Car review: Is new Kia your Optima car?

By Steve Berry

IF you are in the market for a large, family-friendly, hybrid vehicle but really do not want to jump on the SUV bandwagon then Kia may have the answer in their recently face-lifted Optima Sportswagon PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle).

Now with a redesigned lower front bumper, with the addition of LED daytime running lights, the Optima Sportswagon looks bang up-to-date.

The range of grades has been expanded to two, with a new ‘PHEV Plus’ grade providing additional equipment.

Prices start at £34,995 OTR for the PHEV and £38,995 OTR for the PHEV Plus.

I have been driving the standard PHEV and I wanted for nothing during a 600-mile trip to Scotland and back, with comfort-levels being particularly good for long-distance driving.

Space is plentiful in the light and airy cabin. Although there is some evidence of cheaper plastics low down, the Optima feels much more premium
than functional.

Standard equipment is impressive,  including: heated front seats and steering wheel, LED headlights, 8in touchscreen with Sat Nav, Kia Connected Services with Tom Tom traffic, Bluetooth music streaming, DAB radio, front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera, dual-zone air conditioning, smart cruise control, engine start/stop button, lane keep assist and speed limit warning.

The touchscreen features additional menus to help the driver achieve the maximum all-electric driving range. It provides information on the batteries, nearby charging stations, energy use and the mileage expected from the energy remaining in the batteries.

The drivetrain combines a 152bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine with a 50kW (66bhp) electric motor powered by an 11.26kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack. The electric motor replaces the torque converter in the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission and when working together, the combustion engine and electric motor generate 202bhp and 375Nm of torque which means you will find plenty of oomph when needed and most towing scenarios will be well-catered for.

With a range of up to 33 miles in all-electric mode, the hybrid is able to complete many commuter runs with no tailpipe emissions at all, while its CO2 figure of just 33g/km means company car users pay just 13 per cent benefit-in-kind taxation in 2018-19.

But is the Optima Sportswagon PHEV going to save you money?

If your commute is less than 15 miles each way you may never need to use any petrol but, unlike a fully electric vehicle, you have the petrol engine for longer journeys without having to stop for a ‘charge’.

However, you will never see the claimed combined economy of 201.8 mpg unless most of your journeys are in electric-vehicle (EV) mode or downhill using the regenerative brakes.

Speaking of brakes, I found the brake feel a little strange at first. It does not feel consistent throughout the push of the pedal and this is because the system is ‘reaping’ back some energy to put back into the battery. You soon get used to it though and watching your EV range increase as you brake is very satisfying.

Space in the rear is particularly good despite the sloping roofline and with rear doors that open nice and wide it should be easy to lift child seats in and out.

The neat integration of the batteries in the boot floor means the plug-in hybrid offers a generous 440 litres of luggage capacity with all seats upright, or 1,574 litres when the rear seats are lowered.

To compensate for the additional weight imposed by the battery pack, the all-independent suspension has been specially tuned.

The subframe-mounted suspension remains unchanged, but the springs, dampers and alignment have been retuned. The result is decent handling for such a large vehicle and a ride which is cosseting rather than sporty.

Driving the Optima Sportswagon PHEV is a pleasure and I love the way it pulls away silently in EV mode – even when the petrol unit kicks in you will hardly notice as it is particularly quiet.

Likewise, on the motorway the Optima has very subdued levels of road noise. There is virtually no wind noise and the only extraneous noise comes from the tyres on rougher surfaces.

The steering feel is very light, especially around town, but it does weight-up at higher speeds and I did not find I had to constantly give steering inputs to stay in lane on the motorway.

The Kia Optima Sportswagon PHEV won’t thrill you but it does feel more like a driver’s car than the equivalent hybrid-SUV because it handles more like a saloon around faster, twistier roads.

Overall the Optima Sportswagon PHEV offers all the space and practicality of a large estate but tags on the pleasure of EV driving and the savings it can reap if your regular commute is modest.

Don’t forget it also comes with Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile transferable warranty too.

RATING: *****

AT A GLANCE: Kia Optima Sportswagon PHEV

OTR Price: £34,995
Engine: 2.0 GDi petrol plus electric motor
Power: 202 bhp
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic
0-62mph: 9.4 secs
Top Speed: 119 mph
Combined Economy: 201.8 mpg
C02: 33 g/km

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