- Highway mileage better than other hybrids?
- Plug-in has a nifty charge-restoring mode
- Finely detailed, comfortable interior
- No way to lock in EV operation
- Tight rear headroom
- Only mildly evolved in styling
The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid offers better mileage—or in the case of the Optima PHEV, (mostly) electric motoring—while building on the other Optima sedans’ newfound refinement.
The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid builds on quite a reputation—the reputation of the Optima sedan, which in its recently redesigned version broadens the appeal of this sedan with more than just sporty styling and a lot of features for the money.
If you were thinking of the reputation of the former Optima Hybrid, well, that's a different thing. The last generation of the Optima Hybrid never quite realized its potential. Now, with what looks to be just as much of an emphasis on a more premium driving experience, plus a boost to its all-important mileage figures—and far better-tuned core hybrid hardware—the Optima Hybrid looks poised to erase a lot of the reasons buyers skipped over this model the first time around.
Compared to the outgoing car, the new Kia Optima has vastly improved ride and handling, a far quieter, more refined demeanor, and a finely detailed cabin. And based on what we know at this point about the 2017 Optima Hybrid and the new Optima Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) variant,
It also serves a key role within Kia, which is aiming to increase its fuel efficiency by 25 percent brand-wide by 2020.
For the 2017 Optima Hybrid, Kia has targeted a ten-percent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing model, which is rated 36 mpg city, 40 highway (38 mpg combined). With a combined figure of around 42 mpg, the new Sonata Hybrid might beat its cousin, the Sonata Hybrid, as well as the Toyota Camry Hybrid—and end up with soundly better highway mileage than the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
The Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-In Hybrid look much the way you’d expect them to be—just like the mainstream Optima sedan lineup, only with a few slight cosmetic differences, many of them serving a purpose to maximize aerodynamics. Lighting is achieved with modern LEDs, while these Hybrid models get satin-finish accents and special badging, but functionally the Optima Hybrid makes good with items like an active grille, a unique front aero treatment, a beveled rear bumper, and a rear diffuser that shrouds the exhaust tip, as well as more aerodynamic wheels. Altogether, that adds up to a very low 0.24 coefficient of drag.
The Kia Optima Hybrid is essentially the same inside as the Optima, and that’s a good thing. As we say about the new Optima lineup, it’s better than its game-changing predecessor in nearly every way—especially inside, where the Optima boasts one of the best ride-versus-handling compromises, with a super-quiet ride, and has a superbly detailed interior, with real stitching for the dash and door panels, for instance, and a cleaner, more horizontal look to the dash compared to the outgoing model. Seats have been improved as well, with better thigh support especially for the front seats.
While those cabin appointments are essentially the same, the Optima and the Optima Hybrid very different mechanically. There’s a 154-horsepower, 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine, plus a 38-kW electric motor system clutched into what’s for the most part a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. Total hybrid system power is 193 horsepower.
The Sonata Hybrid has a new 1.62-kWh lithium-polymer battery pack that packages neatly underneath the trunk floor—essentially where a spare tire would otherwise be, with no sacrifice to cargo space, back-seat space, or 60/40-split seat folding.
Meanwhile, the Optima PHEV gets a more powerful 50-kW electric motor, as well as some mechanical upgrades and a much-higher-capacity 9.8-kWh battery pack, which can be charged at 240V in less than three hours of less than nine hours on a standard household 120V AC plug.
That will allow the PHEV to go 27 miles in what Kia calls full EV mode—although we should note, based on our drives in the Sonata Hybrid, that it’s unlikely this model will offer any way to “lock in” a pure electric mode (the gasoline engine will still turn on if you press the accelerator too far). Separately, the Optima Hybrid will include a Hybrid Mode, to preserve the state of charge, and a Charging Mode in which the hybrid system will charge back up the battery—although to the detriment of fuel efficiency and emissions.
As we found in the closely related Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the transmission is far smoother than in the first generation of these cars, with the electric motor actually serving a role in smoothing out the power flow during shifts.
The Sonata Hybrid is built on a reengineered body structure with more high-strength steels, better structural rigidity, and improved crashworthiness. Safety features include Autonomous Emergency Brtaking that will bring the vehicle to a complete stop to avoid an accident in some conditions, as well as a front collision warning system, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and advanced smart cruise control.
The 2017 Optima Hybrid will have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, for the control of apps via the infotainment system. The infotainment system itself has been updated, and now includes Google Voice Recognition Local Search. The system has the ability to find charging stations with the PHEV, and that offers a UVO EV Services connectivity package, powered by Verizon, to help in real-time needs, like remotely checking the charging status of your car. And Kia says that it will include a 630-watt Harman/Kardon premium sound system with surround sound and Clari-Fi technology for compressed digital audio from MP3s and apps.
The Optima Plug-In Hybrid will only be offered in one trim—the EX—and will be built in South Korea. Kia hasn’t yet outlined trims, equipment, or pricing for the Hybrid, but we’re expecting a couple of model levels. Both the Optima and the Optima PHEV are expected to go on sale this fall.