Kia Optima Sportwagon Road Test

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Since its introduction in 2000 and its transition to the fourth generation in 2015, whilst achieving moderate success most notably in North America, Kia’s Optima has mostly been regarded as a competent, mid-sized and to a degree unremarkable saloon. Likewise, the fact it’s nearly always been aimed at the business buyers, running and taxation benefits have always been paramount, Kia more than aware that the badge on the front would never attain desirability status. But now, enter the Sportswagon.


For Sportswagon read estate, but unlike most enlarged versions of existing saloons, this new Kia has brought with it a whole new interpretation of the Optima both in looks and overall dynamics. Dimensionally, the Optima Sportwagon remains the exact same size as the saloon whilst visually, apart from the longer, tapering roofline, colour keyed door handles and stylishly simple full depth tailgate, from the rear doors forwards it remains the same. The usual elongated ‘Tiger Nose’ grille, swept back lights and clamshell bonnet easing into a contoured side profile sat in the case of the ‘3’ spec model, 235/45 Michelin on 18” alloys. The effect of the new estate bodywork is to have produced a far more streamlined and aerodynamic car that is markedly more attractive than the Optima’s saloon equivalent.  


Retaining the saloon’s suspension format of fully independent subframe mounted MacPherson struts, coils, anti-roll bar and twin dampers at the front and subframe mounted multi-links, anti-roll bar, coil springs and twin dampers at the rear. But to compensate for the Sportwagon’s increased bodyweight and increase in cargo capacity, the rear suspension has been beefed up, the result being much improved dynamics, stability and overall handling.


Inside the cabin its standard Optima fare, clear instrumentation, the narrow elongated dash with centrally mounted touch screen satnav and infotainment centre. Trimmed in a durable fabric and faux leather, the seating is comfortable and adjustable whilst soft touch textured surfaces line the dash roll and door trims, only the GT-Line S offering a more uprated cabin. With the rear seats upright the Sportwagon easily carries 552 litres of cargo rising to 1,686 with the seats folded. Add in a braked towing capacity of 1,800kg and Kia has achieved their objective of producing a more practical version of their original saloon.  


Under the bonnet Kia has retained the 1,685cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve diesel mainly for taxation reasons. Developing 139hp and 340Nm of torque the Sportwagon hits 60mph in 9.8 seconds and onto a top speed of 124mph. The reason Kia still insist on not fitting their larger 2-litre engine is down to the fact the Optima Sportwagon is aimed at the business user and fleet buyer, the sub-1,700cc engine’s lower C02 figures and average mpg of around 48 rising to high 50’s and even low 60’s under prolonged steady throttle driving or well over 500 miles per 70 litre tank of fuel, the engine ticks most of the positive taxation boxes.


Buyers can select from a 7-speed automatic transmission or as tested and the far more useful 6-speed manual. Whilst the engine has proven itself in various models of Kia most notably the original version of the Optima, it still suffers from an inability to retain inertia. The manual transmission allows the driver to keep the engine spinning along with an ability to exploit the torque, something the 7-speed automatic make a great effort to do. But even in manual guise, 6th should only be considered at speeds above 45mph, the ratio more akin to an overdrive than just the highest of six.


To drive the overall attitude of the Sportwagon transcends that of the saloon, the balance, handling, increased weight and stiffer rear suspension allowing the driver to exploit the Sportwagon’s overall abilities. If there had to be a negative it’s the power steering. At just short of three turns lock-to-lock and a 5.45 meter turning circle, the Optima is more than sufficiently manoeuvrable.


But whilst the steering weight is well suited to city and motorway driving it remains a little to light when driving quicker A and B road driving. And in ‘3’ guise Kia’s variable steering has been omitted, something of an oversight but I must emphasize that’s only my opinion. The ride is smooth and refined, most surface imperfections doing little to upset the car or occupants. And once a cruising speed has been attained the Sportwagon becomes a more than accomplished long-distance vehicle with the added bonus of an increased payload.  


Complete wit Kia’s comprehensive 7-year warranty, an entry level price tag of £22,295 for the ‘2’ rising to £24,495 for the ‘3’ seen here and £30,595 for the GT-Line, the Optima Sportwagon is sensibly enough priced to attract its intended audience. Also offering full connectivity, the majority of accessories most business users now demand along with Kia’s build quality and reliability, the Optima Sportwagon should in theory do well. It’s the fact the Optima isn’t one of the German brands that counts against it, the average sales representative one of the most badge conscious species out there.        




By; Mark Stone

Kia Optima Sportwagon Road Test