Out on the road you soon discover the Sportswagon’s smart looks are backed up by a healthy dollop of substance – it’s one of the best-driving cars in the class.
For a car like the Sportswagon, which must handle a wide spectrum of needs, a range of just one engine is a real Achilles heel. Things wouldn’t be so bad if the 139hp 1.7-litre diesel was a peach, but it isn’t. Driven at a normal pace things aren’t too bad, you soon adapt to the engine’s willingness to stall at slow speeds and there’s power enough to keep up with – although not necessarily overtake – lines of traffic. Slot into sixth at 55mph and the Optima will happily lumber around with minimum stress.
The real issue comes when you ask for more than that because, in truth, there isn’t much more to give. Revving the engine to within an inch of its life extracts little more in the way of forward motion, but produces a lot of extra noise. The cars we drove had just a few hundred miles on them – some loosening up might do the world of good – and, we must admit, the official 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds doesn’t sound too terrible.
A Mazda 6 might be a tiny bit sharper to drive, but the Kia feels really well sorted
Far from terrible, the car’s running costs are pretty frugal. Kia reckons nearly 65mpg is possible and, in our experience, its figures are based on an element of truth in a way, dare we say, VW’s are not.
Perhaps the most impressive element is the ride that – on the launch day’s smooth German roads, at least – was extremely comfortable, taking the worst out of a variety of bumps, no matter the speed. It may not have the creamy float of a Superb, but nor does it suffer from the Skoda’s propensity to feel unnervingly detached from the road.
And the Kia’s ability to feel pinned down yet comfortable really pays off when you up the pace. The steering lacks feel – true of every car in the class, really – but it’s consistently weighted and accurate so that cutting through corners can really be enjoyed and there’s no excessive lean to worry about.
Anyway, the worry you save there is better channeled towards a more worthy target – the 1.7-litre diesel engine. The only conventional engine available in the range, it’s the weakest element of the car being noisy, slow and eager to stall.
The latter two of these issues can be resolved by opting for Kia’s excellent seven-speed, twin-clutch gearbox. With it fitted, you don’t have to shuffle through the gears like a lunatic to keep the engine on the boil, and it also deals with the stalling issue.