The old adage “mighty oaks from little acorns grow” is certainly ringing true for Kia.
The Korean car maker only launched in this country in 1991 and now confidently expects to sell 100,000 models a year by 2020.
This year it’s on course to break through the 90,000 mark, helped by two new models set to go on sale this month.
Following on from the launch of the new Kia Optima saloon earlier this year it’s now launching an all-new estate version as well as adding a new hybrid (petrol/electric) version of the saloon.
And it’s the sleek new estate – or Sportswagon as the company terms it – that is expected to dominate sales.
A Kia spokesman told me he confidently expected the estate to outsell the saloon by three to one.
It’s a car which will be competing against some of the big guns of the estate car world, including the VW Passat, the Ford Mondeo and the Vauxhall Insignia.
But Kia has spent a lot of time ensuring that it’s a worthy alternative. And many company car drivers will be happy to drive something which gets them away from the mass car market.
There is no doubt the Sportswagon has kerb appeal, particularly in white. It’s sleek, spacious and practical with a wide tailgate and low lip for easy loading and has the capacity to accommodate 1,686 litres of luggage with the split rear seatbacks folded down.
The 1.7-litre Optima Sportswagon will be available in three trim levels from September 15 with a sporty, high performance version being introduced early next year.
Prices start from £22,295 for the entry level 1.7CRD ‘2’ rising to £30,595 for the GT-Line S.
The bad news is that if you are looking for green motoring the new, 202 bhp plug-in hybrid saloon will set you back a hefty £31,495. The good news with this car is you won’t have to pay any road tax and average fuel consumption is 176.6 miles per gallon – yes you did read that figure correctly.
While Kia hopes the new Sportswagon will also appeal to the private buyer it’s a car which it admits is unashamedly aimed at business users and as such is well equipped. Even the entry-level ‘2’ version comes with roof rails, 17-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen boasting European mapping, a reversing camera, dual automatic air con, dual projection headlights and cornering lights.
Step up to level ‘3’ and you get a larger touchscreen, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, 18-inch alloys and more powerful headlights. Both specs come with a six-speed manual gearbox
If you can stretch to the flagship GT-Line S you get black leather upholstery, a powered tailgate, a seven-speed automatic gearbox and a panoramic tilt and slide sunroof and rear cross traffic alert to warn you of approaching vehicles as you back out of parking spaces.
Having travelled to Germany to drive the cars ahead of the UK on-sale date it soon became obvious what a strong competitor this new estate is.
On the road it’s quiet, refined and comfortable on long journeys. The manual gearbox has a silky action and the satellite navigation system is precise.
The 1.7-litre, 139bhp engine used in all Sportswagons is torquey and delivers respectable acceleration of 9.8 seconds from 0-60 miles per hour for specs ‘2’ and ‘3’ and 10.7 seconds for the GT-Line S. All have a top speed of 124 miles per hour.
Kia has been criticised in the past for its cars not being frugal enough but says manual versions of the Sportswagon will average an impressive 64.2 mpg and auto versions 61.4 mpg.
If that’s not enough for you there’s always the 202bhp hybrid saloon with its 2.0-litre petrol engine and 50kW electric motor – and economy to satisfy the most Scrooge-like driver.