Kia Optima Sportswagon
Kia's Mondeo-sized medium range Optima model made little market headway in its original guise - but that was partly because the range lacked the estate body style that many buyers in this sector want. The Korean brand has now put that oversight right with the launch of the car we look at here, the Optima Sportswagon.
To make this Optima Sportswagon a reasonably rewarding driving companion, Kia has created a stiff body, tweaked the suspension and added a rack-mounted motor-driven power steering system. The result's an improvement on previous Kia models but still leaves the helm lacking the kind of response and feel that enthusiasts will be looking for. Still, there aren't many people like that shopping in this car's Mondeo-sector medium range estate market segment. For more typical buyers in this class, it'll be more significant that this car offers exemplary refinement, while ride quality, though a little unsettled at lower speeds, is pretty good at higher ones. Under the bonnet, all mainstream models share the same 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine developing 139bhp. This unit can also be mated with 7DCT seven-speed auto transmission. The 340Nm torque figure makes it possible to tow up to 1.8-tonnes.
Like its saloon counterpart, this isn't a car you'd choose to use to seek out a challenging road, though the rather firm suspension does deliver decent body control, keeping cornering roll to a minimum. Because of that though, you feel tarmac imperfections rather more keenly than perhaps you'd hope from a car with such a comfort-orientated remit. Things settle down at higher speeds though and it's here that you especially appreciate the successful efforts that Kia has made in reducing engine noise and generally improving refinement. This is one of the quietest cars in the class, something the high mileage executive target audience will particularly appreciate.
Inspired by the Kia SPORTSPACE concept, the Optima Sportswagon is Kia's first foray into the competitive D-segment tourer segment. Though a thoroughly practical vehicle for everyday use, this estate offers a long, lean and dynamic profile. The Sportswagon retains the same width (1,860mm) and length (4,855mm) as the saloon, and grows by 5mm in height (to 1,470mm) to accommodate the expanded boot which can swallow 553-litres.
While the front of the car remains the same as the Optima saloon, its strong, rising shoulder and gently sloping, swept-back cabin continue for longer to produce its distinctive tourer body shape. The overhang at the rear adds greater visual volume to the back of the vehicle, though this extra mass is disguised by the raked rear window and tapering roofline, giving the Sportswagon more of an athletic stance in a typically conservative segment. At the rear of the car, wide LED tail lamps wrap around the corners of the bodywork. The rear bumper houses a single oval exhaust and features an integrated air diffuser, for a sporty finish.
Inside, the dashboard is spread along a more horizontal plane and a wider central console, creating a greater sense of spaciousness. The material quality is significantly improved, with a far higher proportion of soft-touch materials. The central fascia is angled 8.5 degrees towards the driver, with the upper 'display' zone housing a smarter 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
We think that this Optima Sportswagon has much to offer for those willing to look beyond the established contenders in the medium-sized estate segment and give it a try. The decent cabin room will please families and it'll certainly be a very smart set of wheels for the middle-ranking managers who sweep backwards and forwards across the country, from motorway service areas to shiny industrial estates then home again.
As for the established brands, well if they're smart, they'll be taking this car very seriously indeed. Because potentially, that's what an increasing number of thoughtful buyers might already be doing.Click here to find out more about our Kia Optima Sportswagon range
Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer
Families now have a wealth of choice at their disposal when choosing a new car, but the estate models that used to be a default choice shouldn't be overlooked. Vauxhall's second-generation Insignia Sports Tourer has the quality, the looks and the practicality to prove a great addition to the household.
On the move, this Insignia Sports Tourer feels like the bigger car it's now become, the suspension floating you over broken surfaces that would have troubled and impeded the previous model. Importantly, this second-generation model is around 200kg lighter than its predecessor and that really shows when cornering at speed, where there's less body roll than before and generally, a much higher level of agility. As for engines, well most buyers will continue to want the 170PS 2.0 CDTi diesel, also available in 210PS biturbo form. There are also 110PS and 136PS versions of Vauxhall's 1.6-litre CDTi diesel. Turn your attention to petrol power and both units on offer are completely new. Small capacity turbocharged engines that use unleaded are very much in vogue at present and the 1.5-litre unit supplied here should suit that trend, offered with either 140 or 165PS.
Further up the range sits a potent 260PS 2.0-litre petrol Turbo model that showcases both of what are arguably the two most significant engineering developments introduced with this second-generation Insignia. One is the super-slick 8-speed auto gearbox that's optional on lesser models. The other is a sophisticated new intelligent all-wheel drive system that uses a state-of-the-art rear torque vectoring system for greater cornering traction and sharper turn-in.
Style is a significant weapon in the estate car's armoury. In the war against chunky compact 4x4s and frumpy MPVs, the sleek, road-hugging lines of a well-conceived estate can have a major impact on its fortunes. The Insignia Sports Tourer definitely looks the part. So, what's changed on this second-generation version? Well, at nearly 5m long, it's 73mm longer than the MK1 model an is a lot more spacious inside thanks to a 92mm increase in wheelbase length. The overall boot loading length has grown to over two metres, too, which has resulted in an enlarged total capacity of 1,638-litres with the rear seats down - 110-litres up on the outgoing model. However, the 520-litre capacity with the seats in place is no better than before.
The seats themselves can be ordered with a 40:20:40 folding mechanism, while an electric tailgate with foot gesture opening is also available. Vauxhall has also made loading easier with a lower load lip. Up front, there's an enormous improvement over what was served up by the previous Insignia. Fit and finish is almost a match for the premium brands and in the instrument binnacle, most models get a smart and configurable 4.2-inch colour screen, plus there's a sophisticated Intellilink screen on the dash that can be up to 8-inches in size.
The estate car's task has never been a tougher one with the sector of the market it once had to itself now swarming with compact 4x4 and MPV rivals. The solution, as employed by Vauxhall with this much improved Insignia Sports Tourer, is to concentrate on sleek styling, a polished driving experience and a premium feel.
The car is certainly a desirable product. The question is whether enough people will desire it over the numerous alternatives available to the family with this kind of money to spend. If you're after a genuine all-rounder that's comfortable and entertaining on the road, has a decent carrying capacity and looks that can turn heads, it should make a sound choice.Click here to find out more about our Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer range
Ford Mondeo Estate
The ideal estate car is one that offers excellent utility but doesn't penalise you for it with poor refinement and soggy handling. Ford were mindful of this when developing the MK4 model Mondeo estate, a car which not only drives well but also looks a good deal sleeker than most boxy estate contenders.
If Ford could make this estate version drive much like the five-door hatch, it would have a winner on its hands. Guess what? It does. There's a reassuringly polished feel here that's usually the preserve of far more expensive cars - and the same excellent refinement at speed. Low profile roof rails help cut the wind roar that many estate cars suffer from and the cabin is well insulated from road noise with no booming apparent from the big box at the back. Handling is safe and assured, but the Mondeo estate never completely disguises its size and you might need to pass up some smaller parking spaces. On the plus side, rear visibility is notably better than that of the high-rumped five-door hatch.
The choice of engines is vast - with an interesting insertion at the bottom of the range. The base petrol version gets the brand's 125PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine: yes, the same one you get in a Fiesta. Here, it's been tuned for a Mondeo Estate's greater weight but it'll still struggle a little if you habitually fully load your car. Further up the petrol range, there's a 160PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit - or a 240PS 2.0-litre EcoBoost powerplant.
If you're a typical Mondeo Estate buyer though, you'll be wanting a diesel. Most will choose the much improved 2.0 TDCi base version, which now boasts 150PS. There's also a 180PS version of this unit - or even a 210PS version. AWD will be a welcome option for towers. Whatever engine you select, you should find the dynamic responses of this car a cut above those of most rivals. Though it's not quite as sharp as it used to be, the trade-off is better ride and long-distance composure.
There aren't too many estate cars that look remotely sexy but if you choose your specification wisely, the latest Mondeo estate does a better impression than most. Decent alloys are key, as is the right metallic paint finish.
Out back, you'll notice that the huge - and very heavy - tailgate bisects the light pods, giving a really broad loading bay. It comes right down to bumper level too, so it's relatively easy to get heavy items in and out. Total capacity, as ever, depends upon whether you want a full-sized spare wheel or the potential roadside hassle of a mini-spare or, even worse, one of those tyre-inflator 'instant mobility systems'. Do without a wheel and as much as 525-litres is on offer. Once everything's flat, there's up to 1,650-litres of total fresh air on offer. If you want the peace of mind of a full-sized fifth wheel, you'll need to subtract around 100-litres from each of those figures.
Whatever variant you end up preferring, you'll want to make the most of the space available, utilising floor hooks that keep awkward loads in place and perhaps ticking the box for options like luggage retention nets and dog guards.
It's no use kidding ourselves that the Ford Mondeo estate is, or will ever be, a glamorous vehicle, but the MK4 model is sprinkled with enough clever design and high-tech equipment to make it anything but a run of the mill load lugger. Its sheer capaciousness is a given and, if space matters, the Mondeo estate more than justifies itself with nearly 1700-litres of cargo volume when you fold the back seats flat.
It was ever thus. What impresses most about the fourth generation Mondeo estate is the fact that it now looks great, drives without constantly reminding you that you bought an estate car and now offers a best in class range of engines. Our choice would be a 2.0 TDCi 150PS diesel with an alloy wheel upgrade, but whatever your preference, it's very hard to go wrong with this likeable station wagon.Click here to find out more about our Ford Mondeo Estate range