The Kia Optima was the car which began to turn people’s perceptions of South Korean cars upside down when it launched in 2011.

Here was an attractively styled, medium-sized sedan which was chock-full of features, well-made and priced about the same as a well-optioned small car, but boasting a seven-year warranty.

By Alex Forrest

The only problem for many potential buyers was that it had Kia badges on it, because in most other areas, the Optima was as good as its mid-sized competitors. Except in its body styling, where bettered most of them.

After an almost five-year model run, that model has been replaced with a new fourth generation Optima, and there’s one important change which addresses one of the few downsides of the previous Optima.

When asked to work, the 2.4-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine became noisy and didn’t give much extra performance in return. Now though, you can get an Optima with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and it’s made all the difference.

Specifically, the turbo’s key distinction is e makes 350Nm from just 1,400rpm, whereas the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated engine in the Optima Si has to rev all the way to 4,000rpm to get just 241Nm. The 2.0 litre turbo also has 180kW compared with the 2.4’s 138kW.

Sure, the turbocharged four is more fun to drive spiritedly, but the more noticeable difference is that in regular driving, it doesn’t need to work as hard.

Plenty of other changes have come with the new Optima. There is even more leg room in the back seat, so you can have very long people in both the front and back and keep everyone comfortable.

Kia also says the body shell is 50 per cent stronger than that of the previous model, meaning critical areas of the structure are more resistant to the forces of a crash. The body is also 8.6kg lighter than the old one.

Pricing starts at $38,500 for the entry level, naturally aspirated Optima Si. The top-spec GT gets extras such as a panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloys, leather seats, Bi-xenon headlights. Commendably, auto braking is standard across both Optima models.

2016 Kia Optima GT specifications

Price driveaway (as tested): from $49,000
Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 180kW @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1,400-4,000rpm
Claimed fuel economy: 8.5L/100km
ANCAP Rating: Not rated
CO2 Emissions: 199g/km (AWD auto)