Sales of conventional large family cars have suffered a hit over recent years, as more popular crossovers have taken the market by storm. But a core group of models continues to appeal to family and fleet buyers, offering acres of space in practical bodies, as well as plenty of equipment, at affordable prices.
The latest car to join this group is the new Kia Optima. It has striking looks, a better-quality finish than before and high-end technology that’s trickled down from the brand’s big Sorento SUV, and there’s also a 1.7-litre turbodiesel under the bonnet that promises to deliver decent everyday running costs.
Despite the market being squashed by SUVs, competition is tough, so the Optima will have to face the latest Ford Mondeo, plus Vauxhall’s updated Insignia, which features the brand’s new 1.6-litre Whisper diesel engine.
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On paper, both deliver efficiency to beat the Kia, and have the edge with their big boots and hatchback openings. Can the Optima saloon rise to the top with its new, more premium image? We get behind the wheel to find out.
Our two tests hatchbacks have a clear edge on practicality over the Optima saloon. Still, neither comes with a power tailgate as standard, and with the big boot doors opening so high, some owners might find them difficult to close again.
The Kia obviously doesn’t struggle here, but you’re more limited in terms of loading room.
These three cars all offer useful equipment and versatility on an affordable budget, but the Kia shows that you don’t have to sacrifice quality, either.
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Both the Vauxhall and Ford’s cabins are acceptable in most areas, but small details let them down compared to the Optima.
There’s not much to split our group when it comes to kit or usability, so running costs could be a deciding factor with these value-focused models. As many will be run as company cars, it’s the cheaper, more efficient Insignia that comes out on top.
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The Insignia only really stands out for its impressive efficiency, although it seals victory because of the way it combines a comfortable ride, decent performance and an acceptable amount of kit with a more affordable price. If you’re a private buyer, the woeful residuals might be a worry, but for business users, the Vauxhall provides the best all-round blend of attributes.
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It can’t match the Insignia’s CO2 emissions, which are crucial for company car users, but the Optima edges ahead of the Mondeo with its better quality, equipment and stronger residuals. Despite the saloon bodystyle, it still offers enough practicality, plus Kia’s seven-year warranty ensures it should be easy to live with.
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Poor fuel economy and a soggy chassis see the Ford finish last. It has lost its dynamic edge, and despite its advantage on paper, the larger engine didn’t perform as well. While the Mondeo has a slight edge when it comes to boot space, the extra room isn’t enough to put it ahead of its competitors. Quality is also lacking, but it isn’t cheap enough to justify it.
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 141bhp
A more distinctive look, strong safety credentials and a neatly finished cabin make the new Avensis an appealing and individual choice. However, in a sector where CO2 emissions count, we’d expect less than 119g/km from this Business Edition.
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 148bhp
With as much power as the Mondeo but in a sharper chassis, the Superb is great to drive. It doesn’t sacrifice space with a 625-litre boot and a refined, roomy cabin. SE Business trim offers all the kit you’re likely to need and emits 108g/km of CO2.
|Vauxhall Insignia 1.6 CDTi Tech Line||Kia Optima 3 1.7 CRDi||Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Zetec|
|On the road price/total as tested||£22,424/£23,669||£23,495/£24,040||£23,095/£25,410|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)||£7,940/35.4%||£10,399/44.3%||£9,776/42.3%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£760/£1,521||£938/£1,875||£876/£1,751|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£989/£1,649||£1,028/£1,714||£1,250/£2,083|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||17/£590/A/£0||20/£610/B/£20||23/£610/B/£20|
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service||£149/£249/£149||£329 (3yrs)||£590 (3yrs)|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,598cc||4cyl in-line/1,685cc||4cyl in-line/1,997cc|
|Peak power/revs||134/3,500 bhp/rpm||139/4,000 bhp/rpm||148/3,500 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque/revs||320/2,000 Nm/rpm||340/1,750 Nm/rpm||370/2,000 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd man/fwd||6-spd man/fwd||6-spd man/fwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||70 litres/repair kit||70 litres/space saver||60 litres/£100|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||530/1,470 litres||510 litres/N/A||541/1,437 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||11.4 metres/N/A||10.9 metres/0.29Cd||11.5 metres/N/A|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (60,000)/1yr||7yrs (100,000)/1yr||3yrs (60,000)/1yr|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||20,000 (1yr)/404||20,000 (1yr)/170||18,000 (2yrs)/781|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||30th/19th||19th/14th||25th/26th|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||94/79/40/5 (2009)||89/86/67/5 (2015)||86/82/66/5 (2014)|
|0-60/30-70mph||9.9/9.5 secs||9.5/9.6 secs||10.1/9.0 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.9/5.7 secs||3.8/5.8 secs||4.5/7.0 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||7.7/11.0 secs||8.8/15.7 secs||10.1/14.4 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||130mph/2,000rpm||121mph/1,700rpm||134mph/1,950rpm|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||55.7/12.2/858 miles||53.6/11.8/825 miles||44.1/9.7/582 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||136/99g/km/17%||141/110g/km/20%||172/109g/km/19%|
|Auto gearbox/stability/cruise control||£1,645/yes/yes||£1,400/yes/yes||£1,500/yes/yes|
|Climate control/leather/heated seats||Yes/£1,045/£500*||Yes/no/yes||Yes/no/£300*|
|Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go||£545/£890**/£395||£545/yes/no||£545/no/£400|