Kia has given the Optima a midlife revision, with a new diesel engine and a more comprehensive kit list. Is it still competitive?

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A midlife revision to a car that passes many large family car buyers by - the Kia Optima. The Korean brand’s D-segment offering is hardly flavour of the month at the best of times, but with the introduction of the sharper, more exciting Kia Stinger, it's looking increasingly unloved.

It also finds itself in a segment that has seen significant decline over the past few years - even the Ford Mondeo’s future hangs in the balance. SUVs are all many buyers want to know about now, and even those who do plump for a traditional three-box model are far more likely to choose a nice monthly lease deal with one of the premium brands.

Modest speeds suit the Optima’s relaxed gait and it’s far more refined both at idle and on the move than the old 1.7, both in terms of audible noise and vibration through the controls

But those who immediately dismiss the Optima, in particular the Sportswagon estate we have here, are missing out on a quietly competent, handsome and fuss-free family holdall that has only become more appealing with the latest revisions.

What has Kia done to keep the Optima up to date?

Little has changed to the Optima’s exterior look, which is no black mark as it’s still one of Kia’s more visually successful designs. There is a redesigned grille, new lights front and rear, tweaked bumpers and additional black trim on top-spec cars. But only the most hardened family estate enthusiast would pick the facelifted car out of a line-up.

Visual changes to the cabin don’t extend much beyond a new steering wheel and multi-colour ambient lighting, as Kia has instead chosen to bolster the kit tally. There’s now a driver attention warning system, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and lane keep assist, along with auto high-beam full-LED headlights.

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Importantly, the rather rattly old 1.7-litre diesel engine has been replaced by a new 1.6, bringing with it a raft of new emissions reduction add-ons to help it meet the latest regulations. That's had an undesirable effect, however: power is down by 5bhp, while torque is also reduced by 15lb ft, while claimed economy is identical.

The Optima drives better than you might expect, but by no means an exciting prospect for keen drivers. The Optima SW’s smart styling is complemented by a cabin that largely looks and feels as plush as it needs to at this price point.

Fit-and-finish is good, while there’s enough glossy black plastic and soft-touch material in more common touch points that the Kia doesn’t feel too far behind a Volkswagen Passat for perceived quality, even if it’s not quite on the same level for ergonomics. Button placement on the Optima’s dash is a little haphazard, while the infotainment screen could be more intuitive and visually sharper.

We’ve no complaints with its load and people-carrying ability, even if it isn’t a class leader. Four tall adults can sit in decent comfort, and while the 552-litre boot pales in comparison to the vast chasm at the rear of a Skoda Superb estate, it’s still plenty big enough for general family use.

How does the Optima perform on the road?

Other than the plug-in hybrid variant - which we’ve yet to try in facelifted form - the sole engine choice in the Optima is the aforementioned 1.6 diesel. In most cars of this size and type, that would be the entry-level engine, sitting underneath a range of more powerful, larger capacity options. But here, you can have the 1.6 or you can lump it.

The four-cylinder unit is a respectable performer in the Kia Sportage, but the heavier Optima presents it with a greater challenge. It’s sprightly enough in the lower gears, despite a hesitance off the line as the dual-clutch gearbox has a pause for thought. But getting up to speed on motorway slip roads is not quite the effortless affair it is in something like a 2.0-litre diesel Passat. It’s far from underpowered, but it won’t leave much in reserve for overtaking once loaded up with kids and luggage.

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Modest speeds suit the Optima’s relaxed gait, however, and more importantly it’s far more refined both at idle and on the move than the old 1.7, both in terms of audible noise and vibration through the controls.

No notable changes have been made to the Kia’s suspension, so it’s still a bit of a mixed bag. It’s at its best on A-roads or motorways, where the ride is as well-isolating as the best in this class and noise levels are commendably low. But the Optima comes unstuck when you up the pace on more challenging Tarmac.

Poorly surface roads disrupt the Kia’s damping more than rivals, and mid-corner bumps send a thud through the bodyshell. Body control is acceptable enough for its size, but confidence under fast cornering is zapped by slightly vague feel and inconsistent weighting of the steering. For the target market it’s fine, but if cars like these are going to tempt buyers out of SUVs, they have to offer a better blend of ride and handling than anything high-riding. Unfortunately, the Optima is merely adequate in this area.

How does the Optima Sportswagon compare to its rivals?

Handling criticisms aside, the Optima is a fine overall package for those who aren’t looking to be entertained by the driving experience. The new, more refined engine boosts its credibility as a relaxing cruiser too.

It’s also loaded with kit in GT-Line S form, with everything from heated and ventilated electric seats, to a panoramic roof and autonomous ‘stop and go’ traffic jam assistance. The bodykit and luxuries of this trim level are tempting, but the £31,400 price tag puts it in some seriously capable (and faster) company.

There’s an easier case to make for a sub-£25k ‘3’ spec model, which still comes with most of the desirable equipment and the same engine, but is cheap enough to tempt C-segment shoppers out of a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra.

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