Review: Optima Sportswagon estate

Kia's rare Optima saloon has been joined by a Sportswagon estate which will also be a rare sighting, partly because there is excellent European competition in this large estate class and partly because the move to crossover/SUV motoring continues. Kia was not alone in getting off to a good start in UK sales this year.

The Kia Optima Sportswagon looks smart but its body shaping is safe, lacking the sharp-edged contour changes which enhance most of its rivals.

In January, its Sportage was the nation’s tenth best-seller. Expect its sales to boom this year as new, brighter models appear, such as the Rio and a new version of its entry model, the Picanto.

Rio typifies Kia’s slightly safe design, a car which should attract more buyers but, for me, it doesn’t jump out of a basket of rivals like the Fiesta, 208, Polo and – the most impressive newcomer I’ve driven for ages – the remarkable Nissan Micra. Others seem more impressed by Kias than I am.

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I was lukewarm about the Niro hybrid, partly because of achieving nothing like its “official” economy (ditto the Rio) but a nephew in his 20s has just ordered one as his first car.

He’s a big chap and it has room and a younger buzz than august rivals like the Qashqai, which he also sampled.

Frankly, the Niro went against my advice (he could have afforded an Audi Q3 or Tiguan or Ateca) but that’s the thing about car-buying. It’s a mix of emotion and money and practicality and maybe smaller things like the look of the controls.

Kia is unique with its seven-year warranty – something which private buyers recognise. I admit to being only warmish about the Optima Sportswagon as “a test driver”, but as a buyer that warranty would be a big factor when I hear stories of carmakers ditching their love and affection when a three-year warranty expires. But then, Toyota offers five years...

I had a look online to see what others thought of the Sportswagon. A respected weekly mag wondered if it would hold enough luggage for a family holiday and muttered about the feedback from the steering – which I’d say is not important with this sort of car.

The consensus in the business is that it looks smart. You’ll notice the wide, slim Kia family grille which spreads from one headlamp to the other.

The body shaping is safe, lacking the sharp-edged contour changes which enhance most of the rivals.

It has a quiet mood, you may call it elegant, you may want more excitement, you may make up your own mind. Or you may have a look at the sexier i40 from its parent company Hyundai with a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Note that taxi operators have a 100,000 mile limit.

I can’t agree with the doubts about its luggage space. There are combatants with more volume but you’re unlikely to be disappointed, and under the floor is a segmented load tray. On top, on the roof, are rails for a top box or bikes. The three rear seats fold flat at the touch of a button.

There’s nothing seriously amiss with the Kia – which sounds mealy-mouthed. It’s just that it’s not an obvious choice unless it has been brought to your attention, which is the purpose of appraisals like this one. Traders, business users and their ilk wanting an estate car will be aware of the Mondeo, Insignia and the Passat. Families and their ilk will be swivelled towards the appeal of a Sportage or Qashqai or Kadjar – family cars with lifestyle aspirations which will impress the children. Ford’s S-Max is a first-rate hold-all. But, you want an estate. The Kia demo car was dark blue – far from a stand-out shade.

I did plenty of miles in the car, mostly on motorways, where the navigation screen with its side panels showing distance and time to service stations was useful, as was information about distances to roadworks and their length. The 1.7 diesel, currently the only choice, is adequate, not exciting, and gets raucous at high revs. It delivers 139bhp and 250 lb ft. The demo car was the six-speed manual and its clutch weight was not tiring in stop-start progress. A twin clutch seven-speed automatic is offered. Four-hour journeys were not tiring. You can imagine owning it for seven years to enjoy the warranty. Kia quotes 64mpg average with manual gears and 113g of CO2 . On my 50-mile commuter run (city, motorway, country, town, country, few hills) the trip meter said 43mpg – 20mpg below what Kia’s figures might suggest.

It rose to 53mpg on the long motorway trip, then fell to 32mpg on local shorter trips. The ride quality and noise levels were good most of the time – falling short only on harsh surfaces and with a jolt at the back over fiercer bumps.

A curiosity was a jerk at the front when setting off on full lock, as if a tyre was flat. A more welcome interference was holding the electric brake on until you put on your seat belt.

Verdict: Decent estate car in a dwindling market sector. And it’ll be rare in your street. Worth a test drive.