The redesigned 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid is a good example of one kind of electrified vehicle that has come a long way in recent years. Not all hybrids, but hybrids based on vehicles also — if not originally — designed only for gas engines, not a combination of gas engines, electric motors and battery backs.
Driving the new Optima Hybrid, you'd never know it was a hybrid. It tooks and drives like a gas-powered Optima, which is to say, smooth, solid and comfortable. The biggest difference is, you don't need to stop at gas stations as often. It is EPA rated at 42 mpg, compared to a still respectable 31 for the naturally aspirated gas-only version.
Originally, hybrids based on gas-only vehicles were compromised. Sometimes, the mileage gains weren't all that great, making it hard to justify the higher cost for the technology. The battery packs also used to significantly reduce trunk space. And switching between gas and electric power to maximum mileage or tap additonal power wasn't all that smooth.
Although the last generation Optima Hybrid minimized those problems, they are completely overcome now. The price is still higher, but mileage and performance are both improved. It is EPA rated at 5 miles per gallon more but still boasts an additional 36 foot pounds of torque. And the trunk still has more than enough space for a weekend worth of luggage.
This is especially important for those who think the earliest hybrids looked a little funny and weren't much fun to drive. The new Optima Hybrid is just the opposite. It is a stylish family car with a clean, well designed interior and plenty of power when needed.The six-speed automatic transmission even has a Sport and manual shift mode for those with a need for a little more speed.
And fully-loaded versions like our test EX model border on being luxury cars with such features as heated and cooled front leather bucket seats, a panoramic sunroof, a Harman Kardon QLS Premium Sound System, and just about every available automotive safety features, including Blind Spot Detection and Autonomous Emergency Braking.
Kia shook up the midsize car segment when it redesigned the Optima in 2010. Until then, the Optima had been a boring looking and driving car — and so had most other midsize offerings. But the all new model was dramatically different, with sharply sculpted exterior lines and a dash oriented towards the driver. It proved family cars could be exciting and other manufacturers scrambled to respond. The current version, first introduced in 2105, is a little larger and more refined, but also toned down a bit from the previous model. The 2016 Optima Hybrid carried over from the previous generation, however, if you're interested in styling and willing to buy a slightly used version.
Kia isn't the only manufacturer offering such hybrids these days, so interested buyers should take the time to check out some of the others. But it will be hard to find one that offers so much value, especially since well-equipped base models start at under $27,000.
2017 Kia Optima Hybrid
Base price: $26,845
Price as tested: $37,235
Style: Midsize sedan
Powertrain: 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline 4 engine, electric motor, 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack (192 hp, 271 lb-ft combined)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with multiple drive modes
EPA fuel economy: 39/46
Length: 191.1 inches
Weight: 3,600 pounds
Final assembly: Hwaseong, South Korea