Optima Hybrid a looker with spunk, yes a hybrid with spunk!
Optima is one of the best looking mid-size cars on the market, looks like a luxury sedan and rides and feels like an entry-level luxury sedan. It also is well equipped for its price, making it a high value front drive car that will carry five comfortably.
What pushed me well toward the “love it” end of my rating spectrum is the tested blue-gray’s hybrid system. Many hybrids are still lackluster when it comes to acceleration and refinement. Kia’s Optima Hybrid EX not only looks great it performs well.
I tested this for a week that included about a 500-mile round trip to Miami County, Ind., and several days of the usual area city driving. I could have gotten by with just one gas fill-up in that period as I averaged 39.5 mpg, basically confirming the EPA estimates. On the highway the trip computer boasted 41 mpg and range was listed at more than 600 miles.
That alone makes Optima a fine highway cruiser, but riding on a 110-inch wheelbase (2 inches shorter than last week’s Ford Fusion) Optima offers a pleasant ride with just a bit of rump bumping on severe bumps. You feel well insulated in the Kia, which features a luxury-quality quiet interior.
But performance is equally smooth and comfortable. Acceleration is decent in full Eco mode where the electric motor portion of the hybrid powerplant does most of the work. However, you can flick off the Eco mode with a touch of your right thumb and the gas engine does more work to give you better than average acceleration. This may be preferred when you’re in serious city traffic where acceleration may be needed to avoid a jam.
While a gas-powered Optima features a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a stout 192 horsepower, the hybrid system with the same sized gas engine plus electric assist ups that to 206 horses and 154 lb.-ft. of torque, a bit less than the gas-driven version, but still reasonable.
Kia’s six-speed Sportmatic transmission works effortlessly with the hybrid for smooth shifts and acceleration in all modes though, so even when using Eco you won’t feel like a traffic hazard as you do in a few hybrids.
Optima also comes with good anti-lock brakes along with stability and traction control standard. Yet steering remains on the artificially heavy side, while the car weighs just 3,622 lbs., about 300 lbs. lighter than last week’s plug-in hybrid Fusion Energi. Steering though seems improved since my last Optima test drive so the car is easy to control and corners well without much lean or push.
Inside, the test car featured a black over tan leather trimmed interior that looks and feels relatively luxurious. That’s because Kia isn’t afraid to include a lot of higher end features at a modest starting price.
The tested Optima EX hybrid starts at $31,995 and there is a slightly lower cost LX model. This one added no options, just an $800 delivery fee to settle at $32,795. That’s fairly modest considering the room, feel and gas mileage here. A base Optima LX with gas-only engine lists at $22,300 and is rated at 23 mpg city and 34 highway.
The EX hybrid though comes with a handsome interior that features tan perforated leather seats with two-level heat and cooling settings, plus the rear outboard seats are heated, a rarity at this price point.
The dash has a black top and some gloss black trim with brushed metal accents including around gauges and all knobs and buttons. Everyone who rode in the car praised its two-tone luxury look. The headliner is tan to match the seats and keep the interior light and attractive.
Gauges are well laid out and easy to see and the steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model. The touchscreen for radio and navigation is large and easy to use. I like being able to quickly tap the range for the map and the on-screen buttons for radio channels was easy to see and press. There are large radio and Infinity audio system buttons below the screen, plus moderate sized volume and tuning knobs.
Climate controls are large knobs for the dual system, plus large buttons to adjust the air’s direction.
One control concern though is the number (14) of buttons and toggles on the steering wheel’s hub. It seemed a bit cluttered and some of its toggles required a bit more careful scrutiny than you might want to give them as you drive. As with many car controls for trip computers and information screens, it’s best to use these while still in the driveway.
Optima comes with push-button start, visors that slide and a useful console with open storage in front of the shift lever, along with USB and iPod connectivity, two well angled cupholders and an armrest storage bin.
Seats were well shaped, seeming better than in my previous drive a few years back. There was ample hip and back support and both front seats are power with the driver’s side getting height and lumbar adjustment. As with several midsize sedans I’ve driven of late, the passenger’s seat is mounted too low for shorter riders and without a height adjustment could put off some buyers. Be sure to check that seat’s height if you usually are a passenger in the car’s front seat.
On the driver’s door are inside trunk and fuel door releases and the Optima hybrid’s trunk is modestly sized, but adequate at 10.8 cu.ft. A gas-powered Optima features a much larger 15.4 cu.ft. trunk. Still we managed two suitcases and several smaller bags and a box in the trunk on our Hoosier excursion.
A few other features of interest include the rear backup camera, HID headlights, LED fog and tail lights, Bluetooth connectivity and power folding side mirrors that fold flush to the car body when you turn off and lock the car.
Optima remains a bargain among mid-size sedans, but its looks and luxury feel and solid performance will sell you as quickly as the price. Prefer a hybrid? This is among the best performing hybrids I’ve driven.
FAST Stats: 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX
Hits: Excellent gas mileage and handsome luxury looks. Good ride and better than average acceleration w/Eco mode off. Comfortable heated/cooled leather seats, attractive dash and gauges, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. Extremely quiet interior.
Misses: A lot of controls (14) on steering wheel hub and passenger power seat not height adjustable, so can be too low for shorter riders.
Made in: Korea
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder hybrid, 206 hp
Transmission: 6-speed Sportmatic automatic
Weight: 3,622 lbs.
Wheelbase: 110.0 in.
Length: 190.7 in.
Cargo: 10.8 cu.ft.
MPG: 35/39 ( EPA)
MPG: 39.5 (tested)
Base Price: $31,995
Dealer’s Price: $30,470
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $32,795
Sources: Kia, http://www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage