escaping the noise. However, drivability is smooth and comfortable on both models. The steering and handling is responsive, and it will handle most bumps without a blink. The V-6 engine performs much better than the four-cylinder, accelerating without a sound. Shifting is smooth, although there is a problem with some downshifting at lower speeds.


The 2003 Kia Optima comes equipped with dual front chamber mounted airbags with head protection, child seat anchors, ventilated front disc brakes, solid rear disc brakes, rear child safety door locks, dusk sensing headlamps, rear center three-point seatbelt, front seatbelt pretensioners, electronic brake force distribution, emergency interior trunk release, front adjustable headrests, and rear adjustable headrests. The NHTSA gave four out of five stars for driver and passenger safety. It also received five out of five stars for rollover safety. The IIHS gave it a score of ""acceptable,"" their second best, for frontal offset crash tests. However, it did not fare so well in other tests by the IIHS. It received a score of ""poor"" for side impacts and rear crash protection.

EPA Fuel Economy

Kia Optima 2.4-liter five-speed manual: 20/27 mpg city/highway
Kia Optima 2.4-liter four-speed manual: 19/27 mpg city/highway
Kia Optima 2.7-liter five-speed manual: 18/26 mpg city/highway
Kia Optima 2.4-liter four-speed automatic: 18/25 mpg city/highway

You'll Like

  • Great warranty
  • Freeway feel
  • Cheap but doesn’t feel like it

You Won't Like

  • Four-cylinder needs refinement
  • Noisy vehicle
  • ABS isn’t available for four-cylinder models

Sum Up

Well-equipped sedan.

If You Like This Vehicle

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See the New 2016 Optima.

Front & Driver Side View