A year ago, Kia had just two products - and the same two products it had offered since entering the U.S. market. By the end of this year, Kia will have five.

The Spectra 4-door hatchback, the base-model Rio and flagship Optima join the Sephia and Sportage for what is becoming a well-rounded lineup.

The automaker has found that even at the height of booming car sales and a more affluent country, people still appreciate a good deal. Thrifty shoppers looking for a new car with an under-$10,000 price tag have flocked to Kia dealerships, no doubt in part because of attractive incentives and an extensive warranty package.

Like parent-company Hyundai, Kia also has an eye toward broadening its product lineup and moving into more prosperous segments. The Optima is most emblematic of Kia's new direction. The midsized sedan, the first new car to be mutually developed with Hyundai, shares a platform with the Hyundai Sonata but promises to have its own distinctive styling execution and Kia's first V-6. The Optima will hit dealerships in November.

Kia's product blitz doesn't stop here. Look for the Sedona minivan in late 2001 as an '02 model. The automaker plans to find success in this new market through the same formula: comparable features as mainstream competitors, but for less money.

The all-new Rio subcompact sedan is wedge-shaped, or what Kia calls a "power design."

"Power" doesn't apply to its 1.5L engine, but this is, after all, an inexpensive subcompact. Despite the low price, the Rio includes some fairly upscale features here and there, including a chrome grille and multi-reflector headlamps.

Kia seems to be more competent by the day. The Optima may be the breakthrough car. But for a non-car addition to the lineup, we're wondering if a minivan is the best way to go.