KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) still has its fingers crossed that the potent Optima Turbo currently sold only in North America will eventually go into right-hand drive production, making it a contender for local launch.
Packing a WRX-like 204kW of power and 369Nm of torque from its blown 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine, the high-performance Optima is a chance for Europe, where the British arm of Kia is likely to put its hand up for a matching RHD version.
KMAu hopes that the pressure from Britain, along with requests from Australia and other RHD markets such as South Africa, will get the engineering program across the line at Kia headquarters.
But there seems to be less hope for an Australian release of the petrol-electric Optima Hybrid that is also sold in North America, as there are no product plans for a RHD version in the foreseeable future.
Launched only weeks ago in the United States, the hybrid combines the 2.4-litre Theta II engine with a 30kW electric motor powered by lightweight lithium polymer batteries.
In Australia, the Optima sedan range has just grown to two, with the new entry-level Optima Si joining the year-old Optima Platinum luxury model.
Both are powered by the Hyundai-Kia group’s 2.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine mated with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The $6500 price gap between the two variants leaves room for a third model, the SLi, to slot in between – a move that KMAu concedes is a possibility.
KMAu national public relations manager Kevin Hepworth told GoAuto that the company would see how the new Si sold in the market place first before committing to another model.
“There is still a hole in the middle for that (SLi), but it is not on the product planning sheet at the moment,” he said. “There may be a place for that in the future, but we are keen to see how the Si is accepted.
“It (Si) is still well specced compared with others in that price range, and we think it will go well.”
But Mr Hepworth indicated KMAu would not be so hesitant about the potential Optima Turbo, saying that if it became available in RHD, “it would be something we would be asking for”.
In the United States, the turbo engine is available on the midrange EX and flagship SX models, and in both cases drives through the front wheels via Kia’s six-speed automatic transmission (no manual gearbox or all-wheel drive are available).
The 18-inch alloy wheel, tyre and brakes package is the same as the wheels on the Australian-spec flagship Platinum model.
While the turbo 2.0-litre engine remains possibility for Australia, a normally aspirated 2.0-litre engine is increasingly unlikely for Optima on the local market.
When the range was launched with the top-shelf 2.4-litre GDI Optima Platinum in January, the company hinted at a future entry level model with the same 121kW/198Nm port-injected four-cylinder engine as the base Hyundai i45, which is built on the same platform as the Optima.
The plan appears to have been discarded in favour of employing the 2.4-litre direct-injection in the new $30,490 Si, with Mr Hepworth telling GoAuto that a combination of good pricing from the factory and a belief that the 2.4-litre GDI engine offered a point of difference over other mid-sized cars on similar pricing had swayed the planners to stick with the bigger and more sophisticated powerplant.
The decision means, however, that Kia misses out on a sub-$30,000 entry level model, to match its South Korean stable-mate and rival.