Energizing with electricity or gasoline

2017, KIA, OPTIMA Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

2017 KIA OPTIMA Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

A Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle allows you to use electricity for energy or gasoline. I will explain now how the 2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle works and my real-world mileage.

All electric vehicles start with electric motors and batteries. From there, the automotive industry has been experimenting with a combination of ways to recharge the battery, which powers the motor that normally drives the front wheels. Hybrids use electric motors and gas engines to power the propulsion wheels, either separately or with combined gas and electric power.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) are externally charged and then use the electric motor for propulsion until the battery is depleted to a pre-programed level. The gas engine then automatically starts up, and things run like a regular hybrid; the gas engine and the electric motor power the drivetrain. The gas engine also recharges the battery simultaneously.

Confusing? All automotive efficiency engineering is aimed at achieving a cleaner and more fuel-efficient form of transportation. The calculations are based on electrical storage, rolling resistance, fuel storage, horsepower, pound-feet of torque, and most significantly, weight. Factor in the costs of engineering and manufacturing, companies have to price a PHEV to be competitive. The consumer has to weigh in the extra cost of a PHEV over and against an efficient hybrid or gas-powered sedan, to see which makes the most sense (and the fewest dollars) down the road.

Kia has tackled this challenge by using their parent company’s proven PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) system used in the Hyundai Sonata for the past 2 model years. Hyundai/Kia has used a larger battery in the PHEV (compared to their hybrid sedans) for a longer all-electric range of 25-27 miles. Kia has compensated for the larger battery weight by removing the spare tire and using lighter weight materials. The Optima PHEV’s battery is a 9.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer pack that provides more miles on the initial charge and quicker recharges.

I was able to squeeze out 28 miles of all-electric driving when traveling through the canyons of Southern California. My driving style was not altered for these extra miles, and I was not “hyper-mileaging” on a flat road. I recorded 27+ all-electric miles while traveling up and down canyon highways at 75 miles per hour. The extended range means a better fuel economy overall. “As part of our bold initiative to increase fuel efficiency by 25 percent across the entire Kia model line-up by 2020, a plug-in hybrid was a critical addition to our offering. The Optima HEV adds hybrid efficiency to the standout styling and vehicle dynamics of our all-new Optima, and the PHEV takes things one step further with an all-electric range that is among the best in the segment,” said Orth Hedrick, vice president, product planning, Kia Motors America. In addition to better miles-per-gallon, the all-new 2017 Optima PHEV is more of a driver’s car compared to some other hybrid sedans thanks to the 6-speed automatic transmission. Optima hybrid drivetrains feel more responsive because the shifts are decisive. Other hybrid vehicles usually use a Constant-Variable Transmissions (CVT) which are getting better but still are not very sporty. Kia’s 2.0-liter “Nu” four-cylinder direct-injection engine produces a healthy 154 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm while adding the transmission-mounted 50 kW motor for some brisk acceleration when putting the pedal to the metal. When I merged onto a Los Angeles freeway from a stop sign (the metered on-ramps are a great opportunity to safely experience hard acceleration), the Kia Optima PHEV scooted right along.

All hybrids utilize a regenerative braking and battery system, and Kia has improved this by using a new cooperative control between the hybrid control unit and the brake actuation unit. The new system has increased the power capturing by 10 percent. I was able to extend my EV driving just by braking early and gradually when driving in heavy traffic. Braking response is very good, although the pedal can feel touchy until the proper foot-pressure is practiced a few times.

When plugged into the standard 120V/15A outlet (Level 1) in my garage, I was able to get a full charge in less than the estimated 9 hours. If owners opt for the optional 240V (Level 2) charging unit, they can expect charging times to be 3 hours or less. The overall results: I was able to average 55.0 miles-per-gallon after driving 486 miles during a week of normal business travel. Each day took me beyond the 25-27 miles of electric range, and I was only able to charge the Kia three out of the seven nights I had this test PHEV Optima. If I worked within 10 miles of my office, the 103 MPGe could be very possible.

As for the rest of the car, the 2017 Kia Optima EX PHEV is a very nice place to be. The leather seats are comfortable and supportive for long trips. The cabin is very quiet, even in high winds and over rougher pavement. After driving the twin cousin Hyundai Sonata Limited PHEV, I noticed that the Optima feels just slightly more tightly sprung for better cornering, while the Sonata soaks up and smooths out the pavement slightly better. The difference could also be due to the weight: the Kia Optima EX PHEV overall curb weight is 3,788 lbs. while the Hyundai Sonata Limited PHEV comes in at 3,810 lbs.

The driving dynamics of the Kia Optima PHEV are very much like a gas-powered Optima, yet with a better weight distribution of 55% up front and 45% on the rear wheels. The Optima provides a very balanced driving experience that handles the road without a nose-heavy feeling. The driving characteristics are predictable, and the sedan tracks where it is pointed. The platform is rigid, and the suspension is compliant and responsive at the same time. Kia has done a good job at keeping the interior very quiet.

The only criticism is with the electric power steering. It feels numb, electronic, and computerized, with no real feedback from the front wheels. Kia has calibrated the steering software with better on-center feel. When the driver lets the car correct itself after a turn, the steering does return to center. I prefer more road response, especially when the traction control engages on slippery surfaces. Yes. This PHEV has lots of torque and can break the front tires loose on rainy roads.

The drag coefficient is lowest in this market segment and uses an active grille, which automatically opens and closes according to the airflow requirements. There are unique styling changes compared to the gasoline-powered Optima, like a new air dam up front and a unique bumper in the rear. Surprisingly, the PHEV’s wheelbase has been lengthened by 0.4 inches (now 110 inches) over the previous generation Optima. The overall length is also longer by 0.4 inches (191.1 inches). The size difference may not seem like much, but the car does drive like a larger sedan.

The most obvious design change is the new alloy wheel. I also like that what Kia has designed the LED lighting on the exterior and the interior. The chrome side sill molding and ‘Eco Plug-In’ badging are nice subtle touches as well. I also like the available blue interior because it creates a unique Plug-in vehicle ambiance.

Kia has employed some cool features like the Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), which will completely stop the car to avoid the collision or reduce the damage. Other driver safety assist systems include Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) and Front Collision Warning System (FCWS). All these systems worked flawlessly for my week in the car.

Along with a host of creature comforts and infotainment wizardry, Kia has included screens that display what they call ECO telematics that can be displayed on your cellphone with an app. The UVO app gives the owner up-to-date information about the charging status of the car. It even gives some remote climate and locking controls to the owner. A killer audio system with ten speakers, Android Auto1, and Apple CarPlay are also standard. Best of all, the infotainment interface is simple to use.

The 2017 Kia Optima EX PHEV has combined high efficient ownership with entertaining driving dynamics that will please most sedan owners. They have also included a long list of nice amenities for a very reasonable price beginning at $35,210.00. My test car came fully loaded with the Technology Package, and the price came to $41,405 (including shipping and handling). If a hybrid sedan is in your future and you want a carpool sticker for HOV lanes (California), check out the 2017 Kia Optima EX PHEV.

By Jim Powell

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Images of the 2017, KIA OPTIMA Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) sideview
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) sideview
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) bluelight
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) bluelight
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) electric plug
2017 Kia Optima Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) electric plug