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 from this revised version.
Ten Second Review
Most buyers of Kia's Mondeo-sized medium range Optima model go for this Sportswagon estate variant. Now at last it gets a class-competitive diesel engine. And there's a smarter look and some extra safety technology too. There's even Plug-in hybrid power if you want it. Overall, with this much improved model, Kia aims to challenge the market leaders and even worry a few of the more premium players.
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 it's taken some time for the brand to fully get on board with this kind of thinking. Take their Mondeo-sized Optima model. For the first three years of its life from 2012 onwards, it was only available as a saloon, ignoring the fact that a huge proportion of cars in the Mondeo segment are sold as estates. Only in 2015 did Kia get around to rectifying this oversight and ever since, the majority of Optima sales have been centred around the Sportswagon bodystyle. The model in question offered a strong package that needed only a wider range of engines, lower running costs and some extra safety tech to be truly class-competitive. Kia says that all those boxes have now been ticked with the improved version we're going to look at here.
With this improved Sportswagon model, the key change is the addition of a new 136PS 1.6-litre CRDi engine, replacing the previous, rather thirsty, 1.7-litre CRDi unit. As before, there's a choice of manual or DCT auto transmission. Kia has also developed a petrol/electric hybrid variant with a 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine mated to a 50 kW electric motor. Total power output for the package is 202bhp. If you want more conventional petrol power, there's now a 180PS 1.6-litre T-Gdi unit available. With all Optimas, by stretching out the wheelbase, stiffening the body with 'Advanced High-Strength Steel' and upgrading the suspension, Kia has sought to improve handling dynamics. Plus Kia engineers have been focussing on Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) innovations to reduce road, wind and engine noise, stiffening the body to avoid vibration and rattles, and improving the seals and insulation around the car.
A Drive Mode Selector lets Optima drivers switch between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart modes. Each mode enables the driver to customise the powertrain's responses, prioritising fuel economy or more immediate acceleration. It also lets drivers adapt the weight of the rack-mounted power steering system, for more relaxed or more immediate, engaging steering responses. 'Smart Mode' is designed to anticipate the driver's needs, switching automatically between Eco, Comfort and Sport modes depending on conditions. This enables the Optima to adapt to the driver's behaviour and the road conditions, pre-empting the driver's preference for different speeds and driving environments.
Design and Build
Inspired by the Kia SPORTSPACE concept, the Optima Sportswagon represented Kia's first foray into the competitive D-segment tourer segment when it was originally launched back in 2015. Though a thoroughly practical vehicle for everyday use, this estate offers a long, lean and dynamic profile subtly enhanced by a package of recent changes. These include a revised front bumper design, as well as smarter LED tail-lamps and revised styling for the headlights and fog lamps. The 'tiger-nose' grille features a brighter chrome finish and 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. As before, the Sportswagon offers the same width (1,860mm) and length (4,855mm) as the saloon, but grows by 5mm in height (to 1,470mm) to accommodate the expanded boot which can swallow 553-litres.
Inside, the cabin of this revised model features a re-designed steering wheel and satin-chrome trim on the centre console which extends across the dashboard. Buyers can specify their interior in black, two tone black and grey cloth or leather, or choose new brown cloth or leather upholstery options. In addition, the Optima features new ambient lighting around the dashboard and doors, letting occupants switch between six different colours - or assign different colours to individual driving modes. By default, cabin lighting floods the cabin in a soft green glow in Eco mode, while Sport mode turns lighting to red. Smart mode fills the interior with soft blue ambient lighting. As before, 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 £23,000 to £32,000 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 S' and in each case, the premium to get this Sportswagon estate over the mechanically-identical saloon variant is around £800. You can also have this estate with a PHEV Plug-in hybrid powertrain. The PHEV plug-in hybrid model costs around £33,000, once the available £2,500 government Plug-in Car Grant has been deducted.
This Optima is available with Kia's latest 7.0 or 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, with navigation and Kia Connected Services powered by TomTom. The system offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to enable full smartphone mirroring. Plus within the centre console is a wireless smartphone charger, allowing users to charge their smartphones on the move. Safety-wise, there's a new Driver Attention Warning (DAW) system that combats distracted or drowsy driving by monitoring a number of inputs from the vehicle and driver. Other safety features available on the Optima include 'Forward Collision-avoidance Assist' (FCA) autonomous braking with pedestrian recognition, 'Lane Keeping Assist' (LKA), 'High Beam Assist' (HBA) and full-LED headlamps with Dynamic Bending Light. These technologies make the Optima one of the safest cars in its class.
Cost of Ownership
Kia's all-new 'U3' 1.6 CRDi diesel engine is designed to go beyond the stricter limits laid down by the Euro 6d TEMP emissions standard. The engine employs Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) active emissions control technology to significantly reduce emissions. It therefore produces low carbon dioxide, particulate matter and NOx emissions. With the manual and auto variants, expect 121 or 122g/km of CO2. Fuel-wise, both manual and auto Sportswagon variants manage 61.4mpg on the combined cycle.
Rivals like estate versions of Ford's Mondeo 1.5 TDCi ECOnetic and Volkswagen's Passat BlueMotion 1.6 TDI still do slightly better, so Kia still has a little way to go here to match the class leaders. Earlier versions of this Optima Sportswagon performed well in depreciation terms but here again, Kia has some ground to make up against rivals. This improved version should continue the upward trend and in this regard, Kia's impressive 7-year or 100,000 mile warranty should help, given that it's transferrable to second owners. There's also the option of a PHEV Plug-in Hybrid petrol/electric variant with an all-electric driving range of 33 miles.
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. What previously required improvement was the relatively inefficient 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine that virtually all customers chose. Now that there's a more frugal 1.6-litre CRDi powerplant to replace that, this model deserves another chance from buyers who may have rejected it in the past. These people might also want to look at the clever plug-in petrol/electric hybrid variants too.
This car's other virtuers remain much as before. 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.