Kia Optima Hybrid, 2012: Mixes racy style with economy, comfort

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The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid gas-electric sedan offers a good combination of comfort, practicality, style, performance and high fuel economy.

The mid-size Optima Hybrid is rather large, as are many current mid-size sedans, and its racy-looking body has a roomy interior.

However, the coupe-like styling results in narrow rear door openings and poor visibility through the rear window. (The optional rear camera display thus is a good idea.) The small rear “lip” spoiler is so nicely integrated into the styling that you have to look twice to notice it. But too bad the gas/electric hybrid system prevents use of dual exhausts with shiny outlet tips—always a nice touch for a racy-looking car.

Although the trunk is generally large, with a wide opening, the hybrid system prevents rear seatbacks from flipping forward to allow more cargo room.

This reasonably priced $25,700 front-drive Optima Hybrid is based on the Hyundai Sonata, but the two cars share no exterior body panels. But keep in mind the low front end can be damaged by high curbs and such.

A high beltline (where the body meets the side windows) prevented me from driving with my elbow out the window at a comfortable angle. The beltline also makes the rear seat feel somewhat low.

The 206-horsepower Optima Hybrid delivers an estimated 35 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways. Go easy with the accelerator pedal and the car will accelerate without using gas.

Other Optima models have regular gasoline-only engines. The hybrid system in the Optima Hybrid works fairly seamlessly, but isn’t among the best. It’s hooked to a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature.

Performance is strong. Merging into fast freeway traffic and 65-80 mph passing on highways are brisk.

The electric power steering is quick, but has an artificial feel. The ride is supple, and handling is good—although not in the sports-sedan class. The brakes stop the Optima Hybrid quickly and surely, controlled by a pedal with a linear action. 

Standard items include dual-zone automatic temperature control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, cruise control, pushbutton start, adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, keyless entry and power windows, door locks and outside mirrors.

Options include the backup camera, navigation system, panoramic sunroof, leather seat trim, upscale audio system and power folding outside mirrors, along with larger (17-inch vs. 16-inch) tires with alloy wheels.

Also optional are heated and cooled front seats and heated outboard rear seats, heated steering wheel and power front driver and passenger seats.

There are plenty of safety items. They include full-length side curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, hill-start assist and traction and electronic stability controls. The large outside mirrors have turn-signal indicators.

Backing up the car is a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty and 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, along with a roadside assistance program.

The quiet interior’s backlit gauges can be quickly read even in bright sunlight, easily used controls and plenty of storage areas. Cupholders are conveniently placed up front in the console and found in the large fold-down rear center armrest. All doors have storage pockets and beverage holders.

The trunk has old-style hinges, but the lined hood is held open by a gas strut. Components in the crowded engine compartment look as if they should be tackled only  by a knowledgeable Kia mechanic.

Several folks said they initially thought my test jet-black Optima Hybrid was a high-class German or Japanese sports sedan. They said it should cost considerably more than it does.

Pros: Sleek. Roomy. Fast. Electric-only operation. High economy. Nice ride. Goode handling. Reasonably priced.

Cons: Artificial steering feel. Narrow rear doorways. Poor rear vision. No fold down rear seatbacks.

Bottom Line: Sleek styling for a practical, economical, nice-performing sedan.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com

 

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