Launched in 2016, the latest generation Kia Optima takes a dive into the world of hybrid mobility. It shares a platform and drivetrain with sister brand, Hyundai's Sonata Hybrid, but offers more stylish appearances and a better co-efficient of drag – matching the Tesla Model S' 0.24 Cd factor. Packing a small displacement, relatively speaking, combustion engine and an electric motor, and featuring an active grille to improve aerodynamic efficiency, the Optima Hybrid is a technological leap that proves Kia is no longer an aspiring junior brand – they're an established powerhouse.
Though aesthetically exciting from the outside, the interior lacks the same flare. The design is functional rather than flashy and the ergonomics are on point. The infotainment system is simplistic, but logical with easy to read buttons that fall easily to hand. Despite the simplistic designs, the materials are impressive in their quality, and build quality seems pretty high. It's this sort of quality build that makes the Optima feel more expensive than it actually is.
Front occupants are treated to a range of seat adjustments that accommodate you comfortably regardless of how tall you are. In the rear of the cabin, leg room is premium, though headroom can get tight for taller occupants. The central seat in the rear bench is only suited for children. The trunk loses 2.5 cubic feet of cargo volume from the standard model, down to 13.4, but in some trim levels the rear bench folds in a 60/40 split for extra stowage.
In appearance it may be sporty, but in practice, the Optima Hybrid really isn't – no Optima is. The steering is light and lacks feel, and though responses are decently precise, they lack rapidity of response. The suspension is prone to body roll due to its overall soft demeanor, which doesn't enthuse much confidence in the Optima Hybrid's handling. Sudden changes of direction will upset the body control, and the chassis lacks the tightness of more sporting rivals. But the softer suspension bodes incredibly well for comfort. The soft springs absorb large bumps well, and the dampers do a decent job of filtering out most imperfections on the road. But over particularly broken roads the ride can be impaired and the roughness permeates the otherwise superbly insulated cabin a bit more than it perhaps should.
Under its hood, the Kia Optima Hybrid packs a 2.0-liter inline 4 cylinder engine with 154 horsepower – unlike other hybrids that use larger V6s. The engine is paired with a single electric motor/generator worth 50hp, with combined outputs of 192hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. The front wheels are driven through a 6-speed automatic gearbox rather than the CVT transmission most rivals use. In the trunk, a 1.6kWh battery pack aids electric propulsion. The EPA has rated the Optima Hybrid as having a combined economy figure of 42 miles to the gallon.
The Optima Hybrid is available in two trims, Premium and EX. Premium trim features a rear-view camera, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The EX trim adds to that a heated steering wheel, heated seats, leather upholstery, split folding rear seats, navigation, and a Harman Kardon audio system. A Technology Package includes a raft of safety features, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning with auto braking, and blind spot monitoring earning the Optima 2017 Top Safety Pick + status from the IIHS.
It's not a sharp performer, but in the world of mild hybrids, the Kia Optima Hybrid is impressively comfortable, melds electric and combustion power effectively, and provides exceptional safety features. Looking for a hybrid of this size? The Optima is well worth a look!