At last year’s Geneva Motor Show, Kia confirmed that their well-received Sportspace concept would enter production as the Optima Sportswagon.

This piqued our interest for two reasons.

Firstly, the Optima saloon on which it’s based ranks highly on our list of Most Surprising Cars.

And secondly, the company promised to retain as much of the Sportspace’s style as practicality would allow.

They’ve kept their word, too, because in GT-Line trim at least, the Sportswagon must rank as one of the most handsome D-segment wagons on the market.

the Sportswagon must rank as one of the most handsome wagons on the market

The Sportswagon retains the footprint and wheelbase of the saloon, but from the B-pillar back it’s all new.

Access to the boot is via a wide-opening tailgate with a low lip, and on GT-Line models the power tailgate opens automatically if you stand behind the car for three seconds with the smart key in your pocket – no waggling your foot under the rear bumper like an impatient Morris dancer.

Practical touches feature in abundance back here: all but the base model get a set of load rails, adjustable tie-downs and a clever contraption to stop your shopping from blending itself on the way home.

There’s also a series of underfloor compartments of useful sizes, plus a place to store the cargo cover when not in use (although you might want to leave it there, because it creaks and rattles when in place).

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a 12v socket and a pair of levers in the boot walls that drop the rear seat backs in one easy motion.  Although they don’t fold completely flat, they do increase cargo space from an already useful 552 litres to an impressive 1,686.

With the seats in place, those in the back should be comfy enough – the Sportswagon has 19mm more headroom than the saloon, although the GT-Line’s sunroof cuts into it somewhat, plus there’s his-and-hers charging ports and even heated seats.

The practical touches continue up front, with a wireless charging pad for your phone, cup-holders beneath a sliding cover, and even a large storage cubby under the centre armrest.

Just as we found in the saloon, the sheer amount of space on offer in the cabin is impressive, with a generous range of adjustment in all directions.

The seats of our GT-Line car are attractively styled (“ribbed for your pleasure”), well bolstered, and both heated and cooled.  The steering wheel’s heated, too.

We also appreciate the driver-centric dashboard angle, as well as the clear simplicity of the instruments.

Every model in the range features satnav as standard plus Android Auto, while Apple CarPlay will follow soon.  An eight-speaker 490W Harmon/Kardon set-up is included on all but the base model, and although we had to tune out some of the mid-range it offers an impressive sound.  Selecting tracks to play from your device via the touchscreen menus is a bit of a faff, though.

even at speed, having a hushed conversation with your passengers is perfectly possible

Impressive, too, is the wind noise suppression.  Even at more ambitious motorway speeds, having a hushed conversation with your passengers is perfectly possible.  Coarse tarmac surfaces do unfortunately invite a bit of a racket from the GT’s low-profile tyres, and the thin rubber robs the Sportswagon of some much-needed cushioning against our network of pot-holes.

Sportswagon-specific spring and damper rates keep body movements largely well controlled, and although the Optima feels agile for its size, it’s perhaps not desperately engaging.

That’s partly due to the steering’s lack of feedback, despite Kia relocating the assistance motor to the rack rather than the column, but it at least makes up for it by being fabulously light at parking speeds.

Some of the blame must also lie with the 1.7-litre diesel engine.  Its modest 139hp isn’t quite enough to cash the cheques written by the Sportswagon’s appealing looks, and its narrow powerband (peak torque of 340Nm from 1,750 – 2,500rpm) tends to arrive in a frenzy of wheelspin before quickly falling away.

There’s talk of a 245hp 2.0-litre turbo that, in our opinion, the Sportswagon is crying out for, although even the 1.6-litre T-GDi from the Sportage would probably make the Optima an engaging performer.

As standard, the diesel is mated to a fine-shifting six-speed manual, but the GT-Line model is offered only with Kia’s DCT dual-clutch transmission.

While for the most part it shifts sweetly from one ratio to the next, even in Sport mode where it holds on to gears for longer and downshifts usefully during braking, it does have an issue with its creep function: just as the car comes to a stop, the transmission seems to deliver additional torque to the wheels, causing the vehicle to surge forwards unless you brake harder to stop it.

It also leads to a situation where letting the vehicle creep against the brakes in stop-start traffic results in the car speeding up and slowing down as the DCT gearbox applies and releases this additional torque – even if you keep brake pressure constant.

While it’s easy enough to compensate for once you’ve grown used to it, it does make edging forward at blind junctions far trickier than it should be, while manoeuvring into tight spaces can become a little fraught – particularly in reverse, where the effect appears to be especially abrupt.

The Sportswagon could do with a decent traction control system, too, because pulling away smartly on anything other than bone-dry tarmac usually results in wheelspin to at least some degree.

All Optimas have Brake Assist and stability control, while GT-Line models gain an Adaptive Smart Cruise Control system that performed admirably during our testing through the heavily-congested M1 road works.

This can all be yours for a relatively modest £22,295 with the more visually appealing GT-Line S weighing in at £30,595, although we’d prefer a non-S GT-Line model with no sunroof and a manual ‘box, at least until Kia have finessed the DCT a little further.

Either way, it’ll be fairly painless to run, with servicing every 20,000 miles and a seven-year, 100,000-mile transferable warranty.

It’ll be economical, too, averaging 46.6 mpg during the course of a week’s testing.

At the end of which, we couldn’t help but be impressed that Kia’s first attempt at a D-segment estate turned out better than some of those from far more established players.

Or, to put it another way, with a few tweaks to the DCT and perhaps a punchy petrol engine, you’d have to work extremely hard to find a reason not to put one on your driveway.

Tester’s Notes

  • Incredible cabin space for occupants of all sizes
  • Impressive wind noise isolation at speed; coarse road surfaces do introduce excessive tyre noise, however
  • Practical use of boot space; cargo divider a useful feature, but doesn’t fit under the floor when not in use; cargo cover rattles badly when in place
  • Nice touches: wireless smartphone charging pad; relocation of gear-lever for RHD; sunblinds in rear doors; smart tailgate opens automatically
  • Interface for controlling music from iPod a little tricky
  • Android Auto – Apple CarPlay follows later
  • GT seats look great
  • Adaptive cruise control works well
  • Crying out for a punchy petrol engine – even the 1.6 T-GDi would be an interesting option
  • DCT Creep function overwhelms brakes after coming to a stop, difficult to edge forward at junctions; particularly abrupt during reversing
  • Wheel-spins easily, needs traction control
  • A GT-Line non-S model with manual box and no sunroof would be great
Entry-level Price £22,295 Price as tested £30,595
Engine 1685cc 4-cyl turbo-diesel Transmission 7-speed DCT
Power 139hp @ 4,000rpm Torque 340Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
0-62 10.7 secs Top speed 124 mph
Economy 61.4 mpg CO2 120 g/km
Dimensions 4855 x 1860 x 1470 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1635 kg