Kia Optima Sportswagon estate (2016 - ) review
The Kia Optima Sportswagon is a family estate car that competes with popular rival wagons like the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat. It’s not the strongest in the class for driving manners, but it’s spacious, stylish and sensational value for money.
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Family estate cars aren’t usually bought for their style, but the Optima Sportswagon is a car that is undeniably distinctive compared with other cars in this class. It has the same sharp-looking front end as the saloon, but the rakish roofline, combined with a strong window line that kicks up towards the rear, gives the Sportswagon plenty of visual purpose. The overall look of your car will depend on which grade you go for, though.
Entry-level ‘2’ versions have alloy wheels and sparkly LED daytime running lights, but ‘3’ models gain extra chrome accents and body-coloured door handles. The snappily-named GT-Line S model also gets a sporty bodykit and LED headlamps.
The Optima's interior won’t rival a Volkswagen Passat Estate's for outright touchy-feelyness, but you might well be surprised by the impressive quality of the cabin. There’s enough soft-touch plastic and glossy finishing to make it feel like a classy environment, and although you can find one or two patches of harder plastic dotted around, these feel sturdier than the equivalent surfaces in some rivals. Put it this way: if you’re a Ford Mondeo driver, you might well feel a little short-changed when you peer into an Optima.
The dials are clear and feature a central digital information screen that is easy to read, while the dashboard layout is simple and logical. However, the ergonomics are a little hit-and-miss: some of the switches are rather awkwardly placed, while the touch-screen infotainment system could be easier to navigate.
This is a deal-breaking area for any estate car, and the Optima Sportswagon does a pretty sterling job. The huge boot totals an impressive 552 litres, which is a fraction more than you get in estate car rivals like the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat. The Optima’s boot has more than just size on its side as well. The opening is big and has no lip, while depending on the grade of car you choose, you can also have a collection of rails and tethering points to keep your load secure.
The 40/20/40 split rear seats are spring-loaded and fold down instantly when you pull a lever in the boot, and the seatbacks sit almost flat to make packing easier. Happily, there’s also loads of space elsewhere in the cabin. The rear seats have very generous legroom, and – provided you don’t go for a version with a panoramic roof – headroom is also pretty good.
Ride and handling
Ride comfort is the most important thing about the way any family car behaves on the road, and unfortunately, things aren’t exactly optimal in the Optima. In particular, the ride feels too firm too much of the time, and especially at low speeds. On the other hand, there are few complaints about the way the car handles. It feels secure and stable when negotiating a set of bends, with tightly controlled body movements and plenty of grip. The steering could have more weight at moderate to high speeds to inspire a bit more confidence, but at least it’s consistent in its responses. Overall, the Optima can’t match a Ford Mondeo for outright agility, but at least it does what you tell it to, and in a timely manner.
The Optima comes with a single choice of engine, a 1.7-litre diesel that punts out 139bhp and 251lb ft of pull. Happily, the unit is a lot better than it is in other Kia and Hyundai products we’ve tried, because it’s more flexible. Peak pull arrives at 1750rpm, but there’s a decent slice on tap below that, so you never find yourself in the doldrums unexpectedly. There’s very little point in revving the engine to its limits, because you don’t ultimately go much faster, so it’s best to adopt a relaxed driving style and let the engine’s low-down grunt do the bulk of the work. The engine can sound a little gruff at times, but the volume is kept low and you don’t feel many vibrations coming through the steering wheel and pedals. And, while wind- and road-noise aren’t suppressed to class-leading levels, they’re isolated well enough to give an acceptable level of high-speed calm.
A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, which is entirely inoffensive to use, but many buyers may be tempted by the optional seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. Yes, it swaps cogs smoothly and cleanly once you're up and running, but its responses can make it a little hard to drive smoothly at low speed, while its hesitancy to react when pulling out of junctions or onto roundabouts can lead to the odd heart-stopping moment.
Choosing an Optima will save you a decent slice in purchase price over rivals like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. Comparatively, you’ll get plenty of standard kit for your cash, too, so it looks like great value for money. Running costs are about par for the course, too. Granted, both the Mondeo and Insignia offer versions that duck below the 100g/km mark for CO2 emissions (which the Optima doesn’t), but compared with the similarly-powered engines that sit just above those eco-focused ones, the Optima’s figures for emissions and fuel consumption look reasonably competitive. Adding the twin-clutch ‘box makes the Optima slightly grubbier, but not by much.
Kia has a respectable record for reliability, with the brand achieving mid-table respectability in the manufacturer rankings of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. The study doesn’t have any data on the Optima itself – probably because the car hasn’t sold in big enough numbers for there to be a decent sample size – but the performance of the brand as a whole should provide some peace of mind. So should the fantastic warranty provided as standard, which stands at seven years/100,000 miles. You can also transfer the warranty to the next owner of the car, which makes it a more attractive proposition when you’re selling on.
All Optimas come with safety kit that includes electronic stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and six airbags including curtain ‘bags that run the full length of the cabin. Go for the top trim, and you also get a whole bunch of other clever systems as standard. These include a blind-spot assistant, a lane-keep assistant and rear-cross traffic alert. Autonomous emergency braking also comes as part of the package, but it’s a little disappointing that this important safety feature isn’t provided a little further down the pecking order. Even so, the Optima scored a maximum five-star rating when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP.
Confusingly, the Optima’s trim structure misses a step, starting at ‘2’ trim. Even this version comes with most of the must-haves, along with a fair few nice-to-haves. These include climate and cruise controls, cornering headlamps and a touch-screen infotainment system that incorporates sat-nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and a reversing camera. Upgrading to ‘3’ trim earns you powered driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats, upholstery with added faux-leather panels and an upgraded stereo with a bigger touch-screen. The GT-Line S model gets full leather, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a panoramic roof, a wireless phone charger and adaptive cruise control.
Because you want a car that delivers all the practicality that a family needs, but that also stands out from the crowd. The Optima Sportswagon certainly does that, and it doesn’t even have to resort to SUV styling to do it. It also gives you lots of luxury equipment for a very affordable price, making it cracking value for money.