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Future models - Kia - Optima

Kia's Optima to multiply

American hybrid: Kia's Optima will launch in the US powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol unit coupled to a 30kW electric motor.

Wagon, hybrid, diesel and even high-performance Optimas are waiting in the wings

Kia logo1 Nov 2010

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

TURBO, hybrid and wagon versions of the new-generation TF Optima are on the wish list for Kia Motors Australia as it mounts a renewed and blanket assault on the mid-sized car market.

To start, a fully equipped Platinum 2.4-litre sedan will be released from mid-January, joined in the second half of 2011 by a pair of 2.0-litre models aimed at opposite ends of the segment.

Fleet and budget family car buyers will be the targets of sub-$30,000 Si and SLi base cars, powered by a normally aspirated iteration of the all-new Nu-series engine.

Producing about 125kW of power thanks to CVVL (Continuously Variable Valve Lift) and paired to a six-speed transmission in both manual and auto guises, this model will chase the Toyota Camry, Hyundai i45 and lower-end Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo models by effectively dropping the entry price at least $6000 compared to the Platinum.

17 center imageLeft: Kia Optima. Below: Kia Motors Australia national public relations manager Kevin Hepworth.

Kia will phase out the ageing Theta II-based engine in the second half of next year for the Nu-series around the world, which prompted Kia execs to overlook the obsolete engine for Australia, especially in a model that is charged with turning around Kia’s fortunes in the medium sedan market.

“It would be senseless for us to launch with an old Theta engine, and then replace it six months into the life of the car with the Nu-series (2.0-litre) engine,” said KMAu PR boss Kevin Hepworth.

“The logical thing is to wait until the 2.0-litre car arrived with the new engine.” At the other extreme will be the 204kW 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo variant – bringing a performance angle to a mid-sized Kia for the first time.

The 2.0T is scheduled to arrive late next year or early in 2012 as the Optima range-topper, and is expected to go head-to-head with Hyundai’s rumoured i40 and/or i45 2.0T performance models.

In the US press release issued at the New York International Auto Show in April, Kia Motors of America claimed the 2.0T has V6-rivalling performance combined with four-cylinder economy.

Building on the Australian-fettled handling and ride qualities of the TF series – which has already been benchmarked internationally against the Volkswagen Passat – it is rumoured that the 2.0T chassis will be the most sports-biased offered by Kia in this country.

Meanwhile, joining the US, China and the Middle East, KMAu has its hand up for the Optima Hybrid.

Interestingly, while the Americans will launch with a 2.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine and a 30kW electric motor, the Australian-bound Hybrid would more likely receive a set-up based on the Nu-series 2.0-litre unit.

“I would be surprised if they did not make the (hybrid) vehicle available to us at some stage,” said Mr Hepworth, “and this is the most logical car to do that with.

“Given that it is going to launch in America in the first quarter of next year… I would suspect that it wouldn’t be in Australia before 2012. It would be as soon as we could arrange it.” However, initially at least, KMAu will not emulate the Mazda6, Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Holden Epica by bringing in a diesel for Australian consumers, even though one is slated for New Zealand in the latter half of 2011.

Slow production start-up for the R-series common-rail turbo-diesel, compounded by expected strong demand from Europe, means that Australia is not high on the list for this engine.

“If we find that there is a demand for the diesel then we will consider it,” Mr Hepworth said. “But in the beginning, no.” Australians are also in line to see the unseen Optima wagon, which is said to be in the late stages of development.

Designed primarily to help the range in Europe, the sleek carryall is of the ‘Sportwagon’ variety of style and practicality, and should make it to Australian shores within the next 18 months if given the green light.

Kia Motors product manager Ji-Hoon Han said the global financial crisis had led some people within the company to question the viability of releasing a wagon in the severely hit European market, but the likelihood is looking up now as the world economy slowly recovers.

But he quashed reports earlier this year that an Optima Coupe is in the pipeline, despite the existence of two-door versions of the Camry and Accord in the US.

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