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 a 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.
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.
Technology and Premium packages are also included, which means from the navigation system to the high-end sound system to leather seats, the Kia Optima is a wonderment of high-end gadgets and, better yet, high-end safety.
The result: Combining its mechanical features and sloping exterior design, the Optima (regardless of trim) has greatly improved since the debut sold only 97 units in 2000.
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.
Less than 10 cubic feet of trunk space, about two-thirds the room of the gas Optima, which has only average trunk space for its segment.
Facts & Figures: 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds.
Fuel Economy: 35 mpg (city), 40 mpg (highway), 37 combined, six-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower: 206 combined.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $25,700.00.
Price As Tested: $32,500.00
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.”