Wagons are cool, right? There’s a definite trend towards practicality among new car buyers in the UK. Just look at the success of crossovers, and we’re increasingly buying more estates than conventional D-segment saloons.
But, until now, Kia has never sold an estate version of its Mondeo-rivalling Optima. And that might go some way towards explaining why it’s never sold particularly well.
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Having cashed in on its seven-year warranty and exceptional value for money, Kia (along with sister brand Hyundai) is gradually attempting a move upmarket. When it revealed its Sportspace concept, it was clear change was on the horizon.
Not only was the Optima-previewing concept absolutely drop-dead gorgeous (something the Optima has never previously been), it was also shooting brake in shape.
When Kia revealed the new Optima at Geneva 2016, it was no surprise, then, to see an estate (or ‘Sportswagon’ in Kia terminology – SW for short) in the line-up. In fact, the firm says it expects around three quarters of all Optimas sold in the UK will be the wagon.
The new Optima SW certainly looks the part, but should you buy one over a rival such as the Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb? We’re spending six months putting it to the test.
Report 2: everything we rate (and hate) about life with the Kia Optima SW
I’ve done a lot of miles in the Kia Optima since I introduced it to the MR long-term test fleet. I could write a lengthy piece about how good it was for driving to Wales for Christmas duties (hence the picture of it looking filthy above), how a Nordic Fir slotted into the boot and how it copes brilliantly with the daily grind, but you probably know all that. So I thought I’d do one of those trendy listicles about what I like and dislike about the Optima SW.
Good things about life with the Kia Optima SW
The seats are brilliant
OK, it might sound like a silly, minor thing. All cars have relatively comfortable seats, right, especially if you spend more than £30,000 on the top-spec leather-trimmed GT-Line variant? Well, yeah, but I eternally find myself aching after a long stint in pretty much any Volkswagen Group product (I think I’m the wrong shape for German seats). In the Optima, I’m as fresh as the proverbial daisy even after a slog of several hundred miles.
My mates like it
Yeah, this is an odd one. I’m a 20-something car writer type whose mates should appreciate Civic Type Rs and other hooligan specials. But, without fail, they love being driven about in the Optima. That’s probably because it feels safe and I don’t even bother trying to drive it fast. Also…
The sound system is really good
I’m no audio snob, but all grades of the Optima SW from the ‘3’ up feature a Harman Kardon sound system. The speakers (eight in total) do a commendable job of mimicking a premium car’s sound system. Combine this with Spotify through my phone (we’ll come onto that shortly…) and the Kia becomes a mobile disco.
The gearbox is slick
While rivals such as the Mazda 6 and Vauxhall Insignia stick with conventional automatic gearboxes, the Kia Optima gets a more upmarket dual-clutch transmission. This makes for faster gear changes – and it works brilliantly. Just don’t bother with ‘eco’ mode unless you’re motorway cruising (another thing I’ll come onto shortly).
It looks great
Finally, look at it. This doesn’t look like a downmarket offering – it attracts loads of admiring glances, especially in Temptation Red. While I’m not sure about the chintzy grille, the rest of it looks great – particularly from the rear.
Bad things about life with the Kia Optima SW
It likes a beep
Turn the ignition on without putting your seatbelt on and it beeps. Run low on washer fluid and it beeps. Drive in cold conditions and it beeps. Stand near the boot and it beeps (before the electronic tailgate, standard on the GT-Line S, starts opening). I find beeps infuriating yet Korean and Japanese cars love them.
The reversing camera gets muddy easily
At this time of year, cars get filthy pretty quickly. Normally I’m the sort who doesn’t bother cleaning their car over winter (what’s the point when it gets dirty again so soon), but the Optima’s reversing camera (standard on all models) and clever 360-degree around view monitor (standard on the GT Line S) means I’m having to clean the Optima almost weekly. The cameras get covered in the dirt extremely easily, and there’s no washer system like on some models.
The steering is too light
No, I don’t expect super-direct steering, but the Kia Optima’s steering is so light just keeping it on the straight ahead is a bit of an effort. Feedback is non-existent, while putting in sports mode makes things heavier but not particularly communicative. Talking of which: sports mode holds onto the revs for too long, while eco mode is frustrating – roundabouts particularly (“are you sure you want to pull out rapidly,” the car says, “think of the trees!”). Why can’t I have ‘normal’ mode with slightly heavier steering?
It has a puncture repair kit
I recently got a puncture in the Optima. I can’t really blame the Kia for that, but I can blame it for having a rubbish ‘tyre mobility kit’ that only worked long enough for me to limp seven miles to my nearest ATS Euromaster. Said ATS Euromaster were too busy to fit me in for a couple of days, meaning I had to abandon the Kia in their car park and get the train. Give me a full size spare any day.
There’s no Apple CarPlay… yet
I’m a huge fan of Apple CarPlay, and if I was a company car driver looking for an estate car to cover long distances, CarPlay would be high on the list of priorities. Curiously, the Optima Sportswagon is available with Android Auto but not Apple CarPlay. It’s on its way, apparently, but I do miss it on our long-termer.
Introduction: Kia Optima SW 1.7 CRDi GT-Line S estate
Car company bosses often seem ashamed to admit that they’re targeting company car drivers with a new model. The suggestion that private buyers won’t be stumping up their own cold, hard cash upfront for a car is frowned upon.
Kia’s different. It accepts that business users make up the vast majority of buyers in this segment – no one buys a new Ford Mondeo for themselves. More than 80% of Optima buyers will be business users, and that’s why it’s kept things simple, offering just two efficient engines.
You can pick from a 1.7-litre diesel (emitting 113g/km CO2, meaning 19% company car tax), or a plug-in hybrid (37g/km CO2). There’s no petrol, for now – although a high-performance GT is set to follow in 2017.
We’ve opted for the diesel and, out of the four models on offer, we’ve chosen the top-spec GT-Line S. This comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard (resulting in a rise in emissions to 120g/km). With a £30,595 price tag, is it an overpriced Korean estate or a genuine premium go-getter?
First impressions suggest this could be the car for shedding Kia’s ‘Asda Price’ image – it’s absolutely loaded with kit. Highlights include 18-inch alloys, an openable panoramic sunroof and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system incorporating sat-nav and Android Auto connectivity (but not Apple CarPlay, yet). It even has a wireless phone charger.
Oh, and there are plenty of comforts to make the upcoming winter months more bearable: think heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats (er…), and leather upholstery with red stitching.
While the inside certainly does a good impression of a premium vehicle, the exterior makes many rivals look bland. With more than a passing resemblance to the concept on which it’s based, we’ve already noticed passers-by taking a second glance. That wouldn’t happen in a Skoda Superb.
Will our positive first impressions continue as we spend more time with the Kia Optima? We’ll be living with it for six months to find out.
BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part four
Economy again, but this one was a surprise. Because I really wasn’t trying, honest. It was mainly through boredom driving through a 50mph zone on the M5 motorway that saw me flicking through the BMW’s trip computer. I stopped at the average mpg display, surprised: it was showing 77mpg.
77mpg! Honestly, I wasn’t trying. But if I can accidentally do that, I thought, what happens if I continue this relaxed driving? So, when the roadworks cleared, I cruised for the next 10 miles. Not going overly slowly, but sticking to around 55-60mph, ducking in and out of the trucks, smoothing progress as much as I could.
At Strensham services, I took stock. Total journey was just under 50 miles. I’d been in economy mode for, ooh, about 20% of that. Overall mpg? Check this out.
Yes, 82.8mpg. Way above this 320d ED Plus auto’s official figure of 68.9mpg – and far in excess of the usual 10% correction figure we generally advise people take off their fuel computer figure to allow for tolerances and speedo error.
With no special tricks and no hard-to-use techniques, I smashed the government figure on a sunny M5 early one Friday morning. Which has now got me thinking – if I can do that partly without trying, what can it hit if I really do go into economy mode?
I’d say it’s one to put to the test over the next few weeks, but that’s perhaps enough for economy for now, don’t you think? Think I’ve deserved a press of the Sport button and a few back-road blasts – cue an early morning charge down to the Goodwood for the 74th Members’ Meeting this coming weekend…
BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part three
‘So how’s the fuel economy of your BMW 320d ED Plus going,’ people sometimes ask me (OK, perhaps they don’t say the ‘ED Plus’ mouthful bit…), perhaps knowing I’m a bit of an mpg geek and love the challenge of hypermiling. Oh, pretty good, I cooly say…
It’s better than pretty good. It’s exceptional. Take one day last week: I cruised down to the office with the trip computer zeroed and, 100 miles of motorway later, I clicked on the magic number: 72mpg. Better than official combined, that, even if the likely optimism of the computer wouldn’t quite have achieved this.
A few weeks later, I checked again. Another reset, another cruise down the M6 and M1. Result? A glittering 77.1mpg – and, even allowing for the likely few percent optimism of the computer, this was more than likely better than average. See – it can be done!
I wasn’t suffering for it either. The climate control was on. I wasn’t driving ultra-slowly. I wasn’t fit to burst by the end of the trip. Simply driving gently and enjoying all that’s nice about this rear-drive saloon that can also do 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and quickly raise a smile on a back road. Why wouldn’t you?
Is the 320d ED all about economy then?
I had a few days in a Ford Focus recently. Great car, although I’m not sure how ‘eco’ the Ecoboost engine is – 70mpg means I’m disappointed by 40mpg, particularly when it should be doing 60+mpg.
Anyhoo, the Focus is a great car, with a chassis oozing ability and composure. I enjoyed it a lot.
Then got back in the BMW and re-appreciated its feel-good driving position, tight steering, well-balanced chassis and, most of all, the sophisticated absorbency of the optional adaptive dampers.
Like the Focus, it’s firm – but there’s also compliance and cushioning there, with highly sophisticated body control that’s beyond what passive dampers could achieve, particularly on roads with complex surfaces.
It’s something you appreciate day-to-day too, not just when you’re going quickly: in many ways, rubbish city centre roads are as challenging as empty Welsh B-roads when it comes to body control and ride quality.
Wondering whether to tick the box on the configurator? Wonder no more: do it. You’ll feel the benefits each and every time you turn a wheel.
BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: part two
7,000 miles in and the ‘eco special’ BMW 320d ED Plus is going just fine. Not that I’ve covered all of those miles since taking delivery: I actually drove this car back from the launch in Spain before it was even assigned to me.
Then another MR team member drove it to Frankfurt (another thousand-odd miles). Yes, it’s been a busy machine alright.
Now it’s settling down into a life on the M6, M1, M40, M25 and many other fine British motorways and A-roads. Doing what so many 3 Series do: 125-mile trips to the office and to meetings before turning round and doing exactly the same back home again.
Such use means you get to know cars intimately. This is the first time I’ve had a 3 Series as a long-termer, but I’ve been driving them for years, most commonly in fleet car dream spec.
As it’s partly the improvements that BMW’s made for the 2016 model year that we’re testing, I thought I’d ring the ways it’s been improved over before.
How is the 2015 BMW 320d ED Plus better than old ones?
The most obvious improvement is engine refinement. This new modular 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel (codename B47) is a significant improvement over the old N47 unit here.
Before, you knew you were in a diesel with a BMW 2.0-litre. They were a bit more gruff, vocal and gravelly than you’d perhaps expect in a premium car. Not anymore with this smooth, quiet-free-spinning unit.
Noise levels are down significantly and it’s now an engine you’ll happily rev or hold a gear in using the eight-speed auto’s paddleshifters. Before, you usually preferred the torquey shove and lower noise levels of an upshift.
In fact, the only time it’s oddly vocal is with cold starts – near-freezing temperatures and below. There, for a few minutes, there’s a sometimes eye-opening amount of clatter from the top end: a metallic rattle like an old British sportscar with worn tappets. I don’t worry too much – with a bit of heat, it soon quietens down.
Other improvements include the now full LED HID lights, which replace the old Xenon option. They’re a virtual must-have: supremely bright and crisp, it really is like driving along with your own daylight in front of you.
They’re lower power too, so don’t need headlight washers, thus saving the washer bottle level in winter…
Handling is that bit crisper thanks to tweaked settings and hardware, which I don’t get to enjoy all that much on my usual commute, but which makes traffic diversions that bit more fun.
Oh, and on that, iDrive’s RTTI traffic avoidance system is brilliant. Quick to act, it’s sent me on some genius diversions to ensure my ETA is barely affected no matter how ‘red’ the traffic on my normal route. It’s virtually invaluable.
How’s fuel economy fairing?
I say 60mpg: in honesty, rushing about on all these diversion routes means it’s dropped. Call it a regular tank-to-tank 56-57mpg. Hardly a disaster, albeit some way off the claimed 70.6mpg still.
The weather hasn’t helped: lots of rain doesn’t help eco driving. I’m also aware of the occasional chatter of the brake drying function (it touches brake pads to discs every 15 seconds or so, to clear off the water and make the brakes act faster in the wet). Wonder if this has a slight effect on economy?
With the new year and hopefully more normal commutes to the office, I’ll see if order can be restored. If I can’t nudge into the 70mpgs over a representative week’s commuting, I’ll be disappointed.
BMW 320d ED Plus long-term review: introduction
The BMW 3 Series celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015 with a mid-life facelift to face off talented new rivals from Audi and Jaguar. Real world highlight of the range is the even more economical BMW 320d ED Plus model, but does reality differ from on-paper perceptions? We’ve six months to find out…
The BMW 3 Series’ 2015 facelift is all but impossible to distinguish on paper. Trust us though, YA 15 OMP really is the latest generation 3 Series, complete with fancy new headlights, more sculpted front bumper and, er, chrome bits for the electric window switches.
- BMW 320d ED Plus: part two
- BMW 330e: Two-Minute Road Test
- Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 review: 2015 first drive
BMW didn’t need to do much though. It was already the class leader. The Jaguar XE couldn’t beat it, the new Audi A4 hasn’t beat it; the 3 Series has it sewn up. With the mid-life revision, BMW has honed it, taken the edge off the ride, sharpened the handling and perfected something already superb.
It’s also made it greener, although it’s also made the range more complex. The 318i is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder; the 330i is now a 245hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder – and the diesels, well, if you’re a company car driver, we suggest speccing carefully, so myriad are the price options and CO2 configurations…
What model are we running?
Our long-termer is the greenest model you can buy, if not its ultimate fuel-saving guise: the 320d ED Plus. You can get this in sub-100g/km CO2 guise, but only if you choose an auto and only if you take the airstream-like 16-inch wheels (with eco rubber). We had the auto, but not the slippery wheels: a no-cost option are the prettier rims on our long-termer, with sportier tyres. Given the meagre 5g/km penalty, it’s the right choice.
Then it gets slightly confusing. As well as the 320d ED Plus, you can also now get a 320d ED Sport, which emits 108g/km CO2 and averages 68.9mpg (the same as our ‘Plus’). But you can also get a 320d Sport, which emits… 111g/km and averages 67.3mpg.
A 320d ED Sport is £32,285; a 320d Sport is 31,385. And with the regular car you get 190hp instead of 163hp, and a half-second faster 0-62mph time… if you’re going green, surely you’d stick with the £30,485 320d ED Plus? Or, get 190hp and still-decent economy AND a sub-£30k price tag with the £29,785 320d SE upon which the 320d ED Plus is based?
Or, by now, have you lost the will to live and wish we’d just get on with it? OK…
Why are we running it?
We want to find out how economical a BMW 320d is in the real world. BMW sells tens of thousands, on the promise of low tax and high economy, seemingly not at the expense of performance or rear-wheel drive engagement. Sounds like black magic but is it actually a blatant lie?
My journeys are usually high mileage, invariably varied and very representative of the use many other 320d encounter. So if I can get good economy, then hopefully you can too. Upwards of 10,000 miles’ driving should be enough to put it to the test…
We also want to see if living with a BMW is still premium and classy enough. BMW sells umpteen more 3 Series than Ford does Mondeo, yet it’s the Ford that’s perceived as the volume car and the BMW as the exclusive premium machine. Does reality still compare?
Long-term test spec
Press cars contain lots of equipment to help writers tell readers what the various options are like. Which is how our £30,485 long-term test car turns into one costing £40,780.
Must-haves are the eight-speed Sport automatic transmission (£1,690), BMW Professional sat nav (£900 – yes, nav is standard on all new BMWs now, but only the Pro system gives the online features we’re going to test so fully), Adaptive M Sport suspension (£750) and interior comfort package (£695 – it adds split-fold rear seats, more stowage cubbies and the lovely Extended Interior Light Package).
Nice-to-haves is the Visibility package (£850) that includes BMW’s brilliant LED headlights, Enhanced Bluetooth telephone (£350) and Internet (£95 – bargain). Indulgences we love? Anthracite headlining (£215), Head-up Display (£825) and speed limit display (£220); the rest is fancy but not essential (and surely some o fit should be standard – £330 reverse assist camera, anyone?).
What else is out there?
Audi has recently released the all-new A4, and what an impressive car it is. Extremely refined, the interior’s a step-on in terms of quality, appearance and roominess, while the tech it packs in is top-notch: some people will choose the A4 simply for the fact it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
Jaguar’s XE vies with the 3 Series for driver’s choice in this class. An excellent first effort at a rear-wheel drive ‘baby Jag’, the XE is ultimately let down by its slightly disappointing interior and not-yet-there engine refinement and infotainment tech. Updates are coming, though…
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a very popular choice. It’s a little spec sensitive; choose the wrong one and it can seems surprisingly average and uncouth for a supposed premium compact exec. But ticking boxes like the bargain-price air suspension restore the class you’d expect from a car that looks not unlike an S-Class.
Other choices? Lexus’ hybrid IS 300h is a bit leftfield but pretty effective, certainly much more so than the so-disappointing Infiniti Q50. Coming in 2016 is the Alfa Giulia, which Italy promises will be a 3 Series beater (although we’ve heard that before) and, who knows, we may eventually get a new Volvo S60 to bring some of the XC90’s excellence to this sector.
Car: BMW 320d ED Plus
Fuel economy: 68.9mpg
Top speed: 140mph
List price: £32,220 (320d ED Plus auto)
Price as tested: £40,780
Motoring Research is running a BMW 320D ED Plus long-term test car, to see just how fuel-efficient BMW’s best selling model in the UK can be.
Here, we’ll share views, thoughts and videos as we live with it. Keep coming back for live life with a BMW 3er.
I have to confess, Ford’s MPV line-up does confuse me a little bit. Sure, there’s the Galaxy, that’s the big one. And then there’s the S-Max, which is the sporty one.
The B-Max is for those who want a Fiesta with a bit more practicality, while the C-Max is essentially a slightly bigger Focus. But then there’s the Grand C-Max, with its seven seats, and let’s not even think about the Tourneo Custom and Connect (they’re essentially Transits with windows and seats, if you must know).
It’s more than a tad befuddling. Buying a five-seat C-Max, like the one we’re running on our long-term fleet, is like saying “I want as much practicality as possible, but with just the five seats please.”
But for a recent autumnal camping trip to Cornwall, that is precisely what I wanted. Two seats would have done, in fact, as the rear seats were folded down to cater for a week’s worth of camping kit. And that’s quite a lot, as it turns out – comfortably filling the C-Max’s 1,684 litres of boot space.
When it’s full of gear, the extra weight is noticeable. But even with the 1.5-litre turbodiesel, it’s fine at making progress along the M4. It’s only when negotiating Cornwall’s steep hills that I started to wish I was in the bigger 2.0-litre diesel.
On Cornish lanes, the C-Max starts to feel a lot bigger than it actually is. At 1,828mm wide it’s only 5mm wider than a regular Focus but, even so, extra care is required on roads lined with Cornish hedgerows, full of rocks ready to jump out and scrape the C-Max’s gleaming frozen white paint.
Overall, though, the C-Max proved to be the perfect companion for a week away. Manufacturers often go a bit lifestyle in their marketing for cars such as this, but it’s certainly capable of being loaded with kit and traipsing around challenging Cornish lanes.
- The dark nights have highlighted a reluctance for the C-Max’s self-dimming infotainment screen to self-dim. I’ve had to turn the brightness down manually when driving in the dark… a bit of a hassle
Price (October 2015): £23,395
Price with options: £25,220 (metallic paint £250, rear parking sensors £225, key free system £700, blind spot information system £400, SYNC2 DAB navigation system £250)
Engine: 1.5-litre TDCI turbodiesel
Torque: 199lb ft
0-62mph: 11.3 secs
Top speed: 114mph
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