Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid First Impressions Review

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid
By Alex Kramer
  • Eye-catching exterior design
  • Roomy, well-apportioned interior
  • Smooth, quiet hybrid drivetrain
  • Solid handling and ride quality
  • A bit slow for a car with over 200 hp
  • Brake pedal feels squishy
  • Untested fuel efficiency
The folks at Kia Motors are very optimistic. Having launched seven brand new models in under 2 years and with record sales growth over the past year, Kia is transforming itself into a major player in the car market.
Part of this success is surely due to an emphasis on value, which has resonated with buyers in these tough economic times. At the same time, a shift away from forgettable econoboxes and towards quality design and engineering has made for an almost unbeatable combination of high quality at a low price.
To keep the momentum rolling, Kia is now offering a hybrid gas-electric vehicle in the form of its Optima mid-size sedan. With gas prices looking to stay close to $4 a gallon, this could be the perfect time to make a case for fuel efficient motoring and take a bite out of the growing hybrid sedan segment.
Kia Optima Hybrid active eco system display
We recently had the chance to take the Optima Hybrid for a brief test drive around the streets of South San Francisco. On the outside, the car shares the same eye-catching exterior as the gas-powered Optima, save for a few hybrid badges and what look to be unique alloy wheels. The cabin also features the same roomy, well-built interior, and includes options like heated and cooled leather seats and a panoramic sunroof, amenities that used to be available only on luxury cars.
The Optima Hybrid features the same powertrain as its sister car, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Combining a 2.4L 4-cylinder gas engine with a 40 hp electric motor and a lithium polymer battery, the system produces 206 hp. Rather than using a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the Optima Hybrid routes its power through a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission.

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid interior
Altogether, the system works well and you can barely hear the motor turn on and off when cruising slowly. Only at full throttle does the engine sound a bit raspy and unrefined. Acceleration is decent, although a bit slower than we would expect for a car with over 200 horsepower. Ride quality and handling are quite good, although the car does feel a bit heavy on its feet and the brake pedal could use some firming up.
Our brief test didn’t allow for a thorough evaluation of the car’s fuel efficiency, but the EPA rates the Optima Hybrid at 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, figures that compare well with competitors like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid. At slower speeds the car switches over to EV, or electric-only operation quite regularly, and you can coast on electric power at speeds up to 60 mph. There is also an Eco mode, which changes the throttle response to encourage more frugal driving.
2011 Kia Optima Hybrid 

The Optima Hybrid starts at $27,250 and comes quite well equipped. Our loaded tester stickered at over $30k, but featured enough luxury options to justify the price. Like most Kia models, the Optima Hybrid should compare well on value with other hybrid mid-size sedans, and its more aggressive appearance might even convince a few car enthusiasts to take a hybrid for a spin.
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