Kia and Hyundai have come up quickly, overtaking even its Japanese counterparts in some segments. While both manufacturers offer impressive cars that deliver top performance for a very affordable price, it feels their hybrid powertrain is still a work in progress.
Technically Speaking. This is effectively the brand's first hybrid for the U.S. market, mechanically identical to the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, but with a trick ups its sleeves. It is optimized for highway driving as we found out. The hybrid version of the Optima sports good numbers, with an estimated fuel economy 36 mpg city and 40 mpg on highway. Using the company’s 2.4L 4 cylinder DOHC with variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder, it puts out 206 HP with 195 ft-lb of torque. The electric motor offers an additional 40 HP using a 1.4 kWh Lithium Polymer battery pack.
The car does offer some great features, such as it can be driven in full-electric mode at speeds of up to 62 mph. However, at anytime you can bring in the gasoline engine in true hybrid form. It was easy to stay in electric mode as long as you didn’t floor it. But once you floor it, something strange happens. A lag that can last sometime and the gasoline engine kicks in. Step of the accelerator and brake, and the engine is still high-revving. This was an odd feeling and left us with the sensation the car didn’t know what was happening.
The Drive. The drive revealed as was mentioned earlier, more of a highway cruiser than a bash around town car. The handling was correct and at no time we felt the car hesitated to get into a curve or stop. The interior is roomy and comfort is its major asset. As I mentioned above, the only intriguing characteristic was that the gasoline engine didn’t quickly rev down, which could be an annoyance for some.
What’s to say about this car besides its superb lines, slightly reminiscent of some Lancias of the 80 but with a distinctive look unparalleled these days of look alike sedans. Kia has been racing Optimas for some time with various results, probably hoping to give the car a beefier image. I walked away from it feeling it was more at ease cruising on highways than carving sharp turns up and down Californian canyon roads.
Nonetheless, the Kia is a pleasure to the eyes and should please many in its ease and flexibility of use. We can imagine a few drivers hypermiling the car well above the EPA 36 and 40 MPG estimates. In the meantime, this is a good start for Kia and its Optima hybrid.