Friday 02 September 2016
Kia has admitted in the past that the Optima hasn’t been performing as well as the company would like in the sales department. A lack of factory capacity means the South Korean manufacturer hasn’t really been able to offer Europe-specific models, although that’s all changed now.
The Optima Sportswagon forms part of Kia’s pledge to build new models for new markets. As estate cars make up two-thirds of sales and 75 per cent of fleet sales in Europe for this segment, Kia wanted a piece of the action and launched its first D-segment estate.
Compared to the saloon, the estate hasn’t really changed that much – although it’s now 5mm taller. The suspension’s damper rates and alignment settings have been adjusted to make up for the rearward shift in weight distribution, and also to ensure the car can cope with carrying heavier payloads.
While looks are always subjective, it wouldn’t be unfair to say Kia has produced a rather visually appealing car with the Optima Sportswagon. Kia’s designers have clearly drawn inspiration from their European rivals, although have still managed to add their own flair.
Brand image is incredibly important in this segment, and when you consider the fact that it is dominated by BMW, Audi and Mercedes, it quickly becomes apparent that the South Korean manufacturer has a lot of work to do.
However, solid build quality both inside and out does put the Optima in the running. It feels nearly as premium as its German rivals in the cabin, although in GT-Line spec, the steering wheel is slightly uncomfortable.
The only thing that lets the Optima down in comparison to its rivals is the cheap looking plastic that adorns the top of the dash. Compared to the rest of the car, this looks incredibly out of place.
If you want to do well in the D-segment, you need to make sure you offer decent amounts of space and practicality. The Optima Sportswagon offers up a 552-litre boot with the rear seats in place. Fold them down, and this will increase to 1,686 litres. Compared to rivals such as the BMW 3-Series Touring and Audi A4 Avant, the Kia fares relatively well. A Volkswagen Passat offers a good deal more boot space, though.
Additional levels of practicality of offered up by a power tailgate and single-touch folding seats. On ‘3’ and GT-Line S trims, you can also have adjustable luggage rails.
Building cars that are fun to drive has been an important part of Kia’s business strategy recently, and the Optima Sportswagon embodies this nicely. The changes to the car’s suspension do a good job of coping with its extra weight, and you’ll also find it rides in a composed manner that toes the line between being soft and comfortable without being too wallowy in the corners well.
The steering is also very pleasing. New, electrically-assisted systems that adorn cars these days often feel far too light, or have engineered weight added into them, however the Optima’s steering feels natural.
The only bugbear in terms of the drive offered up by the Optima is its engine. While 139bhp and 340Nm was never going to make the car a high-performance machine, it still somehow manages to feel even slower and less responsive that its figures would lead you to believe. This is even more apparent with the manual gearbox. Topping it all off is the fact that its engine isn’t as smooth as the latest modern diesels from companies like Mazda.
Similar to diesel engines from the past, the Optima’s is unrefined and loud. Opting for the DCT automatic transmission does improve responsiveness at low revs somewhat, though.
Fuel economy is one thing the Optima does quite well at, however. With the manual transmission it has a combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg, with CO2 emissions of 113g/km. The auto, on the other hand, manages 61.4mpg and 120g/km.
With prices for the base-spec Optima Sportswagon beginning at £22,295, you do feel like you’re really getting your money’s worth out of the new Kia. This becomes even more apparent when you consider the fact its interior is nearly equivalent to those offered by BMW.
If you can put the fact that its badge doesn’t carry too much prestige to one side, the Kia really does make sense – especially considering the fact that its far cheaper than its German rivals.
It also pays to remember that the Kia comes with a seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, which will help slash running costs.
This is a car that will largely appeal to company car buyers. Benefit-in-kind taxation is 19 per cent for the manual version, while the automatic is taxed at 21 per cent. This represents a saving over rivals of around one or two per cent. Add in the competitive fuel economy figures and you could be on to a winner.
Big families will also find the Optima Sportswagon an appealing prospect. There is more than enough space to keep children comfy on those longer road trips, and the boot is more than capable of accommodating a dog.
Model: Kia Optima Sportswagon
Engine: 1.7-litre CRDI turbocharged diesel producing 139bhp and 340Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Performance: 0-60mph in 9.8 seconds (manual) or 10.7 seconds (automatic). Both 124mph top speed.
Economy: 64.2mpg (manual), 61.4mpg (auto)
Emissions: 113g/km (manual), 120g/km (auto)
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