Hybrids can be funny things. They can be great around town, with amazing fuel economy and instant acceleration from the nearly-silent electric motor, but their motorway economy is rarely as impressive and the handling isn’t always stellar.
Kia has been putting a lot of effort into electrification. Besides the pure-electric Soul EV, they’re also selling the Niro hybrid, Niro PHEV and Optima PHEV. Now they’ve added the plug-in Optima Sportswagon PHEV to that range, with a claimed 38 miles of electric-only range.
The Optima Sportswagon is a handsome estate, but in this £35,145 iteration it’s not only up against premium cars like the BMW 330e, Lexus IS 300h, Mercedes-Benz C350e and Volkswagen Passat GTE, but also the high-selling Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
The only estate options in that list so far are the Passat GTE and C350e, but both of these represent tough opposition, and you can bet there’ll be plenty more rivals entering the market pretty soon.
So what has the Optima got going for itself? Well, refinement for a start. Kia has done an excellent job here. You can barely tell when the car is switching between the electric motor and the 2.0-litre petrol engine. Wind noise off the motorway is practically non-existent, and confined to a tiny bit of door mirror rustle at above 70mph. There’s a bit more road noise on the motorway than there is off it, but the standard Harman Kardon sound system deals with that.
Kia Optima Sportswagon PHEV 2.0 GDi
Engine: 1999cc, petrol, plug-in hybrid
Power: 154bhp at 6000rpm
Torque: 189lb ft at 5000rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd automatic
Top speed: 119mph
Fuel economy: 201.8mpg
CO2 rating: 33g/km;
The ride quality is lushly damped and comfy, although again it drops off a little at higher speeds. Through bends, the additional 200kg weight of the PHEV over the standard Sportswagon hurts it. Outright grip is more than fine, but fast direction changes provoke a sensation of lardiness that’s at odds with the decent low-end acceleration on offer. Mid-range poke isn’t quite so impressive. You’d never damn it as slow, but a better spread of power would be nice.
The weighting and direct feel of the steering is offset by numbness and a dead feeling on straights, but engine vibration never reaches the steering wheel and the cabin stays quiet under most circumstances.
All in all, the Optima Sportswagon PHEV has merit. It comes with a top-level spec (our car had no optional extras) that gives it a near-premium ambience, despite the relative shortage of soft-touch plastics. You can get good economy even when driving harder than what might be considered to be the norm.
Dynamically, it doesn’t deliver to the same level as some of its (admittedly more expensive) rivals, which stops it scoring a little higher in this test. But for peace and comfort in everyday driving, this is a sensible contender as a commuter car. If you want more engagement from your plug-in hybrid, the Passat GTE might be more up your street.