Our photographer has just moved all his gear into a Kia Optima Sportswagon for the next few months. What’s it like?
SUVs are all the rage nowadays, but the estate car still has a part to play as the original family carryall. You might not realise it, as they don’t shout about it, but Kia does a big estate for about the same money as a well-specified Sportage: the Optima Sportswagon.
Estate cars can actually be more practical than SUVs, as like for like they’ll generally have bigger boots, lower emissions and better claimed fuel economy. They should also handle more neatly because they have a lower centre of gravity.
Our photographer is hoping all that’s true, as he’ll be running around in this Temptation Red example for the next few months.
Competing with the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb, the Sportswagon is a handsome car, partly because Kia has swapped space for appearance by giving it an angled tailgate. Even so, it’s not short of cargo room. Its 552 litres is right on the money compared to the similarly priced Mondeo and the less expensive Insignia Sports Tourer. Better yet, the Sportswagon has standard 40/20/40 split rear seats operated either by two remote boot levers or in the conventional manner by rear seatback catches.
For photographers, this facility is very handy when four passengers and a ladder need to be taken to a shoot. In that scenario, the Superb beats the Kia on rear seat leg and head room ample, but then again the Superb beats most cars in that department. Only super-tall folk might mention the room in the back of the Sportswagon.
There’s only one Sportswagon engine choice, and that’s the 1.7-litre diesel. It’s been around for a while now, and is small for the class, but the combination of low fuel consumption and big 70-litre fuel tank should be useful for a high-miles photographer. With 139bhp, it gets up and down motorways in a fuss-free if not electrically quick fashion with just the driver on board. It’s decently smooth at idle and in cruise mode. Extending it to its highest revs reveals a degree of grittiness, but there’s little point in doing that as the acceleration drops off. Much better to let the gearbox do its best to keep the engine in its healthier midrange.
Our car has the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic option rather than the standard six-speed manual. On the move, it shifts smoothly enough, but at low speeds it’s sometimes a little reticent. Wheel-mounted paddle shifters are standard and useful.
Comfort is fine over most obstacles, though expansion joints will make themselves felt. Less satisfactory is the imprecise steering, which requires the driver to make plenty of corrections to keep it going straight ahead. The shortage of feel doesn’t help in cornering either. At least body roll is well contained but this isn’t really a car you’d take out for a country road drive just for the hell of it.
As you’d expect from a Kia, all Sportwagons are well equipped. Our mid-spec ‘3’ trim car has distinctive 18in alloy wheels, privacy glass (again useful for a photographer), electric lumbar support on the driver’s seat, heated front seats, a bigger 8in sat-nav touchscreen, lane-keep assist and a meatily upgraded Harmon Kardon stereo system.
Those front seats are nicely supportive. Partial faux leather trim sounds a bit naff but is actually OK, unlike the bogus dashboard stitching that’s moulded into the plastic. That’s intended to add class, but it has the reverse effect.
It’s early days for our snapper and his Sportswagon, but he’s already preferring it to its predecessor, a Hyundai Ioniq. He’s finding that the running costs are about the same but the loadspace is a lot more usable and the cabin design more livable than the overstyled Ioniq’s.