Kia plugs in to the current vogue for, err, plugging in, by giving the new Optima a hybrid drivetrain
With KIA’s ongoing seven-year warranty charm offensive set to be bolstered by a fairly hefty product barrage, the presence of two new models per launch may become something of a norm over the next few years. In this case, incoming consists of two new Optima variants: a Sportswagon – which acknowledges the overwhelming popularity of estates in the shifting sands of a European D-segment in which the sibling saloon has somewhat risen without trace – and a PHEV, which recognises the burgeoning lure of all things hybrid and the hushed thrill-potential of an all-electric commute.
Both models build on the facelifted, no-mates Optima saloon launched in January; a handsome affair featuring a new nose and rump, a smarter interior and a revised platform. The Sportswagon may be identified by an extra box on the back, good for a Mondeo-trouncing 552-1686 litres of loadspace, whilst the PHEV sports a blanked-out upper grille, an active, aerodynamics-enhancing lower grille and the azure trim of shallow, 20ft seas atop parrotfish poo sand.
The undeniably spacious and well equipped interior represents a notable hike in quality over the previous outing, which always felt at least one generation behind that svelte exterior. This effort – the gentle reek of Bangle BMW dashboard horizontality notwithstanding – is hallmarked by clear instrumentation and switchgear, and a good quality touchscreen, yet still let down a tad by brushed-metal-finish trim styling which still feels a lit tie dated.
A comfortable driving position is abetted by copious standard equipment in the Grade 3 Sportswagon we drove, including an 8in touchscreen with sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity, electric, heated everything, lashings of safety technology and a beefy Harmon Kardon stereo. The PHEV spec adds Android Auto and (shortly) Apple CarPlay connectivity, and the kitchen sink.
We drove the Sportswagon powered by Kia’s 1.7-litre, 139bhp turbodiesel mated to a six-speed manual transmission and, notwithstanding some disappointingly agricultural aspects to the engine’s performance when worked harder, it’s a perfectly decent drive; light, accurate and slightly notchy gear change, hilariously light steering which, nonetheless, is accurate enough, and respectable levels of grip.