Gareth Butterfield is won over by the Kia Optima Sportswagon
THE car-buying market is awash with cars that excel in their field. I’ve genuinely not known a better time in motoring history to be in the market for a new vehicle as you’re pretty much spoilt for choice.
But while there’s often car which excel at being sporty, for example, there’s often a down-side in practicality or price.
And there are big, spacious cars which are brilliant at being big and spacious cars but often the price is paid in frugality or driver involvement.
And then, every now and again, there’s a great all-rounder. A car that ticks numerous boxes and does pretty much everything really well.
And once in a while these cars are un-necessarily under-rated and fall below the radar somewhat. And so we arrive at the Kia Optima Sportswagon Estate.
The word “sportswagon”, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a daft way of labelling it an estate car. I’ve noticed lots of companies these days are pulling this stunt and I think it’s because estate cars are a bit out-of-fashion. I’ve no idea why, incidentally, to my mind estate cars are the ultimate practical, comfortable and useful tools for every day drivers.
However, first things first, just look at the Optima Sportswagon. It is a dashingly handsome thing. I can’t think of any estate cars on sale right now, short of those bearing a three-pointed star, which are more attractive. If there was one car which visually embodied the honest truth that Kia is on the form of its life, this should be it.
It’s nice inside too. It’s hardly a secret these days that Kia builds cars very well and this is extremely evident from the driver’s seat. There’s plenty of leather, beautiful fit and finishes just about everywhere you look and a genuinely expensive, high-quality feel.
The design of the interior layout is predictable and safe, rather than outlandish, but that’s fine. Kia wants this to be a car which blends a sporty feel with a practical purpose and they’ve got it all down to a tee.
It doesn’t take long, either, to realise just how much you get for your money. While the price of Kia ownership seems to be keeping pace with the leaps and bounds of its build quality and status, it still neatly undercuts the sector’s big hitters, such as the Volksagen Passat.
It’s significantly cheaper than offerings by the holy trinity of BMW, Audi and Mercedes and, to be honest, you’ll not find a lot of difference reading through the spec-sheets. The difference, however, is in the cost of applying all this kit. In the case of the three Germans, adding gadgets can be a very expensive hobby. Whereas with the Kia, it’s pretty much all part of the package.
This means that for just over £30,000 you could have a vehicle with the same spec as a £40,000-£50,000 Merc. And that makes for important bragging rights among the business set at which this car is squarely aimed.
There are shortcomings, of course. There’s only one engine. It’s a diesel and it’s pretty good but you’ll find better engines and significantly more choice in all of its rivals.
It’s also, despite the sporty looks, the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the seven-speed double-clutch gearbox and big, showy alloy wheels, not very exciting to drive. You’ll have a lot more fun in a BMW.
That’s not to say it’s dull, however. The gearbox is excellent, the seats are very supportive and, although the ride could be better, the chassis always feels secure when it’s pushed.
The 139bhp 1.7-litre engine gives adequate performance, if not quite enough, although 40mpg and more is achievable and emissions are a respectable 120g/km.
Boot and cabin space is impressive. There are bigger boots, and more roomy seats to be had in other cars, but a 552-litre boot is not to be sniffed at in such a sporty-looking car and, with the split-folding seats down, you’ll hardly struggle to fit things in.
To keep pace with the automotive top brass you’ll be treated, in the top-spec GT-line model, to a panoramic sunroof, as well as a satnav, adaptive cruise control, climate control, a rear-view camera, automatic braking systems, rear-cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring as well as automatic dipping headlights and a powered tailgate.
Best of all, you’ll also get Kia’s undefeated seven-year, 100,000 mile warranty.
So it’s not quite the Jack of all trades but it’s certainly not a master of none. While it does have a few shortcomings the Optima Sportswagon is a brilliant all-rounder.
And while it’s not perhaps the obvious choice in this sector, for its price and given the array of standard equipment – not to mention that warranty – it’s certainly the clever choice.