Twelve years after the Kia Optima debuted in the United Sates with little fanfare and few sales, the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid was unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show and was available to the public one year later.
The 2012 Kia Optima and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, nearly the same as the 2011 editions, use the same powertrain, combining a 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, and a 30kW electric motor and lightweight lithium polymer batteries to produce a full gasoline-electric hybrid.
Beyond the Kia’s different badge, different disc wheels, a slightly lowered ride and side cooling vents, the Optima and Sonata are largely the same car. Combined, the hybrid siblings sold the second most hybrid units in the United States in 2011 behind the dominating Toyota Prius.
The Weekly Driver Test Drive
A few years ago, the mention of Kia as an alternative to standard, highly rated manufacturers’ four-door sedans often resulted in dismissal or disgust. No more.
The Hybrid edition, my weekly driver, is among five available Kia Optima trims and largely has the same long standard equipment list as EX model. It includes: automatic headlights, foglights, heated mirrors, full power accessories, a height-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar adjustment, air-conditioning, a cooled glovebox, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, and a sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. It also includes the Convenience package that features an eight-way power driver seat. The Technology package (offered for all trims except the manual-equipped LX) adds a rearview camera, a navigation system and, on the LX, dual-zone climate control and rear air vents.
The Premium package for the EX and SX adds a panoramic sunroof, a four-way power passenger seat, driver memory functions, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and an eight-speaker Infinity sound system with HD radio and the Uvo voice-activated electronics interface. The Hybrid’s Premium Technology also includes 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, leather upholstery and the auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Combining its mechanical features and sloping exterior design, the Kia Optima (regardless of trim) has greatly improved since the debut sold only 97 units in 2000.
The Optima has only average headroom, but from its solid, if firm, ride to the quality of the interior features, it’s hard to fault with what once was a vehicle often considered undesirable.
Like all other Kia models, the Optima hybrid has the industry’s longest warranty.
Spacious well-designed interior.
Long standard features list.
Sloped roof looks Euro-modern.
Racing-style steel wheel covers.
Strong safety ratings.
Dual panoramic moonroof panels extend nearly the length of the car.
Conveniently positioned dials.
Exterior color — snow-white pearl (metallic).
Gas mileage averages.
Strong acceleration for a hybrid.
Superior rear seat ingress, egress.
Navigation system slowly recalculates directions.
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds.
Fuel Economy: 35 mpg (city), 40 mpg (highway), 37 combined, six-speed automatic transmission.
Government Safety Ratings: NTHSA (out of five stars), frontal crash: (driver), five stars; (passenger) five stars; Side Crash: (front seat), three stars; (rear seat), five stars; Rollover, five stars.
Horsepower: 206 combined.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $25,700.00.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.kia.com
Price As Tested: $32,500.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 5/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.
What Others Say:
“Kia’s first-ever hybrid offering in the U.S. embellishes all of the impressive visual and functional elements that constitute the new Optima formula with an eco-oriented variation the automaker expects will deliver a class-leading 40 mpg EPA highway number along with a Kia-style value story.” — Kelley Blue Book.
“The steering is quick, weighty, and precise, the ride taut but not brittle.” — Car and Driver.
“On the inside, the fit-and-finish is first-rate, the ergonomics are solid, and the slight angle of the cockpit toward the driver is a very nice touch.” — HybridCars.com
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
“Five years ago, Kia’s fan club in the United States was minimal. With the debut of the Kia Optima Hybrid and the Korean brand’s other lineup improvements, there’s no longer doubt Honda and Toyota buyers should take a serious look at the competition.”