Five minutes with a Kia Optima Sportswagon

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What is it?

The sort of vehicle that used to be the mainstay of company car lists a few years back, until the likes of the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class took over.

The Kia Optima is the Korean company’s D-segment competitor, which makes it a Ford Mondeo-sized car – a class of vehicle that was previously used either as a family car, or the ideal form of long-distance transport for travelling sales reps.

Why are you driving it?

Because Kia admits it has made the Optima Sportswagon primarily to appeal to business users, making the range very easy to understand – there’s just one engine, the 1.7-litre CRDi unit rated at 141hp and 340Nm, two gearboxes and three trim levels.

Base ‘2’ Optimas can only have the six-speed manual transmission, the mid-spec ‘3’ comes with the manual as standard but with the option of the seven-speed DCT automatic, while this top-ranking GT-Line S is DCT only.

That actually makes it a little less accelerative and also thirstier than the manual cars, although of course this range-topper has the sharpest exterior looks.

What do you like about it?

This is Kia’s first attempt at an Optima estate (Sportswagon is just the company’s term for such a machine) in the 17 years, the model has been on sale but you wouldn’t know it.

This is a supremely rounded car with a good high-speed ride, impressive noise suppression and a decent drivetrain.

We also think it looks absolutely fantastic, better than the four-door on which it is based, and the cabin is of a quality that’s getting up there with the best in class.

Perhaps the GT-Line S Optima’s finest party trick, though, is the absolutely phenomenal level of standard equipment. Apart from the classy red paint (a £545 option), everything else on this car is fitted as part of the still-reasonable £31,140 list price.

We’re talking genuine, high-end luxuries here, like adaptive cruise control, automatic main beam with cornering LED headlights, leather upholstery that’s heated for four of the seats and also features cooling fans in the front chairs, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera, wireless ‘Qi’ phone charging, a panoramic sunroof and an utterly brilliant 490-watt Harman Kardon premium sound system.

There’s much, much more to list but sadly, we’re running out of space.

Any issues?

Well, with its beautiful 18-inch alloy wheels and a pretence of sportiness, the low-speed ride is not as impressive as the Kia’s comportment on motorways and dual carriageways.

It’s as if the damping has been set up to work perfectly in that zone between 70- and 80mph, rather than at all speeds.

And despite this firm suspension, as well the beefy looks and Sportswagon name, the Optima is not very thrilling to drive.

It’s let down chiefly by three-setting multimode steering that isn’t particularly good whether you’re in Eco, Normal or Sport.

Other than that, though, the Sportswagon GT-Line S is a very easy car to use, and therefore a very easy car to like.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

As mentioned earlier, Kia has set this up to appeal to fleet managers, so it has installed its smaller 1.7-litre CRDi engine, rather than the 2.0-litre turbodiesel it has elsewhere in its product range.

That means the Optima Sportswagon GT-Line S, despite being the worst model of the four variants available for fuel economy and CO2 emissions, is still in lowly VED Band C – meaning no tax to pay for the first 12 months and just £30 annually thereafter; register one after April 1, 2017, though, and those figures rise to £160 and £140 respectively.

Its huge standard specification should help with residual values when it comes to resale time, the Kia sits in a competitive 24 per cent BIK bracket and, of course, it comes with the unbeatable 100,000-mile/seven-year manufacturer’s warranty. It is, in essence, an extremely safe business buy.

Where does it rank in class right now?

Dynamically, the Kia is maybe not quite top of the class, as there are some heavyweights like the aforementioned Mondeo and the elegant Volkswagen Passat Estate in the Optima Sportswagon’s segment.

But when you factor in the astonishing amount of equipment you get for your money and a real feeling of quality permeating everything the Kia does, then this GT-Line S is one of the first cars we’d recommend you look at if you’re after something that isn’t an Audi, BMW or Merc.

It really is that strong an all-rounder.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Kia Optima Sportswagon 1.7 CRDi GT-Line S DCT ISG
  • Price: starts from £22,295; GT-Line S from £30,595, car as tested £31,140
  • Drivetrain: 1.7-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, seven-speed DCT automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
  • Economy: 61.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 120g/km – £0 VED first 12 months, £30 annually thereafter, if registered before April 1, 2017/£160 first 12 months, £140 annually thereafter if registered post-April 1, 2017; 24% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 124mph
  • 0-62mph: 11.0 seconds
  • Power: 141hp at 4,000rpm
  • Torque: 340Nm at 1,750- to 2,500rpm