The Kia Optima is the sort of car that you see starring in flashy US TV commercials, where enormous NBA superstars cram their frames into the cockpit and ramble on about its superb comfort and desirability, despite the fact they likely own a fleet of Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis.
As such, the Optima has never been one to make waves in the UK, partly thanks to the fact that four-door saloons sales largely fall into the company car category, which has long been bossed by the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia and, more recently, the Skoda Superb.
Sensibly, Kia has decided to stretch the salesman’s favourite and offer it in an estate body style, which it refers to as the Sportswagon. Us Brits love a spacious estate – what with our dogs and kids and bicycles – and the Korean marque hopes it will appeal to families with plenty of junk to haul, as well as more traditional business users.
Kia Optima Sportswagon review: The wiley wagon
First thing to note is that Kia offers some seriously impressive kit on even the most basic “2” trim line Sportswagon models.
Granted, there’s no opportunity to order the barebones “1” specification level that’s offered on other models, but £22,295/$33,4425 for a spacious vehicle that comes equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, 17-inch alloy wheels, hints of leather inside and a full suite of DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity isn’t a bad start.
Spend a couple of grand more and “3” level customers are treated to an 8-inch touchscreen display, which is bright and responsive, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
The dash in these more expensive models isn’t quite on par with those offered by the VW Group – but the tech works seamlessly and the more expensive cars also get larger wheels, which helps the Optima Sportswagon live up to its athletic moniker.
Kia Optima Sportswagon review: Real estate
Kia owes a great deal to chief designer Peter Schreyer, who has single-handedly transformed the budget brand into something that can genuinely compete with the big German players in terms of styling.
In keeping with recent from, the Optima Sportswagon is a handsome machine that features plenty of sweeping lines, a large and bejewelled front grille, and the latest LED head and tail lamp technology that ensures it cuts an imposing figure on the UK’s roadways.
It’s also cleverly packaged, with 552-litres of load space in the back when the rear seats are upright, or 1,686-litres when those rear thrones are flipped down – via a single pull-lever, we hasten to add.
All those riding aboard get plenty of head and legroom, while handy little tech features, such as USB charging slots in the rear, are a welcome addition.
Kia Optima Sportswagon review: A dull daily drive
The Optima Sportswagon was never intended to offer scintillating performance but the driving experience is rather dreary. This is partly down to the fact that only one engine is on offer – a 1.7-litre CRDi diesel unit.
There’s not a lot of low-down torque, which renders quick getaways or speedy overtakes quite tricky, while the unit itself isn’t particularly refined. Give it a boot-load of throttle and it grumbles away until the car is up to cruising speeds.
The steering is also quite vague and slow, which can be an issue if you’re trying to hustle the thing along a twisting country road. Granted, the soft suspension is comfortable on long cruises and doesn’t wallow too much through corners, but it’s certainly not the sharpest tool in the box.
A Ford Mondeo Estate is arguably more entertaining to drive and Skoda’s 2.0-litre TDI engine is more powerful.
Kia also revealed a plug-in hybrid version of its Optima Saloon, which potentially returns a staggering 176.6mpg on the combined, belches out just 37g/km of CO2, and can be driven for up to 33-miles on electricity alone. The driving experience isn’t any more enthralling but it could be a good way to reduce the household motoring bills.
Kia Optima Sportswagon review: Top-of-the range tech
Those with a bit of cash to splash should look towards the GT-Line S, purely because it comes offered with some very neat kit.
The interior is given the full leather treatment, the wheels increase to 18-inches and there’s a suite of semi-autonomous safety features that rivals those of the premium German rivals.
Adaptive smart cruise control, high beam assist, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection, smart park assist and a 360-degree around view monitor are all thrown into the deal, while ambient interior lighting and chrome flourishes help elevate the overall quality no end.
The Kia Optima Sportswagon will make a solid daily hack for most customers. It’s a good looking machine, especially in the top-of-the-range GT-Line S trim, while its infotainment system is slick and intuitive and the “3” models and above spearhead a suite of standard kit that’s more impressive than its rivals.
The problem, however, is poor engine choice. More importantly, an engine that isn’t as clean nor as fuel efficient as its closest competition, which will prove a stumbling block for company car users and fleet buyers. That, paired with the dreary driving experience, make the competition more compelling overall.