Who doesn’t love an estate car? Eh, most people it seems! Despite the estate form being praised by critics, the buying public in Ireland has never really taken to them! Generally in Ireland ‘wagons’ account for between 5 and 15 per cent of a model’s sales – and that’s only when they’re available. Many manufacturers stick to hatch and saloon variants and rule out an estate on cost grounds. In Europe the estate car has always been very popular. Cars like the Focus sell in greater numbers in estate form than in hatchback. In the last few years the phenomenal rise of the SUV as a vehicle type has undermined estates further. The SUV crossover with its elevated driving position, affordable asking price and low running costs has pushed the practical estate further into the shadows of niche motoring. Historically there has always been a price premium with estate cars and this has made them a more considered purchase. The truth is estates are the most honest form of motoring – and often more than not their design is more enduring.
We were brought to Munich to test the new Kia Optima Sportswagon estate plus to have a closer look at its hybrid offering and the hot 245hp GT Optima.
Optima is already one of the best looking executive machines out there. A recent facelift and the 1.7 litre diesel tuned to push out 141hp has freshened up the front wheel drive machine considerably. Optima features some really smart lines and styling that gives the four door real road presence in a market dominated by the Mondeo, Avensis and Passat estates. The wagon’s exterior is handsome and the proportions work – despite having very little rear three quarter side glass on show when compared to a Mondeo or Passat estate. We took a GT Line version out first and with its twin rear exhaust and diffuser it clearly looked the part.
Inside the Sportswagon is identical to the four door with the obvious addition of better rear headroom thanks to the long roofline. Tons of options were fitted to our test car and we even enjoyed the cooled seats up front. After a brief and very pleasant drive we got the keys to the new plug in hybrid Optima PHEV – a car that as I write is unlikely to come to Ireland due to its expected relatively high price. That said Kia Ireland has not made a definite decision on it yet. The petrol/electric car features some distinctive exterior styling with blue metallic highlights to mark it out as an exceptional Optima. The bumpers and grille are distinctive and exclusive to it. The grille is ‘active’ and opens and shuts depending on the ambient temperature and aerodynamic requirements. The grille helps reduce drag, from .27 to a class leading .25 when shut. On long journeys this helps reduce fuel consumption. Power comes from a 2 litre petrol engine – now there’s a change from the staple 1.7 litre Kia diesel engine Irish buyers are used to! The electric motor combines to deliver and output of 205hp and 375nm of torque. Electric only drive range is circa 55km and the power is delivered through an automatic DSG gearbox. We found the ride a little too firm, plus on our test route we didn’t achieve anything like the impressive fuel consumption Kia claims. We did drive it on a test track also and the EV performance, on its own, did impress. As with all plug in hybrids it is what you do with the car daily that determines how well it fits your life. It should be a hit with business users due to its low CO2 rating (37g) that reduces BIK (benefit in kind tax).
Next we took to an airfield test track to throw around Kia’s most powerful production car in Europe, the GT. While Kia’s sister company Hyundai is developing some new high powered engines, the 245hp and 353nm delivered through a DSG auto is as powerful as the Korean firm is going for now. We were able to chuck the spacious Optima about with confidence while enjoying the artificially enhance engine note. Sadly with a high 191g CO2 figure, the GT won’t, for now, make it to our shores… it is however a lovely, stealthy quick machine!
Ultimately the car that impressed most was the humble one Ireland is getting – the standard 1.7 litre diesel with the manual gearbox for €29,950. It did all we asked of it without fuss and was a quiet and refined motorway cruiser. We manage to hit 225kph on the autobahn, some 20kph higher than it’s quoted top speed and cruise all day long at 180/200kph with ease – while being able to talk without raising our voices. In a full year Kia Ireland expects to sell 200-250 Sportswagons out of a total of 700 Optima sales expect in 2017. Sportswagon comes in one special EX trim level that includes lane keeping assist, speed limit and traffic signal recognition, 18 inch alloys, sat nav with smart phone integration (CarPlay & Android Auto), rear privacy glass, rain sensors and climate control.
We like the practical Optima Sportwagon… quite a bit.