What is it? Kia’s first large estate in Europe.
Key features: Enhanced luggage space, Euro-specific model.
Our View: The Kia Optima Sportswagon makes a lot more sense than its saloon sister in the current UK market.
Type of review: First drive
Kia is a brand that knows where it wants to be – like its sister and rival Hyundai, the South Korean brand now trades a world away from the budget vehicles that first introduced the name to UK audiences, and is steadily encouraging its customer base upmarket.
Mainstream brands tend to have a large car in their line-up, particularly if they want to provide a credible buy for those customers who would really like a BMW or Audi but whose funds don’t really stretch that far. For Kia, that gap was filled with the launch of the Optima saloon at the end of 2015.
Trouble is, in the UK in particular, big four-door saloons are not that popular and sales of the Optima have not exactly lit up dealers’ faces. Estates, however, are far more the thing to have – more than two thirds of buyers of these large family or D segment cars choose an estate body, and in the fleet market which dominates D segment sales, 75 per cent are estates.
So it’s no surprise that the Optima has now gained a sister car, the Optima Sportswagon, Kia’s first estate model in the sector. And this is very much a European model – designed in Europe and for sale only in Europe.
Its look may be familiar, to anyone who saw the SportsSpace concept unveiled at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, as the production Sportswagon follows the concept virtually to the letter.
What we have is a car that occupies exactly the same footprint as its saloon sister, except in turns of height – and the extra 5mm is only due to the standard-fit roof rails.
Look at the Sportswagon from the front and only those roof rails give away that it is not the saloon – they are identical as far as the central door or ‘B’ pillar. From here the estate boasts a gently tapering roof to a steeply raked rear screen. Combined with rising shoulder lines the result is significantly increased space without turning the car from what is a very agreeable profile into something bulbous and unsightly.
While the Sportswagon looks like a typical ‘lifestyle’ estate, it is rather more practical. Boot volume increases over the saloon by 42 litres to 552 litres, which makes the Optima definitely one of the more spacious cars in its class.
It’s practical loadspace too – wide and flat, with a low loading lip, and the inclusion of a pair of undertrays creates a space to hide away valuable items.
Meanwhile if one operates the one-touch folding rear seats the room available jumps to a very useful 1,686 litres. These seats, by the way, can be folded in a 40:20:40 split to offer the most practical combination of people and luggage carryng ability.
Kia’s cabins are now well appointed, if with surfacing that remains a little dark and foboding, and still with some hard plastics to remind one that this car is more mainstream than premium. The driver’s surroudings are practical, the touchscreen (seven or eight inches depending on grade) placed high on the centre console where it is easy to reach and operate. And as has been the case on recent Kias, the number of different buttons and switches are kept to a minimum.
The Optima Sportswagon may score on luggage space, but it also provides people space – there is a lot of room in front and back, and it is easy to get comfortable.
Just one engine is available for Optima Sportswagon buyers – the 1.7 CRDi turbodiesel unit with 141hp on tap, combined with 340Nm of torque. It’s interesting that this car launches at the same time as Kia’s Optima PHEV, the plug-in hybrid model that retains the saloon body style, and which The Car Expert will be testing separately. One wonders why such eco-friendly tech cannot be offered in the far more popular version of the car…
Still – the diesel can be supplied with a six-speed manual or the 7DCT auto gearbox, and choosing the latter is not too costly in performance or efficiency. The auto version will reach 60mph from rest in 10.7 seconds compared to the 9.8 of the manual, and its 61.4mpg and 120g/km CO2 emissions figures compare to the 64.2 and 113 of manual cars.
The engine is refined enough when cruising, but work it too hard and it does make itself heard – and it does need a reasonable amount of revs to give of its best.
On the road the Optima Sportswagon is very well-behaved, with a comfortable ride and for an estate pleasingly direct steering. It’s no sports car – though there will be a performance-pitched GT model added to the range early in 2017 – but equally it is no sluggish barge either.
Sportswagon buyers are presented with Kia’s familiar 2, 3 and GT-Line S trim levels, and the standard equipment list is more than adequate. The long specification on 2 versions for example includes satellite navigation, a reversing camera, a six-speaker DAB radio audio system with MP3 and Bluetooth, dual-zone air conditioning and smartphone connectivty for Android Auto phones – and we are told Apple CarPlay compatability will be available before very long.
Go up the range and the list gets longer – notable on 3 specification is the touchsreen growing by an inch, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, heated seats, dual-projection headlamps, 18-inch alloys instead of 17 and a host of styling upgrades.
GT-Line S buyers gain a whole host of extra tech poured in, from a wireless mobile phone charger, 360-around view monitor and Smart park assist to a blind spot monitor with a cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and even a smart-powered tailgate. Problem is by now the £22,295 of the entry-level model will have jumped to more than £30,000, which puts the Optima amongst some competitive company.
Overall the Kia Optima Sportswagon makes a lot more sense than its saloon sister, especially in the current UK market. Kia is clearly pitching it in the hope of appearing on the consideration lists for many fleet buyers, and there is every reason why it should be an option for the company motorist.
Kia Optima Sportswagon – key specifications
Models Tested: Kia Optima Sportswagon 1.7 CRDi ‘3’ 6-speed manual transmission
On Sale: 1September 2016
Engines: 1.7 diesel.
Power (hp): 141.
0-62mph (sec):9.8 (auto 10.7).
Top speed (mph): 124.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 64.2 (auto 61.4).
CO2 emissions (g/km): 113 (120).
Keyrivals: Hyundai i40, Škoda Octavia, Volkswagen Passat.
Test Date: August 2016