Kia's Optima Sportswagon aims to provide a stylish value-orientated option in the medium range estate segment. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Kia's Mondeo-sized medium range Optima model made little market headway in its original guise - but that was partly because the range lacked the estate bodystyle that many buyers in this sector want. The Korean brand has now put that oversight right with the launch of the car we look at here, the Optima Sportswagon.
For further market growth, Korean maker Kia needs increasingly to be providing the kinds of cars that customers want. That sounds obvious doesn't it, but even in recent times, the brand hasn't automatically adhered to this kind of thinking. Take the launch of their Mondeo-sized Optima model in 2012. This was a car launched in a saloon guise - in a segment dominated by sales of hatches and estates. Not good enough. So the brand has got with the programme and offered buyers of the second generation Optima model this 'Sportswagon' variant.
To make this Optima Sportswagon a reasonably rewarding driving companion, Kia has created a stiff body, tweaked the suspension and added a rack-mounted motor-driven power steering system. The result's an improvement on previous Kia models but still leaves the helm lacking the kind of response and feel that enthusiasts will be looking for. Still, there aren't many people like that shopping in this car's Mondeo-sector medium range estate market segment. For more typical buyers in this class, it'll be more significant that this car offers exemplary refinement, while ride quality, though a little unsettled at lower speeds, is pretty good at higher ones. Under the bonnet, all mainstream models share the same 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine developing 139bhp. This unit can also be mated with 7DCT seven-speed auto transmission. The 340Nm torque figure makes it possible to tow up to 1.8-tonnes. Like its saloon counterpart, this isn't a car you'd choose to use to seek out a challenging road, though the rather firm suspension does deliver decent body control, keeping cornering roll to a minimum. Because of that though, you feel tarmac imperfections rather more keenly than perhaps you'd hope from a car with such a comfort-orientated remit. Things settle down at higher speeds though and it's here that you especially appreciate the successful efforts that Kia has made in reducing engine noise and generally improving refinement. This is one of the quietest cars in the class, something the high mileage executive target audience will particularly appreciate.
Design and Build
Inspired by the Kia SPORTSPACE concept, the Optima Sportswagon is Kia's first foray into the competitive D-segment tourer segment. Though a thoroughly practical vehicle for everyday use, this estate offers a long, lean and dynamic profile. The Sportswagon retains the same width (1,860mm) and length (4,855mm) as the saloon, and grows by 5mm in height (to 1,470mm) to accommodate the expanded boot which can swallow 553-litres. While the front of the car remains the same as the Optima saloon, its strong, rising shoulder and gently sloping, swept-back cabin continue for longer to produce its distinctive tourer body shape. The overhang at the rear adds greater visual volume to the back of the vehicle, though this extra mass is disguised by the raked rear window and tapering roofline, giving the Sportswagon more of an athletic stance in a typically conservative segment. At the rear of the car, wide LED tail lamps wrap around the corners of the bodywork. The rear bumper houses a single oval exhaust and features an integrated air diffuser, for a sporty finish. Inside, the dashboard is spread along a more horizontal plane and a wider central console, creating a greater sense of spaciousness. The material quality is significantly improved, with a far higher proportion of soft-touch materials. The central fascia is angled 8.5 degrees towards the driver, with the upper 'display' zone housing a smarter 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
Market and Model
Kia feels confident about a little more bravery in its pricing structure these days, so the Optima Sportswagon primarily occupies the same kind of £22,500 to £30,000 territory as just about every other contender in the diesel sector of the medium range estate market. There are three trim levels - '2', '3' and 'GT-Line' and in each case, the premium to get this Sportswagon estae over the mechanically-identical saloon variant is around £800. The only engine on offer is the volume 1.7-litre CRDi diesel unit; for the time being, Kia is not offering estate buyers the PHEV Plug-in hybrid unit that's available in the Optima saloon. They can, though, pecify the brand's latest 7DCT auto gearbox, a £1,400 option on the mid-range '3' variant and standard on the top 'GT-Line' derivative. Even base versions of this Sportswagon are well equipped. Expect to find 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-projection headlamps with static cornering lights and LED daytime running lights, UV-reducing tinted solar glass, auto headlamps and wipers, heated power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors and an alarm. Inside, there's a 7-inch infotainment screen incorporating satellite navigation, a six-speaker DAB stereo, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility and a reversing camera. Plus dual automatic air conditioning, USB and Aux-in ports, cruise control with a speed limiter, powered lumbar support for the driver's seat, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, a trip computer and a clever automatic defogging system. There's also a temporary spare wheel rather than the silly puncture repair kit some rivals offer.
Cost of Ownership
It doesn't matter how stylish or well equipped a car in the medium range Mondeo estate segment might be, if it can't offer cutting edge whole life running costs and low Benefit-in-Kind taxation figures, then it's going to struggle. Kia's engineers have done their best here, aided by an 'Idle Stop & Go' ISG engine start-stop system, an efficient motor-driven power steering set-up and reasonably light weight for a car of this kind. As a result, a 1.7-litre CRDi diesel Optima Sportswagon with a manual gearbox will manage 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 113g/km of CO2. Take a few percentage points off those figures if you go for the smooth 7DC auto gearbox, which delivers 61.4mpg and 120g/km. This car's trumpeted 7 year / 100,000 mile warranty remains a class-leading one, though it's worth pointing out that when you read the small print, you discover that you only actually get seven years of cover on the engine and gearbox: it's 100,000 miles and five years for everything else. Still, the overall package remains a great selling point to be able to offer customers on the secondhand market, one reason why residual values of this car out-smart those of a rival Ford Mondeo.
We think that this Optima Sportswagon has much to offer for those willing to look beyond the established contenders in the medium-sized estate segment and give it a try. The decent cabin room will please families and it'll certainly be a very smart set of wheels for the middle-ranking managers who sweep backwards and forwards across the country, from motorway service areas to shiny industrial estates then home again. As for the established brands, well if they're smart, they'll be taking this car very seriously indeed. Because potentially, that's what an increasing number of thoughtful buyers might already be doing.