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KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) is finally free to step up its assault on the medium car market by launching a more affordable entry-level version of its 2.4-litre Optima sedan, stripped of plush niceties such as leather and wood trim, ventilated and heated seats and premium sound system.

A more liberal supply of the in-demand Optima from Kia’s South Korean manufacturing base has permitted the expansion of the range from one model to two almost a year after the attractive mid-sizer was launched Down Under at the 2011 Australian Tennis Open.

About 30 features have either been either deleted or downgraded on the new Optima Si to bring the price down to $30,490 (plus on-road costs) – a saving of $6500 over the sole current model, the luxury $36,990 Optima Platinum.

The $30,490 pricing of the new Optima Si plonks it directly on top of Toyota’s fleet-car specialist, the Camry Altise, which also has an automatic transmission as standard.

The move gives Kia a model priced $600 below the equivalent Hyundai i45, the $31,090 Active with automatic transmission.

But there is no sign of the 2.0-litre petrol engine that reports earlier this year suggested would go into the base Optima, to match Hyundai’s similarly equipped entry level i45 Active with manual transmission.

The smaller engine and self-shifting transmission bring the Hyundai base model price down to $26,990.

Instead, KMAu has stuck with both the 2.4-litre 148kW/250Nm Theta II GDI (gasoline direct injection) four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission for its range starter, that delivers the same 7.9 litres per 100km combined fuel economy as its upmarket Platinum sibling.

Beset by Optima stock shortages from the outset, KMAu opted to set the bar high with the Optima Platinum, packing it with luxury and convenience features.

Without a volume-selling model to pitch against the i45 and medium-segment leaders such as the Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo, Kia sold just 773 Optima Platinums to the end of November.

By comparison, Hyundai shifted 4589 i45s (plus 297 i40 wagons), giving it 9.3 per cent of the medium-car segment, while Kia earned just 1.5 per cent.

That Kia performance should improve somewhat in 2012, with KMAu saying it is expecting “acceptable” volumes of Optima, although it is not predicting specific sales numbers.

The new Optima Si retains alloy wheels, although they move down from the 18-inch alloys of the Platinum grade to 17 inches, with narrower 215/55 tyres.

A cloth/artificial leather combination seat trim replaces the leather of the Platinum, while the driver’s seat – with its eight-way power adjustment, heating and ventilation on the Platinum – reverts to manual adjustment and loses the warming and cooling functions.

Bodywise, the Si loses the rear-lip spoiler, sunroof, sports bumpers, HID headlamps and LED rear lamps, while swapping a chrome grille for the Platinum’s black chrome item.

Inside, the sound system has been scaled back from the Infinity premium system, losing its six-CD player but retaining a single CD player with MP3 compatibility and six speakers.

Dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and leather-clad steering wheel and gear selector knob also have been retained, but a few small touches such as the colour instrument readout and alloy pedals have bitten the dust.

The Optima Si is available in the same seven exterior colours, which all come with a black interior.

Kia Optima pricing:
Si $30,490
Platinum $36,990