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Road test: Kia Optima Sportswagon GT-Line. Image by Kia.

Road test: Kia Optima Sportswagon GT-Line
Kia enters the D-segment estate marketplace for the first time and comes up with a cracking wagon.

   



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Kia Optima Sportswagon

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: exterior styling, high-speed ride comfort and refinement, performance, equipment, sound system on GT-Line S

Not so good: only one engine, DCT harms acceleration/economy, GT-Line S fairly expensive

Key Facts

Model tested: Kia Optima Sportswagon 1.7 CRDi GT-Line S DCT ISG
Price: starts from 22,295; GT-Line S from 30,595; car as tested 31,140
Engine: 1.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, seven-speed DCT automatic
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: 120/km (VED Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter, if registered before April 1, 2017; 160 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter if registered post-April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 61.4mpg
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 11.0 seconds
Power: 141hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 340Nm at 1,750- to 2,500rpm

Our view:

It's been a long time coming but finally Kia has blessed its D-segment saloon, the Optima, with a booted estate version, which it is calling the Sportswagon, commanding an 800 premium over its four-door sibling. Seems hard to believe but the Optima has actually been around since the turn of the millennium, when it was simply a rebadged Hyundai Sonata. Since then, it has evolved into a striking and competent contender in the marketplace, although it has never been a machine to set anyone's undercrackers on fire.

The Sportswagon aims to change that state of affairs, because... well, just look at it. What a lovely, lovely thing it is, especially in top-ranking GT-Line S trim and clothed in Temptation Red premium paint (or car's only cost option, at 545), and it feels worth a lot more than the considerable 31,140 asking price. Granted, it would appear the Kia's design won't win everyone over - some social media comments about the wagon were less than complimentary and there were also accusations that Peter Schreyer and co. have copied the styling of some more established vehicles in the sector - but we're convinced. We think it looks absolutely marvellous from all angles and we like its hawkish front end, that elegant rear with the twin oval exhaust pipes and the kicked-up window line in profile. Its standard 18-inch wheels are also rather spiffing.

Now, if that aforementioned asking price seems a bit steep for a Kia, there are two things to mull over. One, rival diesel wagons with c.150hp costing the same money from Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and even Skoda (once an absolute bastion of value-for-money) won't be as well-equipped as this Optima Sportswagon and two, we ought to just consider the equipment list on this GT-Line S to put that 31,140 into better context. Everything, and we mean everything, on this car is standard equipment. It's got automatic main beam with cornering LED headlights. It's got radar cruise control with lane-keep assist that steers you in the centre of the lane, rather than just warning you when you're veering out of position. It has four heated seats, not just two, and the front chairs are ventilated as well. The multifunction leather steering wheel is also heated. It has a 360-degree around-view monitor system, a reversing camera and even fully automated parking functionality. The upholstery is cow hide. It has wireless phone charging. There's a massive panoramic sunroof. And, best of all, it has a whopping 490-watt Harman Kardon premium sound system from the off.

This is aside from all the regular kit you'd expect on a car like this these days, such as Bluetooth, DAB, parking sensors all round, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and go, LED daytime running lights, satnav on an eight-inch touchscreen, all manner of driver assist systems (like ABS, ESC, Hill-Start Assist, Blind-Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and so on) and loads of airbags, plus ISOFIX child seat fittings in the back. In short, you could not want for more equipment on a car of this class (or, indeed, several classes higher) and then you have to factor in the unmatched seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty Kia offers... sure, 31k+ is hardly what you'd call inexpensive, but this flagship Sportswagon is most definitely a bargain.

Nevertheless, all the toys in the world and a warranty that will last far beyond the average owner's tenure of the Optima won't make up for a duff driving experience, so is the Kia a clunker or a class act? In one of the first black marks for the Korean, the GT-Line S might be the most striking looking of the Sportswagons available but it's also the slowest and least efficient, as it comes with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) as standard. The entry-level '2' trim only comes with the six-speed manual, while buyers of the mid-grade '3' cars can choose from either gearbox (the auto is a 1,400 upgrade). The DCT versions are slower to 62mph by nine-tenths of a second, they're thirstier at 61.4mpg vs. the manual's 64.2mpg and as a result they also emit more CO2 emissions - 120g/km versus 113g/km. At least that last figure doesn't alter the Optima's VED requirements, either now or after the road tax laws change on April 1.

A few more issues start to arise. Those gorgeous 18-inch alloys don't give the Optima GT-Line S the best low-speed ride. It can occasionally jiggle and bobble about on poor surfaces, which is somewhat at odds with its long-distance outlook on life. Also, there is quite a bit of tyre roar evident on most types of British tarmac and the steering wheel feels just a bit too thin in your hands. And Kia, like sister brand Hyundai, still hasn't got the knack of multi-mode steering, although we will at least concede the Sportswagon has about the best set-up we've yet tried out of Korea; nevertheless, it's too sticky in Sport and too light in either Eco or Normal.

And then, within seconds of setting off for the first time, the bloody luggage load cover starts squeaking away to itself. In general, the Kia has a fantastic interior that feels well-built and features some really nice materials, but the item covering the boot area is a real let-down. There are two easy fixes for this: the first is to whip the cover out and just leave it at home; but we prefer the second, which is to jack up that utterly magnificent sound system to about 90 per cent volume and allow it to drown out the incessant wittering of the sliding luggage blind, as well as the chattering tyres in the process. We have sampled all manner of 'cost option' sound systems from other carmakers - Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Meridian, Bowers & Wilkins, Burmester, Naim, JBL, Beats by Dr Dre and so on - and yet few of them are as deeply impressive as this Kia's particular Harman Kardon set-up. It will maintain the utmost clarity at ridiculous sound levels, even if you major the bass and treble just to upset it and we might almost say you should go out and buy the Sportswagon GT-Line S for the audio goodness it possesses alone.

Again, though, things aren't perfect here. For one thing, the Optima is one of those cars where the audio comes on automatically each and every time you start the engine and there doesn't seem to be any way of altering that in the infotainment settings menu. And talking of the Sportswagon 'remembering' settings from one journey to the next, you have to turn Auto Hold for the electric parking brake on every single time as well, which becomes mildly annoying.

But, aside from the DCT occasionally shuffling down through too many gears when faced with only a moderate incline, our whinges about the Optima Sportswagon cease there. That 1.7-litre engine is a little louder than other turbodiesels, but it's by no means bad and it actually feels a lot punchier than the modest on-paper stats suggest. It's also really smooth and good on a motorway cruise, which is where the Kia's damping absolutely comes into its own - all that fidgeting about the car displays at low speeds is clearly because the Optima is set up to sit in supreme comfort at 70mph, where the engine is doing 2,000rpm in seventh and the estate will give you back almost 50mpg on a run; we saw 48.5mpg on a 145-mile slog from east London to the Midlands and it was a journey that was neither congestion-free nor conducted at a sedate pace.

Some of the tech makes this an incredibly easy car to use, too, like the automatic main beam, which is one of the finest systems we've tried - you don't get flashed by every sixth car coming in the opposite direction because the software is too dim-witted to react quickly enough, nor do you feel that hot flush of shame burning your cheeks as you fill a car ahead in the distance's rear-view mirror with scorching LED light. The turning headlights themselves are also very slick, and we love the way you can display the satnav map and the currently playing media on the eight-inch dash screen, leaving the TFT array in the cluster free to show the trip computer data; most other cars make you choose from two out of these three banks of information to view at any one time.

In fact, with its easy-going nature, quality feel, sensational looks and tech-laden proposition, plus that reasonable price and the massive warranty, the Optima Sportswagon ought to be an easy class leader - if it weren't for a few key details. This estate, despite its name, is not very sporty. The handling is fine enough, with lots of front-end grip and a lack of understeer, but the steering robs it of driver interactivity and the engine, good though it is, really isn't exciting enough for a sporty car. You never feel that inclined to drive it hard along a quiet backroad, paddle shifts on the steering wheel or not.

However, the bigger problem for the Kia and its position in class is not the Ford Mondeo, nor the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer, nor the Volkswagen Passat Estate. No, its main issue is the Skoda Superb. It might not be quite as cheap nor well-equipped as the Optima Sportswagon, and it's not as if it's massive fun to drive either, but the Skoda feels like a marked step up in terms of prestige compared to the Optima and, furthermore, it's so blinking big inside that you could make the very sound argument that the Czech was a rival for a Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate, never mind a C-Class.

Never mind that the Kia can't eclipse the Superb, though; we're big fans of this Kia Optima Sportswagon GT-Line S regardless, mainly for its appearance and the fact its svelte lines are bulging with all manner of technology, that Harman Kardon audio being our favourite item. If you want the ultimate in road-holding thrills from a D-segment estate, the Optima won't be for you. But if you want a really good all-rounder of a wagon for a decent price, you'd be daft to ignore this highly likeable Korean motor.

Alternatives:

Ford Mondeo Estate: a 2.0 TDCi Titanium 150hp Powershift auto with the X Pack fitted would be 29,965... and it still wouldn't have the kit list of the Kia. The Mondeo is sharper to steer, though.

Mazda6 Tourer: lovely appearance and an impressive interior, plus it was improved by the recent addition of GVC. This is all-too-often unfairly overlooked in the D-segment wagon department.

Volkswagen Passat Estate: SE Business with 150hp TDI engine is around 28,000, but needs a lot of cost options fitted to match the Optima, and the Volkswagen is no more exciting to drive than the Kia.


Matt Robinson - 20 Jan 2017



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2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.

2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Optima GT-Line S Sportswagon. Image by Kia.








 

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