DETROIT – Kia continues to become a benchmark for the American auto industry. The Korean automaker has added a hybrid to the lineup of its already popular Kia Optima sedan.
The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid I test drove had a 2.4-liter four cylinder Atkinson gasoline engine that produced 166 horsepower, a synchronous electric motor that produced 40 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque in full electric mode. The car had a six speed automatic transmission and it delivered 35 MPG in the city and 40 MPG on the highway.
As hybrid technology becomes more refined it also becomes more efficient. This is the second hybrid I've test driving that got more miles per gallon on the highway than in city driving. A hybrid is more fuel efficient in city driven because of its stop and start technology employed when the car is not moving like at traffic lights.
But the Kia Optima Hybrid can go into what Kia called full hybrid parallel (full electric mode) at speeds up to 62 miles per hour or the automaker said in a "blended gas-electric mode at any speed."
In Kia's hybrid system, the engine cuts off when the Optima Hybrid stops and the electrical load is low, saving fuel consumption and cutting emissions. But because the electric motor will kick in at any speed the gasoline engine saves fuel by expending less energy and emits fewer pollutants through the exhaust.
Kia's Optima Hybrid had a 270 volt lithium-polymer (Li-PB) battery. According to Kia, compared to a nickel metal hydride system used in most automobile hybrids, its Li-PB system is 20-30 percent lighter, occupies 40 percent less volume, is 10 percent more efficient, offers two times the power density and it holds a charge 25 percent longer. What's more the battery is covered by a 10-year or 150,000 mile warranty.
The Korean automaker said, "Every Optima Hybrid offers several enhancements to its exterior to improve aerodynamics, including a unique headlamp design that helps to channel air around the vehicle, rear spoiler, smooth underfloor panels that provide improved airflow under the vehicle, and smoother rear fascias (sides). The use of an active air flap system in the front grille helps to reduce drag by automatically opening or closing based on vehicle speed, engine temperature, and airflow in the front of the car"
The car's ride height had been lowered a bit and unique side mirror design also contributed to its improved aerodynamic profile. Kia said the aerodynamic updates help the Optima hybrid to achieve a 0.26 drag coefficient – a 10-percent improvement over non-hybrid models.
The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid was named one of the "Top 10 Cars of the Year" by the Hispanic Motor Press Association. How did all this technology work during my test drive? It was non intrusive. By that there were only a few characteristics that stood out from a normal vehicle.
My test vehicle would shut off some of the time when I came to a stop. And there were other times that would I would notice that it was in full electric vehicle mode, especially when I was backing out of my driveway.
Acceleration was not overpowering but neither was it anemic. The car handled well, it was quiet and it was comfortable. My test vehicle featured cloth seats and that was fine with me. However, I did think the leather wrapped steering wheel was hard, thus, at times it was slippery. Grained leather would solve that problem.
My Kia Optima Hybrid had no listed options; there was no sunroof. Still, it was equipped with satellite radio, a backup camera, tire pressure monitoring, satellite radio, Bluetooth and voice controls, push button start and stop as well as pushing lock and unlock.
And just like a regular Optima, the Hybrid version functioned as a very capable sedan. There was plenty of backseat room; the front seats were good, too. The interior was a soft black; instruments were easily readable and reachable. Just like the Kia Optima, the Kia Optima Hybrid is a very capable midsize sedan.
And just like other Kia products, the best part is the price and the quality you get. The sticker on my test vehicle read $27,250. That was a surprise; a very pleasant surprise.