As my friends never cease to point out, I do quite like a Kia. The Optima is a car I have driven several times over the years, and have generally been impressed. It is now available as an estate car and I do quite like those too. Called the Optima Sportswagon it aims to bring even more practicality and versatility to the spacious saloon. But at present there is still only one engine choice, albeit with the option of a 7-speed DCT gearbox. The Sportswagon brings with it a new trim level; the GT-Line S, so I grabbed one for a week to see what it had to offer. Would the small engine take away from the ‘GT’ element? Is the Optima too big? I set about finding the answers…
Looks – 9/10
I like the styling of the Optima. And the Sportswagon does no damage to the styling. If anything, I actually prefer the estate version. The GT-Line S is a sporty trim, so you get a bigger, more aggressive front bumper to compliment the angular headlights and sleek bonnet. The radar gadgetry is well-hidden at the bottom, whilst the 3D chrome grille is a twist on the traditional honeycomb. To the side 18-inch alloys are almost a little underwhelming on such a big car whilst chrome window surround and handle faces compliment silver roof rails and lower side skirt. At the back you get a shark-fin aerial, roof spoiler, prominent diffuser and a large oval exhaust either side. It may be a giant, but the Optima Sportswagon seems well-proportioned. It stands out, but isn’t in your face. Kia has done a great job with the styling; giving the Optima a sporty edge.
The interior has also been revamped for the GT-Line S. Kia has gone down the quintessential sports car checklist and made sure the Optima complies. Flat-bottomed, chunky steering wheel. Check. Black leather sports seats with contrast red stitching. Check. Aluminium sports pedals. Check. Steering wheel gear shift paddles. Check. The cabin of the Optima is fantastic. The plastics are nice quality. Everything feels well put together. There are no rattles, no squeaks, and no scratchy surfaces. The dashboard itself may not be leather, but there’s a stitched effect that makes it appear as though it is. The dials are simple: black background, red needles and white dials. But they are a crisp TFT display which is pleasing on the eye. The 8-inch multimedia screen is nicely integrated in the centre of the dashboard, and all the switchgear is logically laid out.
Handling/Performance – 7/10
So we come to performance. And I was dreading writing this part. I feel like I am repeating myself. This is the third Optima I have tested. And it is the third with a 1.7-litre diesel engine. I would choose to test a different one. But for one thing: there is only one choice. Power is an underwhelming 141PS and 340Nm of torque. There is something new- the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) is a gem, and helps eek the most out of the power on offer. The Optima will do 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 124mph. That’s not exactly GT-Line performance. And yet. On the motorway this thing is a runaway mine train. You really have to pay attention and watch your speed, or it will cruise at 90mph. Comfortably. Despite an apparent lack of power the Optima had an annoying feature of slipping a wheel if you accelerate with a bit of lock on. In truth, the GT-Line S blows hot and cold with looks vs. performance. I just wish Kia would stop messing around and give us a proper GT!
If you made an assumption based on the looks of the Optima Sportswagon, which is the size of a cruise ship, you may be forgiven for thinking it handles like one too. But it doesn’t. On bumpy roads it is composed. The steering, in Sport mode, is nicely weighted and responsive. The paddles behind the steering wheel give a more involved drive, and allow you to work that 1.7-litre engine to the max. It might weigh a hefty 1,770kg, but it stops well too. Body roll is minimal, and the sports seats hold you in place. And actually, because the engine isn’t overly powerful, you can go on maximum attack for longer periods of time. I don’t know how, but the 141PS estate car is a hoot and a half on the local A-roads. Once you get to grips with judging its width that is.
Economy – 10/10
I may sound like I’m being a little negative towards the little 1.7-litre engine, but this does bring with it a benefit when it comes to fuel economy. With start stop technology to save fuel when stationery, and the DCT gearbox being more efficient than a conventional automatic, the Optima can offer some impressive returns. Combined fuel consumption is 61.4mpg; impressive for a vehicle the size of a cruise liner. CO2 emissions of 120g/km mean a first year road tax of £160, followed by a flat rate £140. That’s under the new rules for cars registered after 1 April 2017, which somewhat level the playing field when it comes to road tax.
Practicality – 10/10
Now if you have read my review of the Optima, then you will know it is a vast and spacious car. So when you take that car and give it a gigantic boot, then you only make it more practical. If I could score it an 11 or a 12, I would. The Optima has some of the most generous rear legroom in any car you will see. The level of equipment on the GT-Line S is exhaustive. Satellite navigation, voice recognition, wireless phone charging, Smart Park Assist System (Parallel, perpendicular and departure parking assistance), 360-degree parking camera, blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. The Kia feels like an everyday-man’s best friend. It’s the most luxurious, safe, well-equipped car for the family but at a fraction of the cost of its German rivals.
Fun – 7/10
When it comes to driver appeal, the Kia is somewhat lacking. There just isn’t enough excitement in the 1.7-litre diesel. With the all-new Stinger GT on the horizon, Kia is showing itself to have some sporty genes after all. So why not heat up the Optima a bit? Even a 200PS diesel would make a huge difference. But what about keeping you happy behind the wheel? Well the GT-Line S does have a lot going for it. The stereo is Harmon Kardon, so you get your favourite tunes in high quality. The flat-bottomed steering wheel and bright instrument cluster is engaging and eye catching. The Sportswagon looks great in a car park, and your friends will all be terribly impressed with the creature comforts on offer. Now Kia, drop the “Line” and give us a proper GT…
I have to say that my week with the Optima Sportswagon was a relatively busy one. Long-haul motorway slogs, short nips into town; I covered it all. And I have to say that the Kia was a great companion. I think the estate looks better than the saloon, and with the sporty styling it was right up my street. The engine is underpowered in some respects, but feels like a runaway train in others. I think the DCT gearbox is a big improvement, but it isn’t quite slick as the VW-Audi DSG offerings. What makes the Sportswagon desirable is the amount of technology included. This car is fully loaded, and is therefore a great car to live with. Don’t forget there’s a 7-year warranty for peace of mind. The GT-Line S DCT comes in at £30,595; reasonable when you start to consider what would be “optional” on rival cars. For more information log on to the Kia website or visit a local dealer. And if you can live with the small diesel, you’ll not regret it. If not… wait for the Stinger GT!
Total Score – 43/50