You need not look hard to find a sexy, practical sedan these days. If you want the looks of a costly Italian sedan and high fuel economy need look no farther than the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid, which has few changes for 2015.
The mid-size front-drive Optima sedan has made Kia a significant player in the U.S. market. The gas-electric hybrid version has helped things along.
With racy styling, high fuel economy and reasonable prices, the Optima Hybrid seems as if you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Changes for 2014 include front and rear fascia updates that increase aerodynamic efficiency, front LED lighting, newly designed and more aerodynamic 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels that reduce weight and drag and a unique grille and lighting elements. A series of additional vents in the unique front bumper increase air flow and reduce fuel-robbing wind drag.
There’s also prominent new Hybrid fender badges and an upscale $400 white leather package and a $1,500 “panoramic” sunroof.
An $1,100 Convenience Package contains an 8-way power adjustable drivers seat and rear camera display, while a $700 Technology Package seems worth the money. It has blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert systems, along with a back-up warning system.
The Kia Hybrid develops a combined gas-electric rating of 199 horsepower and a healthy 235 pound-feet of torque, thanks partly to a sophisticated 2.4-liter four-cylinder 159-horsepower engine. robust 47 horsepower electric traction motor, strong hybrid starter generator and powerful 47kW lithium polymer battery. (The Optima line also contains a turbocharged gas engine.)
Standard is a smooth, efficient six-speed automatic transmission that causes only a brief pause on highways when you floor the gas pedal before a fast pass–after which the car continues to shoot forward and accelerates briskly to higher speeds. Acceleration also is quick off off the line in city driving.
The Kia Hybrid comes as the well-equipped $25,995 LX model, while the higher-line $31,995 EX has items including automatic temperature control with rear vents, heated front/rear seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 Infinity audio system, navigation system with rear camera display, leather seat trim and heated steering wheel.
Estimated fuel economy of the LX is 36 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways. The EX provides an estimated 35 city and 39 highway. That’s pretty good for a swift 110-inch-wheelbase four-door that weighs 3,496 ((LX) and 3,622 (EX) pounds.
A 17.2-gallon fuel tank provides nearly an estimated 700-mile highway cruising range for both trim levels.
This is no sports sedan, but acts much like one with reassuringly firm, quick electric power steering, sharp handling, supple ride and anti-lock brakes with a brake-assist system and progressive pedal action. The EX has 17-inch wheels, which enhance handling.
Helping keep things stable are electronic stability, traction control and vehicle stability management systems. There also is an array of air bags.
The tire pressure monitoring system is a splendid idea, considering that studies long have shown that relatively few motorists check their vehicle’s tire pressures.
Large door handles and wide door openings make it easy to slip into the quiet, roomy interior, which has a new instrument cluster, pushbutton start, a mixture of large control knobs and clearly marked smaller controls.
Activating the push-button ignition brings to life a 4.3-inch thin-film-transistor LCD instrument cluster that’s easy to see even in bright sunlight and optional high-resolution 8-inch navigation and telematics screen.
While the backseat is roomy, the rear seats are positioned low and may make shorter occupants feel rather closed in. The car’s styling is largely responsible for that.
Another downside to the racy styling is a low front end that can be damaged by, for instance, high barriers in some parking lots and marginal driver rear vision without use of the power-folding outside mirrors.
The trunk has a wide opening and is generally, but not impressively, spacious.
The 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid shows you can have a racy looking, roomy, fuel-saving, fun-to-drive sedan. Such a car would have been considered impossible not all that long ago.
Pros: Revised styling. Racy look. Roomy. Fuel stingy. Fast. Good handling. Supple ride. Many features.
Cons: Low front end. Low rear seats.
Bottom Line: One of the raciest-looking, fuel-stingy mid-size sedans.
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.