Kia Optima Sportswagon review
Kia's new Optima Sportswagon really pulls off the square-jawed handsome thing, plus it's practical, useful and not at all bad to drive.
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe

Published on August 30, 2016

Kia's entry to the mid-size estate car market is a typically well-thought-out product: smooth, well-equipped, of high quality and very handsome. Most Irish buyers will shun it in favour of a more fashionable Sportage SUV, but they're the ones who are missing out...

In the metal

Kia says that the gorgeous Sportspace concept car, which was shown off in Frankfurt last year, and the production-ready Optima Sportswagon estate were designed side-by-side, so that efforts expended on one would influence the other. And it shows - while the ultra-clean lines of the Sportspace are unsurprisingly a little prettier than those of the production model, the Sportswagon is certainly a very good looking thing, and the estate body looks every bit as good, perhaps even a little better, than that of the more familiar Optima saloon.

It's practical too, but perhaps only just practical enough - boot space is rated at 522 litres and while that's superior to both the Optima saloon and the similarly priced Sportage SUV, it's significantly less than you'd find in a Skoda Superb Combi and indeed less than you get in the more compact Skoda Octavia Combi. Still, the space is well used - it's flat and square and with some useful optional rails, nets and luggage organisers.

Space in the back seats is very good. Again, a little less gargantuan than that available in the rival Skoda, but certainly sufficient for even tall adults. Up front, there's really no change from the saloon and the layout is clean, simple, business-like and comfortable. Indeed, Kia seems to have bumped up the overall quality of the Optima's fixture and fittings compared to the saloon. We definitely detected cabin plastics and switches that felt nicer to the touch than those of the last four-door Optima we drove.

Driving it

The Optima is one of those cars that simply doesn't put a foot wrong, dynamically speaking, but perhaps lacks the magical sparkle effect of some rivals. Spend time with it, and the Sportswagon starts to work its way into your affections with the un-showy yet effective way it goes about interpreting your driving commands, but it's not a razzle-dazzle drivers' car.

The steering, slightly recalibrated for the estate version, feels mostly good, but it's a little too light in the weighting and too short on feedback for fun. The Optima handles crisply and cleanly and is best sampled in this basic EX spec, where a lack of over-sized wheels and sports suspension options means that the ride is at its best. Kia will in due course offer a GT-Line version, which amps up the body styling and offers supposedly more sporty options, but to be honest we reckon you're as well off with the standard car.

The 1.7-litre diesel engine is fine. It growls a little too obviously when you ask for acceleration, but its overall economy is good (55mpg should be easily managed and it even managed to break the 40mpg barrier despite some very brisk Autobahn driving on the launch event...) and the low 113g/km emissions figure is a reassuring one. Performance is very good, too. Acceleration is brisk and while the 340Nm torque figure seems a little on the low side, the Optima picks up nicely through the gears. Indeed, on one long, downhill and unrestricted stretch of Autobahn, we saw an indicated speed of 223km/h. That's 20km/h above the claimed maximum and the Sportswagon rolled along, rock-steady, for long stretches at 190km/h or more. For the sort of long motorway miles most of these fleet-friendly cars will do, it's close to ideal.

What you get for your money

A starting price of €29,950 is decent for the EX version of the Optima, and one that both undercuts many of its most obvious rivals, and still comes with lots of standard equipment. EX is the only trim that Kia Ireland will import for the moment, with a six-speed manual gearbox, but GT-Line will eventually be available, as will the option of a seven-speed dual-cutch automatic. Don't expect lots of pricey model variants though; Kia's policy in Ireland is to keep things simple, and too much extra equipment would, so the marketing bods reckon, push the Sportswagon too close to the orbit of the Sorento SUV.

Standard equipment on the EX will include a seven-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, satnav (with seven years of map updates included), Android Auto and Apple Car Play, privacy glass, rain sensing wipers and more. It's well-equipped enough that you won't feel the need to dive into the options list too much, and such safety equipment as a lane-keeping assistant and traffic sign recognition will be standard alongside seven airbags. Not on the standard list are such safety items as autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and blind spot detection, although all are available as options. Why not standard? Simple - the imposition of both VRT and VAT on such high-tech safety items would push the car's price too high for comfort, something which should be a source of shame to both the Department of Finance and the Road Safety Authority.


Ford Mondeo Estate: equal to the Kia in styling, and slightly sharper to drive, but can't compete on equipment nor outright quality.

Mazda6 Tourer: devilishly handsome Mazda estate is great to drive and very roomy, but expensive compared to the Optima.

Skoda Superb Combi: gargantuan interior makes it the practical choice and it can pretty much match the Kia blow-for-blow in value terms. Some question marks over build quality though.


It's a sad fact that the Optima Sportswagon will be outsold by its similarly-priced Sportage stablemate by a factor of ten. Kia expects only around 250 at most of the Optima's circa 800 annual customers will go for this handsome estate, as compared to the 2,000-odd who will buy a Sportage. The fact is though that it is the Optima that represents much better value, is better to drive, better looking (arguably) and much more practical. Ignore the horde; buy one of these instead of an SUV.