The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid builds on a strong reputation in the form of handsome, economical Optima sedan. It doesn't have as much in its favor when talk turns to the last-generation Optima Hybrid, which wasn't as smooth or as efficient as the best hybrids in the mid-size sedan niche.
This year's new Optima Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid cure those ills. The new gas-electric sedans adapt a much more refined hybrid powertrain to the Optima package, which helps it to a rating of 7.7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Rivals for the Optima Hybrid include gas-electric editions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and Toyota Camry. The plug-in hybrid Optima squares up against the Ford Fusion Energi, Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, and Sonata Plug-In Hybrid.
MORE: Read our 2017 Kia Optima review
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.
Kia Optima Hybrid performance and fuel economy
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 4-cylinder engine, plus a 38-kw (51-hp) electric motor system clutched into what’s for the most part a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission. Total hybrid system power is 193 horsepower.
The Optima 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 Plug-In Hybrid 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 or less than nine hours on a standard household 120v AC plug.
That allows the PHEV to go 27 miles in what Kia calls full EV mode, though there's no way to lock in pure-electric drive to use up all those electrons first. The gasoline engine will still turn on if you press the accelerator too far. Separately, the Optima Hybrid has 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.
Compared to the outgoing car, the new Kia Optima has vastly improved ride and handling, a far quieter, more refined demeanor. The powertrain has new programming that gives it the feel of a stepped-gear transmission, which it does even when running on electric power alone, which it can do up to highway speeds if you're very gentle on the throttle. The Optima Hybrid's new drivetrain can run up to 75 mph on electric power alone.
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.
For the 2017 Optima Hybrid, Kia targeted a 10-percent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing model. The new model earns EPA ratings of 39 mpg city, 46 highway, and 42 combined. With a combined figure of 40 mpg, the new Optima Plug-In Hybrid checks in at 103 MPGe, a rating the EPA assigns for the equivalent of gasoline used.
2017 Kia Optima Hybrid safety and features
The Optima family earns good but not great crash-test scores. The IIHS says it's good in all its tests, but headlight performance keeps it from earning higher than a Top Safety Pick. The NHTSA gives it five stars across the board. Safety features include forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
The 2017 Optima Hybrid has 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.
Standard features on the Optima Hybrid include 16-inch wheels; power windows, locks, and mirrors; LED taillights; touchscreen audio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity; satellite radio; a rearview camera; cloth seats; cruise control; and a drive-mode selector. Hybrid EX models add heated front seats and a heated steering wheel; 17-inch wheels; power memory front seats; leather; navigation; and Harmon Kardon audio.
The Plug-In Hybrid has all that standard, and it offers blind-spot monitors, parking sensors, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control as options.
- 2017 Toyota Camry
- 2017 Hyundai Sonata
- 2017 Chevrolet Malibu
The Toyota Camry Hybrid remains the benchmark for this segment, mostly because of its sales strength; but its somewhat different version of the Prius-proven Hybrid Synergy Drive meshes very well with the Camry’s miserly side. The Ford Fusion Hybrid pairs a very fuel-efficient powertrain with a sporty driving experience and a cabin that feels upscale and European. There’s also a plug-in Energi version of the Fusion. The Optima’s own closely related cousin, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, is a strong rival to this model, and while the Sonata has improved tremendously in this generation, all else the same we tend to like the Optima’s suspension tune, infotainment systems, and feature list a bit better—and we’re expecting this to be true for the hybrids, too. And finally, the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is likely going to be a strong rival, pairing elements of the Chevy Volt’s powertrain with what’s arguably the strongest sedan redesign of this model year.