It’s been a while in coming but Kia’s one-model-fits-all Optima sports sedan’s made it to South Africa at last. Frankly, things will never be the same for its competitors. Image gallery.We told you all about the Optima way back in October 2010 after Wheels24 attended the world launch in the desert sands of Dubai in the recently much-troubled Middle East, not long after the South African launch of its sister-in-law, Hyundai’s Sonata, which since then has become something of an icon locally.PACKAGE COMPLETEThat’s 18 wasted months, businesswise, for Kia SA and, though other Optima products are potentially in the pipeline (no, just wait!), the local arm of the Korean Hyundai/Kia dynasty decided to just get on with it – hence one model powered by a 2.4-litre engine but with all the items that other automakers list as “options” or “extras” and charge for accordingly. Sometimes extortionately.The package is complete with just about everything you could want in a family saloon (sorry, no satnav, but why spend perhaps R20 000 extra, as other brands charge, for something you already have on your cellphone) and costs R305 995. Your only ‘extra’ is a smart factory-fitted sunroof which will take the sticker price to R315 995. Vehicle specifications.The car is third-generation, though the first was known in South Africa as the Magentis which sold (not very successfully) in SA from 2001-05 and was updated in 2006. It’s also now known as the K5 in some markets – indeed, first indications were that that would be the name in SA.'SONATA IN SPORTS STRIP'The only less-expensive non-German competitor in the mainstream D segment of the market is Alfa’s 159 at R304 000, the most expensive in the field Honda’s Accord at R374 000. Filling the slots in between are the Optima’s sister ship Sonata, Mazda6, VW Passat, Citroen C5, Volvo S60, Suzuki Kizashi and Peugeot’s 508.Of course those of you who know even a little about the local car industry will say “but the Optima’s just a Hyundai Sonata in sports strip” and you’d be right. Kia makes no coy attempt to pretend otherwise and, at the launch in KZN this week, agreed frankly that the car shares all its running gear with “the other Korean”.Except its suspension, which uses a stiffer sports kit in place of the softer gear bolted to the Sonata. That, I was told, is in preparation for the arrival of even sportier Kia troops to extend the Kia invasion of the SA auto market already beachheaded by the brand’s Sedona, Picanto, Rio hatch and sedan (the latter at the end of April, 2012) and Cerato hatch – of which a new model is expected in early 2013.David Sieff, Kia SA’s national marketing manager, says the Optima “is a game-changer with class-leading competitiveness to target the mainstream market”. He also manipulates the term “performance car”, explaining that while the car is capable of swift acceleration (0-100 in 9.5sec) and has a top speed of 210km/h from its 2.4, 132kW/231Nm Theta II engine real “performance” is a more inclusive thing.SETTINGS OPTIMISERHe includes in the overall term the car’s fuel economy (8.7 litres/100km and CO2 emissions as low as 207g/km), styling, drag coefficient of only 0.29, efficiency, advanced features and interior dimensions (the front/rear legroom is awesome, the boot truly cavernous – even without folding the rear seats.Then there’s Kia’s new Active ECO System as controlled by an on/off button on the steering wheel and intended to optimise the settings of the engine’s ECU and the six-speed auto/manual sequential transmission’s TCU to achieve fuel savings of as much as 7.5% whenever maximum performance is not required.The Optima – another brilliant example of master auto designer Peter Schreyer’s penmanship – is lower in roof and bonnet lines than the Sonata, its overall look more coupe than sedan, and the 18” alloy wheel rims with their 225/45 R18 Nexen tyres are striking... perhaps even too striking, but that’s a matter of taste.The Optima’s most radical departure from its Sonata heritage is Schreyer’s whole front-end treatment – though make no mistake, the car’s profile, too, is instantly stand-out in the car-park crowd.NO I.D. PROBLEMSThe Kia family’s “tiger’s nose” central grille is there in spades but features adding to the visual appeal include a unique front mesh grille, multi-diode daytime running lights (above the fog lights that are set into the front bumper), longer-lasting xenon high-intensity discharge headlights with washers, and “static bending lights” to provide extra illumination of the nearside road and verge during cornering.The overall frontal effect is busy, verging on fussy, but there’ll be no problems with identification on the freeway.At the rear are diode combination lights and a lip spoiler.Kia regards the Optima’s cabin as “your inner sanctum – a comfortable place to be”. Sieff describes the car as “futuristic, dynamic and very distinctive against its competitors”. The concept goes through to the cabin which, he adds, works on “the aircraft cockpit” idea. The whole instrument panel and its associated controls are tilted at 10 degrees towards the driver; apart from the array of dials and information lights, the focus is on the high-end Infinity audio system that feeds eight speakers from any input source you might care to use.A neat 12.5cm colour screen dead-centre on the fascia offers a multitude of scrollable information data.The steering wheel is another work of art and carries gearshift paddles as well as controls for the audio system and Bluetooth cellphone connection....AND THE OTHER MODELSThe leather-and-cloth combination seats have power adjustment up front (eight-way for the driver, two position memories for both) and are heatable/chillable; “mood” lights in the door trim and centre console bathe the interior in a red hue and there’s “wood-look” trim around the gear-shifter.We’ve mentioned “other models”. So, an Australian version of the car, a 2.4 GTI, has already undergone more than 100 000km of testing in South Africa, there’s a 204kW two-litre GTI available in America and a 1.7-litre biturbo diesel is coming off the lines.Each is “highly likely”, according to Kia SA (the diesel, however, needs super-clean fuel). Wheels24 has politely suggested that the GTI badges be dropped in SA favour of the discarded K5 – sounds kind of sporty (any comments from readers on a name?)Whatever, they'll probably come with all the standard items on this the current model: auto de-fogging, rear camera with its display in the interior mirror, power mirrors and windows, rear ventilation, a chillable glove box, autocruise, split/folding rear seats, stop/start button, auto door-locking, auto headlights levelling, auto wipers, rear parking radar, trip data computer, anti-lock brakes and stability control, full array of air bags, child-seat anchors and "active" head restraints.The Optima will be sold with a five-year or 90 000km service plan and five-year or 100 000 warranty and three years of roadside assistance. Vehicle specifications. Get the Kia Optima brochure.