What is it?
Kia’s belated acknowledgement that the Optima saloon really doesn’t appeal very strongly to Europeans. Although it will be built in Korea, the new Optima Sportswagon – that’s Kia-speak for estate – has been designed specifically for Europe and won’t be sold in any other territories. The company reckons it will make up more than two-thirds of Optima sales in the UK next year.
By the utilitarian standards of D-segment estates, the Sportswagon is a handsome beast, sticking closely to the styling of the Sportspace concept that floated the idea of a bigger-booted Optima at last year’s Geneva motor show. Despite that, it’s not one of those cramped lifestyle estates, with 552 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place and an impressive 1686 litres with them folded, meaning it’s more commodious than a Mondeo wagon.
Some markets will have the option of a 2.0-litre petrol engine, but the only motor to be offered in the UK will be Kia’s familiar 1.7-litre CRDi diesel, producing 139bhp. The basic 2 trim level combines this with a six-speed manual gearbox, with Kia’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission being offered as an option on the mid-ranking 3 and coming as standard on the range-topping GT-Line S. Prices start at £22,295 for the 2 and rise to a steep £30,595 for the GT-Line S.
What’s it like?
Very sensible. The Sportswagon’s star feature is definitely the sheer acreage of load space behind the rear hatchback, with a wide, flat luggage area and carrying capacity cleverly increased by deep cut-outs behind the rear wheel arches. Passenger accommodation is good, too, with generous space front and rear for adult occupants. Minicab drivers must be salivating.
As with the Optima saloon, there’s no upmarket vibe to the interior’s dark, tough-feeling materials, but standard equipment is generous. Even the basic 2 has sat-nav, while the range-topping GT-Line S is pretty much groaning under the weight of standard kit, from active safety systems to high-beam assist, heated and cooled front seats and a power tailgate.
The good news is that, unlike the new Optima PHEV, the Sportswagon does indeed show some evidence of having benefited from Kia’s commitment to sharpening driving dynamics. It’s certainly not the most incisive steer in the segment, but the basics are mostly decent, with accurate steering (behind springy-feeling assistance), good grip from the standard Michelin Pilot Sport 3s and, although the ride is on the firm side, good body control. Kia even allowed us to take it on track at the company’s Namyang proving ground, the unlikely environment proving that it can indeed be hustled along at a respectable pace without complaint.
The engine remains the disappointment. Kia has improved the refinement of its 1.7 CRDi, but it still makes some industrial noises when worked hard and suffers from a narrow powerband. Despite Kia’s claim that it produces its 251lb ft from just 1750rpm, there’s a boostless zone just below that which is easy to fall into with the manual gearbox, especially when slowing for speed bumps or junctions.
The DCT dual-clutch auto doesn’t suffer from any such problems, downshifting neatly to buzz the engine into life, but it also features an unnecessary Sport mode that turns it pointlessly aggressive.
Should I buy one?
The more relevant question is probably whether your friendly local fleet manager will. Kia acknowledges that only a quarter of Optima Sportswagons will be sold to private buyers, and its appeal, at least at the bottom of the range, has clearly been focused on those seeking to minimise the cost-per-mile figure.
The entry-level Sportswagon 2 is cheaper than both the Ford Mondeo 1.5 TDCi Style and Volkswagen Passat 1.6 TDI S estates, although not by enough to offset the effect of its higher CO2 emissions for company users. But it’s a likeable, honest car, and one that’s backed by what remains the best warranty out there.
Further up the range the Sportswagon’s appeal wanes, though. Despite the toyshop equipment levels, the GT-Line S finds itself priced against some considerably more talented rivals.