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March 5, 2013

Kia Optima has become a luxurious brand

(Continued)

History shows that's a tough mountain for automotive companies to scale. Volkswagen tried it 10 years ago with the Phaeton, one of the best luxury cars in the world at the time, but its price that climbed over $100,000 is one reason its sales disappointed. Another was the plebeian VW logo on the hood.

A $35,000 Optima doesn't fall into that ridiculously over-the-top category, for sure, but it does show how far Kia is willing to go to stretch its brand. It's built one of the best mid-size cars in the world, and it's priced the car accordingly.

Looked at another way, the upscale Optima could be a great value for the right kind of buyer. My first impression driving it was that it felt like a $50,000 car, so I could see luxury buyers cross shopping the Kia dealer if they wanted an amazing luxury driving experience while saving some money.

They'd just have to ask themselves whether they want the best value for their money or the best brand name.

It will be interesting to watch how buyers respond. Whether it ends up being a sales success or a flop, the super-loaded Optima is proof of just how far Kia has come from its economy-car days.

Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolumn@gmail.com.

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