Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kia Optima Hybrid: Quietly Turning Heads

(c) Hyundai Motor Co

I had fun driving a 2013 Kia Optima Premium for a day. I had even more fun driving a Kia Optima Hybrid Premium for a week. My challenge was to empty the gas tank, but I couldn't do it. I drove around town, I went shopping in various towns, I went to Sonoma and sipped wine, but I didn't drain the tank, and therefore my gasoline costs for the week were low. Looks like I flunked my assignment, but the Optima Hybrid seems to have done well on it's assignment.

(c) Hyundai Motor Co

It was fun to have a hybrid version of a car I like driving. I can't imagine driving  a Prius that didn't have the Prius lag and the sneaky silent take-off. Actually, I would feel stupid driving such an odd looking car that didn't need to look so odd (after all, the odd design is just to make it instantly recognizable). So I think Kia did the right thing when they made the same exact vehicle with two different engines. The Optima Hybrid looks the same as the gasoline version on both the outside and in the cabin. The Optima Hybrid I had was a cool blue-purplish color and several people wondered into our driveway when it was sitting there. They wanted to know what it was, if Kia's are worth a look, and if it really was a hybrid. Based on my recommendations, Northern California Kia dealers may have experienced a spike in people checking out Optimas.

(c) Hyundai Motor Co
  • Looks like a new Kia Optima (can't tell it's a hybrid)
  • Fun to drive
  • 6-speed Sportmatic (R) Transmission
  • Excellent Safety** (See Below)
  • UVO "Infotainment" System
  • Sirius/XM Satellite Radio
  • Memory Driver's Seat & Power Passenger Seat
  • Heated/Cooled Front Seats; Heated Rear Seats
  • Panoramic Sunroof
  • Back-up Camera

Mileage Chart Showing 2 Minute
Consumption (c) Car Mama
The knock that the Optima Hybrid gets is that it's actual, real-world fuel consumption is not as advertised. The sticker shows 35 MPG in the city and 40 MPG on the highway, with a combined of 37 MPG. My mileage ranged from 25-30 MPG in town to 35-45 MPG on the highway according to the on-board computer. I did fill the tank once to figure out my mileage and came up with 30 MPG, combined. Of those 82 miles, 62 were within a range of 20-45 MPH, and only 20 miles were at 60-70 MPH. Again, I didn't have the opportunity to drain the tank enough to fill it up again. Somehow Kia came up with those numbers on the sticker, and I would like to think they have a system more accurate than mine. (When I drove the Kia Optima Premium with a gas-only engine, the computer said I had a combined 27 MPG.)

** Additional Note added November 4, 2012:  The EPA audited Hyundai America and Kia America and the manufacturers are lowering their mileage numbers from 1-6 MPG depending on the vehicle. See this LA Times article.

As for the acceleration, the Optima Hybrid is certainly peppier than my Prius, and if you get out of Eco mode, the Optima is off like a shot. The Hybrid doesn't have the stick-you-to-the-seatback take-off that the Optima gas-only turbo has, but I didn't think the Hybrid's acceleration should be criticized at all. During my drive, I compared the Optima Hybrid with my Prius. If you want the acceleration of a turbo, get the Optima Premium non-hybrid. 
(c) Hyundai Motor Co

Observations from the Back Seat
The two differences I found between the gasoline-only Optima and the Hybrid were under the hood and in the trunk. The battery is housed in 1/3 of the trunk, so the cargo space is reduced by as much. Makes for an odd "ski" pass through hatch, but shows how car manufacturers can keep a design and make at least two engine variations. 

(c) Hyundai Motor Co
Both of our kids liked the Optima Hybrid just as they liked the gas-only Optima I reviewed in the summer. They saw no differences between the two vehicles other than the leaf graphics. And they both liked the Optima Hybrid more than they like our Prius. Our 12-year old son actually asked me to drive him places and drop him off RIGHT IN FRONT (usually he wants me to have a low-profile and drop him off before we get to the front of school/church/the store). So if you're looking for kid's approval, the Optima gets four sticky thumbs up. (The only thing we didn't really like are the wheels. Too styled for this crew.)

(c) Hyundai Motor Co

Ease of Use
The UVO "Infotainment" system looks intimidating, but once you get started, it's fairly easy to use. You can use the buttons on the steering wheel, the buttons on the console, or you can touch the screen. I found it easy to store radio stations and to adjust the volume as needed. It was super easy to pair my iPhone and use the voice commands to call people. I have the Pandora app on my iPhone and was able to play a Pandora playlist through the Bluetooth connection while I was driving. It's a data hog if you do it for a long drive, but I have an unlimited data plan and like the music Pandora puts together more than Sirius some days. In 2012 it should be super easy to play an iTunes playlist from your iPhone or iPod in your car with a simple cord connection. I'm happy to report that it was super easy, and the cord for such a connection is included with the car. 

** Safety
As with all cars now, safety is abundant, whether they highlight it on TV ads or not. Standard safety in the Kia Optima includes:
(c) Car Mama

  • Dual Front Advanced Airbags
  • Front Seat Mounted Side Aribags
  • Full-Length Side Curtain Airbags
  • Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS)
  • Traction Control Ssytem (TCS)
  • Electronic Stability Control System (ECS)
  • Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC)
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Let me mention the Kia warranty: 10 years or 100,000 miles for a limited powertrain coverage, and 5 years or 50,000 miles for a limited basic warranty and roadside assistance. You can get details from your Kia dealer, but it seems to be a good, basic warranty plan. After losing my Lexus RX300 transmission at 90,000 miles, I now pay attention to warranties.

Good Value
Trunk Space (c) Evox Images
Based on the price of fuel ($4.19 for 87 octane in September 2012), it doesn't make sense to drive anything with a gas-powered engine. But we drive cars, we consume gasoline, and that's the way it is. So I believe we should look for vehicles that consume the least amount of gasoline while trying to find enjoyment while we drive. The Kia Optima Hybrid fits the bill, especially when used as a commuter vehicle. It isn't the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market, and hybrids are the end-all, be-all, but in my opinion, every little step helps. And it isn't a drag to drive; it's actually fun to drive. Two boxes checked. As for the price, The Optima Hybrid Premium I drove cost $32,500 (the same price as the Optima Premium gas-only I reviewed). The based MSRP is $25,700, plus $700 for the Hybrid Convenience Package and $5350 for the Premium Technology Package. Add in the $750 for inland freight and you get $32,500. 
Looks Good in the Driveway (c) Car Mama

Hamsters Sell Cars
My guess is that the Optima Hybrid would sell better if the Ad Department for Kia put together an Optima Hybrid advertisement that involved cute critters who wore clothes and danced or biked or something anthropomorphic. Never underestimate the power of those Kia hamster ads -- my 12-year old son wants to test drive and review a Kia Sol with me so he can channel hamster cuteness. My daughter has a brown and white hamster. Maybe he should make an appearance in all of my car reviews. Might add a level of cuteness that appeals to the younger readers.

Thanks to Kia Motors for lending me a nice Optima Hybrid.

Photos from Edmunds.com & Car Mama.

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I've found Lots of necessary information from your blog. Just bookmark your blog for more explore! I will definitely share this post with others. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Two boxes checked. As for the price, The Optima Hybrid Premium I drove cost $32,500 (the same price as the Optima Premium gas-only I reviewed). electric car