Without a hatchback or estate to appeal to us practical-minded Brits, the Kia Optima has been battling rivals such as the Ford Mondeo estate, Skoda Superb estate and Vauxhall Insignia SportsTourer with one hand tied behind its back. But the arrival of the Optima Sportswagon changes that.
As with the saloon it’s based upon, the Sportswagon is a handsome looking machine. There’s a touch of Volkswagen Passat to the front end, as well as more than a hint of Lexus to the flanks and rear. It arguably doesn’t quite have the looks of a Skoda Superb – the best large family car currently on sale – but a straw poll at the launch revealed that to be very much a minority opinion.
What it definitely can’t match the Skoda for is space. With a 550-litre boot and plentiful rear legroom, the Optima has lots of it but not quite the palatial capacity of the Superb. Anyway, Kia says that outright space wasn’t an absolute priority, suggesting that the Sportswagon’s more svelte looks came at the price of a boot that’s a substantial 108-litres short of the one you’ll find in the Skoda.
The Kia’s also short on engines – there’s only one, a 1.7-litre diesel. It’s from the excellent Sportage and is OK but not great. It’s fine if you just want to get from A to B burning as little diesel as possible – perfect for fleet buyers – but people looking for decent performance and refinement will find it falls behind the best in class. A shame because the Sportswagon handles so well it deserves better.
To take your mind off the engine seek out the warm embrace of the generous standard equipment list, which includes sat-nav, a reversing camera, climate control, cruise control and connectivity via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Kia's Optima Estate is a good-looking alternative to the established German rivals
The launch of the Sportswagon was a buoyant affair festooned with Kia PRs wearing ear-to-ear smiles. Why? Well, the Sportage has been unbelievably popular in the UK – the company’s shifted 12-months worth of sales in just four – and the launch of the Niro Hybrid was so well received Kia UK doubled its allocation overnight.
So few would have doubted that the Sportswagon would be very good. Sure a Skoda Superb’s bigger, but the Kia hits back with lots of equipment and a more responsive drive. Just the diesel’s lacklustre performance sticks out like a sore thumb.