by Roger Biermann
The Kia Optima Hybrid is a large sedan introduced as part of the 2017 model generation. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that combines with an electric motor to make 192 horsepower in standard hybrid guise and 202 hp in Plug-In guise. Regardless of powertrain, the Optima Hybrid can only be had in one trim, EX, but can be upgraded with the Technology Package . It’s meant to deliver a smooth and comfortable ride as well as great fuel economy and mostly succeeds. The Optima delivers fantastic value for money but has some strong rivals like the Honda Accord Hybrid and the Chevrolet Volt Plug-In, and on a platform not built around a battery, concessions in practicality are made for the sake of eco-friendliness
There haven’t been any significant changes for the 2019 model year apart from the fact that Kia only offers one trim in the guise of the EX. Other than that, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist, and rear parking sensors have now become standard features, adding an extra layer of safety to the Optima Hybrid line-up.
The Optima Hybrid has a classy looking front end with aggressive, upswept lights, and a sporty bumper. Instead of a grill, it has flaps that open and close to aid aerodynamics. The side view is long and sleek with a curved rear window that ends in a large trunk. The wraparound taillight clusters are handsome and look like a conservative version of what you might find on a Lexus. The Hybrid gets 16-inch alloy wheels, while the Plug-In increases these to 17-inch items.
As a large sedan, the Kia Optima Hybrid has some fairly big dimensions. It has a length of 191.1 inches on a 110.4-inch wheelbase. The curb weight is 3,486 lbs on the hybrid, while the plug-in tips the scales at 3,788 lbs. Width remains the same for both derivatives at 73.2 inches and height at 57.5 inches.
The Kia Optima Hybrid line-up boasts five color options, with three available across both hybrid and plug-in. Available on both, you’ll find Snow White Pearl, Aurora Black, and Gravity Blue. The Hybrid gets the option of Runway Red, while the Plug-In Hybrid avails itself to Aluminum Silver instead. Snow White Pearl and Aurora Black are premium colors with an additional cost of $495.
The Kia Optima Hybrid is front-wheel drive and powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, as well as a 38-kilowatt electric motor. Combined output is 192 hp in regular Hybrid guise, while the Plug-In gets a little more juice at 202 hp. Thanks to the instant torque available, the Optima Hybrid has quick acceleration which makes the car feel faster than it actually is. After the initial surge, the car settles down into a gradual climb that’s decent for a car in this class. Even without the electric motor, the 2.0-liter engine together with the six-speed automatic transmission is a winner and delivers decent power and smooth shifts. The electric motor just adds to its performance and versatility, as well as reducing fuel consumption. The Plug-In Hybrid, with additional power is the quicker of the pair, managing a 0-60 mph sprint of eight seconds flat.
There’s an initial surge of acceleration before the Optima Hybrid settles down, but by then the car is well on its way. It has a small, comfortable steering wheel which provides good feedback, but does little to mitigate the feeling of driving a large, lumbering car. The ride is smooth and does a great job of absorbing the bumps, and underlines the Optima’s capabilities as a highway cruiser. Unlike many other EVs and hybrids, the regenerative braking on the Optima isn’t intrusive and thankfully can hardly be felt. Thanks to the abundant features, as well as an easy to use infotainment system, the Optima is a great way to get from place to place in comfort and style.
One of the main reasons for getting a hybrid is to reduce fuel consumption, and while the Optima does a decent job, it isn’t close to some of the class leaders. It has a fuel economy of 39/45/41 mpg, which is still better than most gasoline-powered cars out there. The Plug-In Hybrid is substantially better, with a combined 103 MPGe figure and 40 MPG on gasoline alone. It also boasts 29 miles of electric-only range, but it lags behind the 53 miles of the Chevrolet Volt.
The Hybrid’s fuel tank has a capacity of 15.9 gallons and based on the combined mileage figure, has a huge range of 651 miles, while the Plug-In gets a smaller gas tank of 14.5 gallons.
There’s more than enough space on the comfortable front seats, but rear passengers suffer from a lack of headroom due to the sloping roofline. Front seats have a headroom of 39.8 inches and legroom of 45.5 inches. Rear passengers only get 37.8 inches of headroom and 35.6 inches of legroom. The Optima Hybrid is capable of carrying five passengers, but four is the optimum amount for a comfortable journey.
By putting the battery under the rear seats, Kia has freed up some space in the trunk. It still has average cargo space for a hybrid at 13.4 cu-ft, which can be extended by folding down the 60/40 rear seats to drastically increase it. In comparison, the Camry Hybrid has 15.1 cu-ft of cargo space and the Accord Hybrid has 16.7 cu-ft. But the Plug-In, with a larger battery, loses out on practicality, cutting down to a paltry 9.9 cubic feet, less than a typical compact hatchback.
There’s also plenty of space for smaller items with a center console storage bin with removable tray, front and rear door pockets, front and rear cupholders, front seatback storage, and an overhead console with storage.
The EX has a decent amount of standard features, but to get the most out of it the Technology package has to be added. Standard features include a rearview camera, push-button start with smart-key, blind spot collision warning, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, and parking distance warning. The EX also comes standard with ten-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support, heated front seats, and dual-zone climate control with rear air vents.
Adding the Technology Package upgrades the infotainment system and also adds lane departure warning, forward collision warning, forward collision avoidance, and adaptive cruise control. It also adds ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof.
As befitting a modern large sedan, the Optima Hybrid has a seven-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX ports, AM/FM radio, as well as Kia’s UVO services, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and six speakers. With the Technology Package added, the infotainment unit gets upgraded to an eight-inch touchscreen with onboard navigation and a Harman Kardon premium sound system with ten speakers including a subwoofer, as well as a 630-watt 11-channel amplifier, all of which are standard on the Plug-In Hybrid.
Overall the Kia Optima Hybrid has an infotainment system that can rival some much more expensive cars out there.
The 2019 Kia Optima Hybrid hasn’t had any complaints and the 2018 model only had one engine complaint. There have been no recalls for any of the Optima Hybrid models so far. As with its other cars, Kia offers a basic warranty of five years/ 60,000 miles and a ten years/100,000 mile warranty on the hybrid electrical components. It also has a ten years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty, and an anti-perforation warranty of five-years/100,000 miles.
The Kia Optima Hybrid has the best possible NHTSA rating of five stars. The IIHS hasn’t tested the hybrid model yet but the regular Optima got best possible ratings of good in most of their tests and was awarded a 2019 Top Safety Pick.
The Kia Optima Hybrid has a lot going for it. It has a soft ride and silent interior which filters out the outside world to make journeys easy-going and pleasant. It won’t win any awards for agile handling and high performance, but the instant torque and responsive steering wheel still give it a fun factor. It also comes loaded with safety features and has a great infotainment system which can easily compete with more expensive rivals.
Fuel economy is one of the main reasons for buying a hybrid, and while it delivers great mileage compared to gasoline-powered cars, it’s far behind the competitors in its class. Apart from the average fuel economy, other petty gripes are that the trunk space is a bit small, particularly in the Plug-In, and rear headroom can be tight for taller passengers. At a starting price of $29,310, the Optima Hybrid is great value for money, perhaps more so than the Plug-In which is more compromised, and more expensive.
The only model in the range is the EX, which starts at an MSRP of $28,090 excluding any taxes, licensing, registration and destination fee of $995. The Optima Hybrid is also eligible for certain rebates depending on the state. The Plug-In Hybrid model is pricier, carrying a base MSRP of $35,390.
Comparatively the Honda Accord Hybrid starts at $25,320 and the Toyota Camry Hybrid starts at $28,400, but both of those have multiple models in their lineup, unlike the Optima, which only has one. The Chevrolet Volt carries an MSRP of $33,520.
With only one trim available, there really isn’t any choice and the EX is what you have to buy. But buyers do get to choose between regular Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid drivetrains. Both come with many great features such as LED headlights with dynamic low beam assist, a seven-inch touchscreen (eight-inch on the Plug-In) with UVO services, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX ports, AM/FM radio and a rearview camera. It also has blind-spot detection, reverse parking distance warning, rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. Heated front seats, leather trim, and dual-zone climate control are also standard features on the EX.
By adding the Technology Package, the EX gets an eight-inch touchscreen with onboard navigation, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning. It also adds ventilated front seats, a ten-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with two-way lumbar support, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof. Of the two, we’d recommend the regular Hybrid, for enhanced trunk space and competitive gas mileage estimates.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid is one of the class leaders, delivering a sporty-looking hybrid which doesn’t compromise on comfort, performance, or cargo space. It has a 2.5-liter gasoline engine with a CVT transmission and an electric motor making a combined 208 hp compared to the 192 hp made by the Optima Hybrid. The Camry also has a larger cargo space of 51.1 cu-ft compared to the 13.5 cu-ft on the Optima Hybrid, and better fuel economy at 44/47/46 mpg compared to 39/45/41 mpg. The Camry has four models to choose from where the Optima Hybrid only has one. The Optima Hybrid has an arguably better look as well as a more functional interior complete with Android Auto that’s not available on the Camry. However, the Toyota boasts Amazon Alexa compatibility, something lacking in the Optima. The Camry Hybrid has a starting price of $25,320 compared to the Optima Hybrid’s starting price of $28,090 and comes with more options, which is a strong reason to opt for the Toyota.
The Honda Accord has a legendary reputation for reliability and having an all-round package and the hybrid variant continues in the same tradition. The Accord Hybrid is powered by an electric motor connected to a 2.0-liter engine and CVT transmission to make a combined 212 hp compared to the Optima’s 192 hp. The Accord also has a larger cargo capacity of 16.7 cu-ft compared to 13.4 cu-ft in the Optima, as well as the better fuel economy of 48/48/48 mpg compared to the Optima’s 39/45/41 mpg. There’s also HondaLink Assist, which can call the emergency services, or unlock the car remotely, as well as a driver-adjustable suspension.
Again, the Kia has a much classier look and a much more sophisticated cabin. The Honda Accord Hybrid starts at $25,320 compared to the Optima, which starts at $28,090. If performance, great looks, and a fantastic interior are the priorities then the Optima Hybrid is better. If performance, cargo space, and fuel economy are the priorities then the Accord Hybrid is the better option.