IF you’re in the market for a large, family-friendly, hybrid vehicle but really don’t 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. New diamond-cut 17in alloy wheels also lift this already smart-looking estate.
The range of grades has been expanded to two, with a new ‘PHEV Plus’ grade joining the line-up and providing additional equipment which includes leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, Smart High Beam Assist, Hydrophobic front glass, a smart powered tailgate, ventilated front seats, Smart Park Assist System, a wireless mobile phone charger, 360-degree Around View Monitor and Blind Spot Detection with Rear-cross Traffic Alert.
Prices start at £34,995 OTR for the PHEV and £38,995 OTR for the PHEV Plus.
I’ve been driving the standard PHEV and must say that 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 up front in the light and airy cabin which has been put together very well indeed. Kia are gaining rapidly on the Germans when it comes to quality of fit and finish and although there is some evidence of cheaper plastics low down in the cabin you will find the Optima feels much more premium than functional – markedly more so than in the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
Standard equipment is impressive with highlights including: Heated front seats and steering wheel, LED headlights, 8-way, powered driver’s sat adjustment with 4-way lumbar support, 8in touchscreen with Sat Nav, Kia Connected Services with Tom Tom traffic, Bluetooth music streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB radio, 6 speakers, front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera, dual-zone air conditioning, Smart Cruise Control with Forward Collision Assist, 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 status of the batteries, the location of nearby charging stations, energy use based on driving style and the mileage which can be 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’ll 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% benefit-in-kind taxation in 2018-19.
But is the Optima Sportswagon PHEV going to save you money in a real-world environment? Well, yes, 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 there for longer journeys without having to stop for a ‘charge’.
However, you’ll 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. I managed a still-impressive 62mpg in mixed driving on mostly longer trips.
Speaking of brakes, I found the brake feel a little strange at first. It doesn’t 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 which gives you the incentive to drive even more economically.
Space in the rear is particularly good with plenty of knee room and headroom – despite the sloping roofline. I’d say it is on par with the Skoda Superb for comfort back there 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, along with a 15-litre reduction in the size of the fuel tank compared with the diesel-engined Optima Sportswagon, means the plug-in hybrid is able to offer a generous 440 litres of luggage capacity with all seats upright, rising to 1,574 litres when the rear seats are lowered.
To compensate for the additional weight imposed by the battery pack, the all-independent suspension of the Optima Sportswagon plug-in hybrid has been specially tuned, while the brakes have been enlarged compared with those on the diesel-engined version.
The subframe-mounted suspension – featuring MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, with coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers all round – 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’ll hardly notice as it is particularly quiet in operation.
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. It’s a very civilized way to travel and because the auto gearbox is a conventional 6-speed as opposed to the expected CVT unit, there is no annoying drone either. Definitely a plus for the Optima.
The steering feel is very light, especially around town but it does weight-up at higher speeds and I didn’t 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 the 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 7-year, 100,000-mile transferable warranty too.
Worth the premium over the Optima Sportswagon diesel? Much will depend on your annual mileage here and possible tax savings but if you’ve decided that your next large family car must have plug-in capability then the Kia should definitely be on your shortlist as it’s such a convincing overall-package.
AT A GLANCE:
Kia Optima Sportswagon PHEV
OTR Price: £34,995
Engine: 2.0 GDi petrol plus electric motor
Combined 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