New & Used Kia Optima Hybrid: In Depth
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The Kia Optima Hybrid is exactly what the name implies; it looks, performs, and functions just as well as the mainstream Optima sedan lineup but has a very fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain.
The Optima Hybrid lineup, which is being redesigned for 2017, rivals the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid, as well as the upcoming Chevrolet Malibu. It’s closely related to the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid; and like that model it also includes a plug-in hybrid model, called the Optima Plug-In Hybrid or Optima PHEV, which also goes up against the Ford Fusion Energi.
Compared to the Kia Optima, the Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-In Hybrid are almost indistinguishable; these models differ in mostly cosmetic ways, outside of powertrain and packaging. Active grille shutters, special front aerodynamic skirting, a beveled rear bumper, and a rear diffuser together help reduce the coefficient of drag to 0.24. Hybrid models also get modern LED exterior lighting.
The Sonata Hybrid is powered by a 154-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with a 38-kW electric motor system that’s clutched into a six-speed automatic transmission. In all, it makes 193 horsepower.
The Hybrid has a 1.62-kWh lithium-polymer battery pack that’s underneath the trunk floor, where the spare tire would otherwise be, with packaging concessions to back seat or cargo space. In the Optima PHEV, there’s a stronger 50-kW motor, plus a much larger 9.8-kWh pack is located under the back seat and in the forward area of the trunk, limiting space slightly compared to the standard Optima.
That larger battery allows the PHEV to go 27 miles in EV mode—though there’s no way to fully “lock in” a pure electric mode (the gasoline engine will still turn on if you press the accelerator too far).
Feature highlights on the latest 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid include a ten-speaker, 630-watt Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio system, and full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility—to control smartphone apps via the infotainment system. There’s also an available suite of active-safety and driver-assistance systems—including Autonomous Emergency Braking, which can bring the vehicle to a full stop to avoid a crash or reduce damage.
Fuel economy ratings for the Optima Hybrid are anticipated to be ten percent higher than the outgoing model’s EPA combined figure of 38 mpg.
Kia targets a ten-percent improvement to the fuel economy ratings of the 2017 Optima Hybrid, versus the outgoing model. Given the current model’s combined figure of 38 mpg, that would put the 2017 model in the range of 42 mpg—better on the highway than the Ford Fusion Hybrid, and better than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, as well as just ahead of the Sonata Hybrid.
Previous years: the 2011-2015 Optima Hybrid
The first generation of the Optima Hybrid, which was sold from the 2011 through the 2015 model years, was a bit of a work in progress. It originally offered a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, as well as a motor system clutched into the six-speed automatic transmission—just as in the redesigned 2017 model—and made 206 total hp and 235 lb-ft. That was revised to 199 hp for the 2013 model year, as this model got some significant improvements to drivability and the general smoothness of the hybrid system.