Subaru WRX VS Kia Optima
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
- Very roomy
- Great ownership plan
- Decent price
- Removed some good stuff to lower price
- Not as good looking as pre-facelift model
- A bit basic inside
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
There are plenty of reasons why you should still consider a mid-sized sedan like the Kia Optima. I’m sure there are… just let me think about this for a sec…
Okay, so this part of the market is dying. A decade ago, sedans like this were really popular, but now there are heaps of alternative options. Yep, people are going for mid-sized SUVs rather than mid-sized sedans like this.
But that doesn’t mean models like the just-updated 2018 Kia Optima are without their reasons for being. I’m just not sure the facelift has made it more appealing to look at…
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
Kia Optima 7.6/10
If you travel long distances, want a good amount of space and don’t want to pay big bucks for a new car, then yeah, maybe there is a reason sedans like this will hang around for a while longer.
Sure, the appeal of sedans mightn’t be as strong as it once was, but models like the Kia Optima prove they still have a reason to exist.
Is a sedan on your shopping list? Let us know in the comments section below.
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
Kia Optima 7/10
Cosmetic changes for the facelifted 2018 Kia Optima include new headlights and tail-lights with revised LED signatures (but still halogen lamps in the base model), and there are newly sculpted bumpers and new wheel designs across the two-model range.
We had the base model Si, which doesn’t look as good as the GT model, because it has smaller wheels, the sporty body kit and misses out on the LED headlights, but the LED daytime running lights are still present.
The GT has a more aggressive look, and the side skirts, front spoiler and rear diffuser fit it better - there are dual exhausts, but not sporty quad exhaust tips.
In fact, this model is a bit like the old-man version of the Optima. No offence intended to old men, of course. The GT is just heaps sportier, and I reckon it’s considerably more attractive as a result.
Still, the inherent sleek styling of the Optima remains - the chrome highlighting along the window line is a bit too sheeny for me, but the angles and stance of this model are quite gracious. I really dig the fact the top of the windscreen mirrors the ‘Tiger Nose’ grille shape.
I'm no exterior designer, but I liked the existing Optima more - it just looked a bit neater, even though it had a decent amount of bling with its Mercedes-like diamond-pattern grille, as opposed to the cheese grater look seen here.
There’s not quite as much bling inside the cabin of the Si, either, but it is still a well-designed space - just not as special as the premium package offering of the GT (which gets leather trim - not nappa leather, but still a quality cowhide finish, and more). Check out our interior photos to see if you agree - but size and interior dimensions of the Optima are hard to argue against.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
Kia Optima 8/10
I really like the way Kia designs its cabins. Sure, there’s a lot of black in here, but there’s also a lot of thought put into the usability of the space.
The high-mounted 7.0-inch infotainment and multimedia touch screen in the Si is simple to use, and for 2018 the Optima range gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - you couldn’t get that in the Optima up to this point.
Also included are a reversing camera, USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and six speakers. The Si model misses out on sat nav - you’ll have to use the maps app on your phone. No DVD player either.
Storage is well thought out in here, with big bottle holders in the doors, a good sized pair of cup holders up front, and a nice little storage bin for your phone, wallet, keys and so on.
There’s a driver info screen with a digital speedo, and even on this base model you get a dual-zone climate control air conditioner. The updated Optima gets a new steering wheel, too.
Now, what about the back seat?
It may be considered a ‘mid-sized’ sedan, but there’s limo-like space. With the driver’s seat in my position (I’m about six feet tall) there was still heaps of rear legroom in the rear seat, with ample knee room, good foot room and decent shoulder space, too - three of me could slot across the back bench comfortably, which means kids will fit easily, too. There are three top-tether points and two ISOFIX points as well.
Kids and adults alike will be happy with the rear air vents back here, and there’s a flip down armrest with cupholders, too. Again, big bottle holders appear in the doors, and there are map pockets in the back seats.
What about boot space? With so many people choosing SUVs over sedans because they’re theoretically more practical, the Optima offers good food for thought - it has enough luggage capacity for a bunch of suitcases (510 litres VDA in size) and there’s a full-size alloy spare under the boot floor. If you need more, you could always invest in a roof rack setup?
Price and features
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
Kia Optima 7/10
Kia dropped prices for this updated and facelifted model range - and not by a small amount, either. So, what's the price? How much does it cost?
The Si model is the entry-grade of two models, and it comes in at the bottom of the price list at $33,290 plus on-road costs (rrp) - an $1100 drop over the previous version. The Si, then, is a value-focused sedan that you might consider if you’ve looked at a Toyota Camry Ascent, Hyundai Sonata Active, Mazda6 Sport or Subaru Liberty 2.5i.
The standard equipment list is pretty good - although there have been some deletions, because the price is down $1100. The rather good HID headlamps with washers have been dumped in favour of halogen projector lights (yeah, not even xenons), and the satellite navigation system (GPS) is gone.
But now the 7.0-inch media screen is capable of doing the Apple CarPlay iPhone connectivity and Android Auto phone mirroring thing, and that’ll serve most people’s purposes pretty well, but there is no digital DAB radio, and no CD player for the sound system. Other standard kit includes a digital driver info display with digital speedo, dual-zone climate control, cloth seat trim, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto headlights and rain sensing wipers, and 17-inch alloy wheels (with a full-size spare).
New equipment for the Si includes driver-fatigue monitoring and an active lane-keeping assistance system (in place of the old lane-departure-warning buzzer).
If you want all the fruit you really need to fork out the extra cash for the GT, which lists at $43,290 plus on-roads (vs $33,290 for the Si). That is getting perilously close to Kia Stinger territory… but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves - this isn't a model comparison!
You get a fair bit more for your dough, but even the GT has seen a few deletions to help justify its $1200 price drop compared to the pre-facelift model, such as the front passenger seat being manually operated (previously electric), the cooling/ventilation of the front seats has been deleted, and the panoramic sunroof of the previous model is gone, too. And while it rides on 18-inch rims with a new design, the tyre-pressure-monitoring system has been removed.
It uses a new 8.0-inch media screen with extended smartphone connectivity and in-built sat nav (with 10 years of maps included and SUNA live traffic updates), and it also gains redesigned LED headlights but they lose the smart auto high-beam assistance of the old model. The tech doesn't go as far as to include Homelink garage door opening here in Australia, either.
Other standard kit in the GT includes leather seats, electric driver’s seat adjustment with memory settings, smart key (keyless entry) and push button start, a sports body kit, a harman/kardon audio system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer, wireless phone charging (Qi) but no Wi-Fi hotspot, rear sunshades (but no tinted windows), different interior trim finishes, a heated steering wheel, and a colour driver-information screen.
The GT also gets the new lane assist system and driver-fatigue monitor, and the entire safety approach has been improved across the range. See the safety section below for more detail.
There is no launch edition, nor is there a sports edition, but there is a decent array of colours (or colors, depending on where you're reading this) available - black, white, blue, red, grey and silver can be chosen, but not brown, purple or gold... if you wanted those.
Accessories available across both trim levels include tailored floor mats, a dash mat and weathershields, among other items.
Engine & trans
The WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
Kia Optima 7/10
The Si model is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which has seen no changes to its specifications for this mid-life update.
Engine specs remain at 138kW of power at 6000rpm, while torque is rated at 241Nm at 4000rpm. It makes use of a six-speed automatic transmission only - there’s no manual transmission here, but you do get paddle shifters - and it's front wheel drive (the Optima isn't available with AWD, or as a 4x4, or in rear wheel drive - the latter is left to its bigger brother, the Stinger).
The GT gets a zestier drivetrain with more horsepower - it has a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine with 180kW/350Nm, which is much more desirable, but also louder than the Si’s 2.4. It also has a six-speed auto transmission, and is FWD. If you're into ratings and statistics, that 2.0-litre with a turbocharger is one of the perkier offerings for its engine size in the class.
There is no hybrid model available, despite a plug in hybrid petrol version (allowing you to run in EV mode) being sold in European markets. No diesel here, either, while other markets get a 1.7-litre turbo diesel. No LPG model here, or anywhere else, for that matter.
If you're concerned about engine problems, suspension problems, clutch and transmission issues, be sure to check out our Kia Optima problems page.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
Kia Optima 8/10
Kia claims a very realistic fuel economy rating of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres for the Si model, and we saw damn close to that consumption during our week of testing. On the highway it will sit at around 6.5L/100km, ensuring good mileage, while city driving will push usage above 12.0L/100km. Our overall average was 8.5L/100km, which is good. Use the eco mode, and you'll get a little better use.
The turbocharged GT model uses a little more, according to Kia’s 8.5L/100km combined average claim, but we guarantee you’ll actually use more than that because it’s more eager to please.
Fuel tank capacity is 70 litres - plenty of size for long distance drives.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
Kia Optima 7/10
The Optima has some really good elements to the way it drives, but sadly some less impressive bits as well.
Let’s start with the not-so-great stuff - the 2.4-litre engine in this Si model just isn’t as enjoyable as the turbo unit, and the fact that Kia still doesn’t offer a hybrid version here, despite doing so elsewhere, is a bit of a downer.
The drivetrain isn’t terrible - the six-speed auto is smart enough, and there’s usable power if you boot it. The two more sedate drive modes, 'Eco' and 'Comfort', mean the transmission will aim to save fuel and limit throttle response, with a bit more of a lazy feel to the drive experience. But in 'Sport' mode it is definitely more rewarding in terms of acceleration and performance, offering a bit more pep and urgency (we didn't do a 0-100 km/h speed test, but take our word for it); it undoubtedly at the cost of fuel consumption.
It’s just a bit of a shame Kia doesn’t offer the turbo in this spec, too. Fuel use for the Si model is better than the turbo, however, so it could be ideal for buyers who are more worried about the bottom line than design and a sportier drive.
The thing I like most about the Optima is its road manners - the steering and suspension have been tuned for local conditions, just like all Kia products, and it shows.
The electric power steering is really well sorted, making for easy parking moves and good assuredness at higher speeds. And the turning circle is decent, too - 10.9m (so, the turning radius is 5.45m).
Plus the ride comfort is really good. On the highway it coasts along with very little fuss, and around town it deals with lumps and bumps impressively. Sharp edges can upset things a tad, and mid-corner bumps can make it jitterbug a little bit, but not to a degree that would rule it out of contention if you want a mid-sized sedan.
It’s pretty quiet on the open road, too, and the adaptive cruise control makes long-distance driving a simple task. The GT does suffer a little bit more road noise, though.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
Kia Optima 8/10
The safety rating of the Optima remains at five stars, as it was when the car was tested in this generation in 2015.
The updated Optima carries over the safety features of the previous model including autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, while the lane-departure warning system is now supplemented with lane-keeping assistance, and there’s driver-fatigue monitoring added, too. There is no park assist / self parking system.
Airbag coverage for Optima models is six: dual front, front side and full-length curtain. And parents will be happy to learn there are three top-tether attachment points, and two ISOFIX anchors, too.
If you've been wondering to yourself, "where is the Kia Optima built?"The answer is South Korea.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.
Kia Optima 9/10
Kia remains a shining light in terms of its new-car-ownership promise, with a very strong seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. It makes a lot of sense if you plan to hang onto the car for a while. There's no extended warranty available, which is understandable.
That plan also includes a roadside-assist plan for the same seven-year period, provided you maintain your car with Kia Australia. So, given you get one year to start with, then you get an extra year of cover every time you go back to Kia to get your car serviced, you could end up with eight years of coverage. Nice!
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km, with the first seven years covered by a capped-price-service cost / maintenance cost plan. The costs are: service one - $289; two - $466; three - $360; four - $559; five - $325; six - $599; seven - $345. That makes a total cost of $2943, which is competitive for its class. Keep your owners manual or logbook up to date, and your resale value should hold up better.
If you have concerns about common problems, issues, reliability ratings and durability, you should check out our Kia Optima problems page.