by Jay Traugott
2020 marks the fourth year of the fourth-generation Kia Optima Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid. The midsize four-door sedan receives a range of enhancements and new standard-fit and optional features. Both models are equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine supplemented by an electric boost to generate a total of 192 horsepower in Hybrid guise, while the Plug-in Hybrid delivers 202 hp. A six-speed automatic gearbox manages the drive to the front axle. There is only a single well-equipped trim for each model but both can be outfitted with an optional Technology Package to further boost the offering. The Optima delivers a smooth and quiet ride and is outfitted with an appealing selection of standard features including an intuitive infotainment setup. In an ever-growing and highly competitive segment with class rivals such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid and class-leading Honda Accord Hybrid, the Optima's relatively weak fuel-efficiency and compromised trunk and rear cabin room could prove to be its downfall.
For 2020, the Optima Hybrid rides on 17-inch alloy wheels as standard, while many of the features that comprised the 2019 Technology Package are now fitted as standard on both the Optima Hybrid and Plug-in. The Optima Hybrid receives an eight-inch touchscreen display, UVO link embedded modem, auto-dimming rearview mirror, electronic parking brake, and wireless device charging, that latter also added to the Plug-in Hybrid. New features have also been added to the 2020 Technology Package including ambient lighting with variable colors, LED fog lights, and UVO link with navigation, while a range of driver assistance technologies is now standard.
The Kia Optima has a sleek design with upswept lights and a sporty aesthetic that blends into its classy persona. Both the Hybrid and PHEV are equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels and both feature standard projector-beam headlights and a front grille active air flap in place of the standard Tiger Nose grille. Blue accents adorn both models to mark their hybrid classification.
As a midsize four-door sedan, the Kia Optima carries rather large dimensions. It spans a total length of 191.1 inches with a wheelbase of 110.4 inches. It has a total height of 57.5 inches and a total width of 73.2 inches, and both the Hybrid and the PHEV ride with a ground clearance of 5.1 inches. The Hybrid has a curb weight of 3,496 lbs while the PHEV tips the scales at 3,799 lbs, making them around 200 and 500 lbs heavier than a non-hybrid Optima.
There are four available exterior color options for each hybrid Optima. Runway Red and Gravity Blue are standard exterior color options for the Hybrid model while Aluminum Silver and Gravity Blue are available for the PHEV at no cost. Snow White Pearl and Aurora Black Pearl are both $495 options. The Runway Red on the Hybrid model contrasts against the chrome and blue exterior accents nicely, while the Aurora Black pearl also contrasts nicely with the exterior accents on the PHEV.
Powering both the Kia Optima Hybrid and Optima PHEV is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with primary outputs of 154 hp and 140 lb-ft. The Optima Hybrid has an integrated permanent magnet synchronous electric motor that generates an additional 51 hp and 151 lb-ft bringing total potential to 192 hp and 271 lb-ft. The motor is slightly more powerful in the PHEV producing additional outputs of 67 hp and 151 lb-ft, bringing total outputs to 202 hp and 276 lb-ft. Both models feature a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive. Acceleration off-the-line is met with instantaneous torque for a quick surge of forwarding thrust. From there power delivery is gradual and suited to the laidback nature of this segment. Shifts are smooth and efficient, and the auto 'box manages power far more naturally than the CVT configuration most manufacturers resort to with hybrid variants, while throttle responses remain suitable for everyday drivability.
The Optima Hybrid and PHEV are exceptional daily commuters as they ride smoothly and are incredibly silent. Most road imperfections and fluctuations are dealt with subtly, with any remaining imperfections taken care of by plush seating. Body-roll is kept to a minimum around bends and the large sedan manages to stay planted to the tarmac despite the low-resistance tires not proffering huge amounts of grip. The steering is precise but doesn't offer much feedback, and at higher speeds, the level of input required is too light when we wish it would tighten up a bit more. The regenerative braking system in the Hybrid is also almost imperceptible, or at least is not as noticeably grabby as in other hybrids.
Fuel economy from the Optima Hybrid is unremarkable for a hybrid vehicle, returning EPA estimates of 40/45/42 mpg city/highway/combined. With its 15.9-gallon gas tank full and with mixed driving conditions the Optima Hybrid can achieve a range of 667 miles. The Optima PHEV offers an all-electric range of up to 28 miles and a total drive range of around 630 miles. The Optima PHEV returns EPA estimates of 101 MPGe with combined cycles and using both electric and gas power, and 41 mpg with combined cycles using gas only. It takes under three hours to reach a full charge on a 240-volt outlet or nine hours on a 120-volt outlet.
Both the Optima Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid seat a total of five occupants, though limiting passengers to four would be most ideal in terms of comfort. The seats throughout the cabin are very comfortable and the front seats provide suitable support and bolstering. The highly adjustable driver's seat and steering column let any size driver find an optimal driving position with ease. Outward visibility is suitable all-round and is aided by a standard rearview camera. The in-cabin room is suitable upfront, though due to the sloping roofline, headroom in the rear gets rather limited. Overall, build and design feel of a high standard, but the Accord Hybrid still offers a more premium feel.
As hybridized vehicles, both the Optima Hybrid and PHEV face notable compromises in trunk and cargo capacity. The Hybrid offers 13.4 cubic feet of trunk room which is enough space to store a set of golf clubs and a few school bags. The PHEV only offers a mere 9.9 cubic feet of trunk room, you'd have to leave the clubs at home with this one. All four doors feature decently sized pockets that fit bottles. In the front cabin are dual cupholders, a center armrest storage box, and a sizable glovebox. The rear center seat backrest folds down to reveal dual cupholders.
Both the Optima Hybrid and PHEV are outfitted with a range of features including an auto-dimming rearview mirror, push-button start with keyless entry, a hands-free trunk lid, and dual-zone automatic climate control. While the Hybrid is equipped with a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat with two-way power lumbar support and a six-way adjustable front passenger's seat with a height adjuster, the PHEV is equipped with a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat with four-way power lumbar support. The PHEV also features an integrated memory system with two-position memory for driver's seat and outside mirrors as well as a heated steering wheel and heated front seats. Both are also equipped with Standard Kia Drive Wise technology which includes forward-collision warning, forward collision-avoidance, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, smart cruise control with stop/go, and driver attention warning. A power sunroof is optional for both models.
Infotainment in the Optima is covered by an eight-inch color touchscreen display with AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM and standard six-speaker audio system. The setup includes Bluetooth with hands-free connectivity and is installed with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality as standard. The PHEV receives additional capability in a UVO link system with voice-command navigation along with SiriusXM Traffic and HD Radio. It is also fitted with a ten-speaker Harman Kardon Quantum Logic Premium Surround Sound system. Both models feature an auxiliary audio input jack for connectivity, dual USB ports up front, and a single rear USB port for device connectivity and charging. The steering wheel is equipped with audio, cruise control, and hands-free phone controls. Newly added in both models is a wireless console charging tray.
There has been a single recall commissioned by the NHTSA for the 2020 Optima Hybrid pertaining to a potential short-circuiting airbag control unit. J.D. Power gave the 2020 Kia Optima an above-average predicted reliability rating of four out of five. Kia covers the Optima with a five-year/60,000-mile limited warranty, ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a ten-year/100,000-mile hybrid components warranty.
The NHTSA awarded the 2019 year model of the Kia Optima Hybrid with an overall crash test safety rating of five out of five stars. The IIHS classified the standard 2019 Kia Optima a Top Safety Pick+ giving it the best rating of Superior for the effectiveness of its front crash prevention features. We expect these ratings to carry over to the 2020 year models when tested.
Both Optima models are outfitted with seven standard airbags and Standard Kia Drive Wise technology which includes forward-collision warning, forward collision-avoidance, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, smart cruise control with stop/go, and driver attention warning.
The 2020 Kia Optima Hybrid and PHEV are relatively decent vehicles. Both offer quick acceleration, favorably smooth ride qualities, and drive comfortably for casual everyday use. Comfort is augmented by the supportive and spacious seating arrangements, but taller passengers are advised to avoid the back seat entirely. Favorably, they are both well-equipped with a decent selection of appealing features and are outfitted with an extensive range of technology and assistance systems. However, compared to other hybrids in the segment, both models deliver average efficiency and, in the case of the Plug-in, average pure-electric range. They are also very limited in practicality with minimal trunk and cargo capacity offered as a result of their batteries, making them highly impractical. Nevertheless, the 2020 Kia Optima still offers great value for money and is anything but a bad buy despite there being better midsize hybrids available.
The 2020 Kia Optima Hybrid carries an MSRP of $29,310, around $1,000 more than last year's model. The 2020 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid has a slightly steeper MSRP of $36,090, around $700 more than last year's model. Those prices are excluding Kia's destination charge of $925 and are exclusive of tax, registration, and licensing fees. Both vehicles may also be eligible for state-specific rebates and dealer-specific incentives.
Although the Plug-In Hybrid offers the benefit of pure-electric driving and better mileage estimates, the electric range is somewhat disappointing, and given the additional cost doesn't seem to pose many benefits over the standard hybrid Optima. You also don't lose much in the way of specification by choosing the cheaper option, with the same eight-inch infotainment interface only lacking the Harman Kardon sound system. However, that's remedied by opting for the Technology Package, which we recommend as it also adds LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, and additional driver aids.
Ford takes square aim at the Optima Hybrid with its own hybridized version of the Fusion, which for 2020 is priced between $28,000 and $34,595. The Fusion has less power at hand with only 188 hp, but acceleration is still robust with a hit of electric assistance. The Fusion can reach up to 85 mph on pure electric propulsion while the Optima can only manage 75 mph, and both are equally as efficient. The Optima Hybrid provides greater trunk and cargo capacity than the Fusion which only has 12 cubic feet of trunk room, while the Optima also boasts more interior room. The Fusion comes standard with a more extensive selection of comfort and convenience features but the Optima receives a better range of safety and assistance features to offset the difference. The Optima is the better hybrid vehicle here, with better integration of hybrid systems and a more natural driving experience only aided by the greater levels of practicality.
Until such time as the new 2020 Sonata Plug-In is actually revealed and released, sporting new solar roof tech and oozing style, the 2019 Plug-In remains on sale to do battle with its corporate sibling, the Kia Optima Plug-In. Both are based on the same platform and utilize the same powertrain, with similar performance on offer. But subtle differences do exist, and the Sonata rides more plushly while the Kia is marginally more athletic. The Optima is more expensive, having seen a price bump for the new model year, with nearly $3,000 separating the two. The Kia gets updated features though, while both receive comparably luxurious interiors and similar levels of spaciousness. So which is better? Well neither, really, as they're too close to really separate, so it comes down to personal taste and brand bias. However, we'd rather wait for the new 2020 Sonata Plug-In, as that should move the game forward substantially.