The Kia Optima Hybrid is a gas-electric version of the standard Optima midsize sedan that carries the distinction of being the brand's first-ever hybrid in the U.S. market. As with the mechanically-identical Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the Optima Hybrid offers plenty of style but can't match the fuel efficiency of its competitors.
The Optima Hybrid gains an updated powertrain for the latest model year. It delivers improved fuel economy and more torque while also being more compact than the outgoing setup - resulting in extra trunk space. A feature-packed, range-topping EX trim level is another new addition.
Most hybrids are all about fuel economy, and the Optima Hybrid is no exception to the rule. However, it goes about its high-mileage mission in a slightly different manner than most other gas-electric vehicles, giving it a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that should be fully considered by prospective buyers.
While nearly all other hybrid vehicles are thriftier in the city than on the highway, Hyundai specifically designed the Optima Hybrid for maximum freeway mpgs. It returns 36 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway (the feature-packed SX trim level dings mileage to 35/39 mpg), meaning the sedan could be a good fit for those who spend a great deal of time on the open road.
The Optima Hybrid is motivated by a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine that pairs with an electric motor that's been upgraded with more power for the latest model year. A new starter generator and an improved battery pack are two other recent revisions.
With both its gas and electric powerplants running, the sedan produces 196 horsepower and a healthy 235 lb-ft of torque - the latter up from 195 lb-ft in last year's model. That's more torque than any other hybrid on the market, and, uniquely, its sent to the front wheels through a smooth-shifting conventional six-speed automatic transmissions. Rival hybrids use continuously variable transmissions (CVT), which some drivers find unpalatable due to the delayed "rubber-band" acceleration and high noise levels associated which such gearboxes.
For all of its advantages, the Optima Hybrid falls short in terms of overall fuel economy. Competitors like the Ford Fusion Hybrid carry significantly more impressive EPA mileage ratings.
A unique front grille, low rolling resistance tires and special 16-inch alloy wheels reduce drag and give the Optima Hybrid its own style. Aerodynamic enhancements like a lower ride height, an active flap system and underbody panels help the Optima Hybrid achieve a low 0.26 drag coefficient.
In most others respects the Hybrid model mirrors the standard Optima, meaning it has an upscale and attractive interior in addition to safe (but not overly sporty) handling dynamics.
An optional touchscreen-based "UVO" infotainment sytem provides Bluetooth-based smartphone integration, streaming audio and voice command functionality for everything from placing calls to changing radio stations. It also includes vehicle diagnostics info and maintenance reminders, and lets users send Point of Interest info from Google Maps searches on their smartphone to the sedan's nav system.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Optima Hybrid is offered in LX and EX trim levels.
The LX base model comes standard with a power driver's seat, automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, push button start with a smart key, power windows and locks, A/C, an AM/FM/CD sound system with six speakers and USB/AUX input jacks, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, keyless entry, cruise control, a trip computer and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The EX adds navigation with back-up camera, an 8-speaker Infinity audio system, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual advanced front and front-seat mounted side as well as full-length side curtain), front active headrests, side-impact door beams, height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).
Four-wheel ABS, Electronic Stability Control, a Traction Control System, a Brake Assist System and Hill Assist Control are also standard.
The Optima Hybrid competes for the wallets of environmentally-conscious buyers against mega-mpg machines like the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid in addition to the less efficient (but less expensive) Chevrolet Malibu Eco.