flashback friday text on image of 2002 kia optima

Flashback Friday: First-Generation Kia Optima

First-Generation Kia Optima History and Photos

Late bloomer movies were a big part of the 1980s cinematic and television landscape. These films or tv shows often featured a storyline where a homely, awkward or socially-rejected character undergoes a transformation that makes them conventionally-attractive. They taught us the positive life message that if we just change who are and cave to society’s rigid and narrow standards for beauty, people will finally treat us like human beings and stop knocking the textbooks out of our hands between classes.

We’re not here to bore you with our thoughts on Stefan Urquelle or Mia Thermopolis or ‘Baby’ Houseman, but rather to illustrate the point that movies have had a fascination with the idea that sometimes the most beautiful people and things are the ones we walk past every day. We joked earlier, but this is a positive message.

It’s one that applies to the Kia Optima, a midsize sedan that gives drivers an elegant, sporty and European-influenced option in its forgettable class. Looking at the 2018 Kia Optima today, you’d hardly ever believe it was once a vehicle that you could stare at and not be able to describe how it looked. It was so bland and so minimal that I saw one the other day and instantly had a blank spot of static in my brain where the memory of witnessing it was just a moment ago.

[READ MORE: 2019 Kia Optima Vs. 2018 Kia Optima]

Let’s talk about the first-generation Kia Optima first and then we’ll try and post some photos. If we accidentally upload a photo of the color gray, you’ll have to forgive us. It’s hard to tell the difference.

Kia Optima Model History

Up until 2002, when the Optima was first available, Kia didn’t have a mid-size sedan in the United States market. Closely tied to Hyundai (read more about that uncomplicated and straightforward relationship here), the Sonata was the torch-bearer for Kia/Hyundai mid-size vehicles in the United States.

As Kia and Hyundai began to diversify their brands, however, Kia wanted a piece of the cake. They introduced the Kia Optima – a family-friendly sedan that would compete with the likes of the Camry and Accord for features, but could be had on a budget.

Despite diversifying Kia/Hyundai’s models in the United States, the Optima was a re-badged and slightly-restyled Hyundai Sonata, meaning we can blame Hyundai for its misses. The first-generation Optima featured an available 4-speed automatic transmission, 2.7L V6 engine and was only sold with FWD.

Although the first-generation Optima was marketed as an alternative to vehicles like the Toyota Camry and Chevy Malibu, it woefully underperformed in terms of safety, earning only a 1-star review from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

How far we’ve come!

In 2002, the first-generation Kia Optima gained a re-designed grille and headlights which didn’t really add much to it but showed that Kia was at least thinking about the design of the strictly-utilitarian sedan.

Following the acquisition of famed automotive designer Peter Schreyer, notable design and safety improvements came with the second- and third-generation models. Now in its fourth-generation, the Optima has really taken off its glasses and let down its hair. It’s the belle and the ball and we couldn’t be prouder to feature such a stylish and reliable family car.

First-Generation Kia Optima on Social Media

Usually for our Flashback Friday posts, we’re able to just type the name of the vehicle model into Instagram or Twitter as a hashtag search and pull imagery. That was difficult with this one. Still, we were able to find some really good examples of this young caterpillar that would grow into the butterfly we know the Optima as today.

A post shared by Nick Synott (@kdm_garage) on Sep 12, 2016 at 5:16pm PDT

A post shared by Jordan Rooch (@jay_rooch) on Jun 10, 2016 at 8:48am PDT

A post shared by Whitney (@whitney.is.carl) on May 30, 2016 at 8:25pm PDT

See How Far the Optima Has Come

Whether it’s a late-bloomer tale like the Princess Diaries or an underdog story like Little Giants, the 2018 Kia Optima has proven that everything has the potential to be something special and extraordinary. To see for yourself just how far Kia’s midsize sedan has come, swing by Friendly Kia for a test drive!

To schedule a test drive or for more information about sleek Kia models like the 2018 Kia Optima, contact us today!

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