2011 Kia Optima HybridPosted on May 24th, 2011
By Nina Russin
The Optima Hybrid sedan is the third and final chapter in the marketing strategy for the Kia’s flagship model. The Korean automaker unveiled its hybrid prototype at last year’s LA Auto Show; a move that came as no surprise to journalists familiar with the company’s business model.
Kia has closely emulated Toyota since coming stateside seventeen years ago. Not only do high fuel economy cars fit well with the company’s value-pricing strategy; alternative fuel models give Kia panache among more affluent customers who believe that “green is good.”
Priced from $26,500, the Optima Hybrid uses a lithium-polymer battery pack produced by LG Chem to power the electric motor. The 30 kilowatt electric motor and a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine give the gasoline/electric powertrain 206 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. Peak torque is available as low as 1400 rpm.
There are two grades: the base model with standard 16-inch wheels and low rolling resistance tires, and a Technology package which includes 17-inch rims. The Technology package adds $5000 to the hybrid’s base price. All models carry a $750 delivery charge.
The Optima Hybrid carries 10 year/100,000 mile warranty for all components, including the battery. The replacement interval for the battery pack is 10 years or 150,000 miles: significantly longer than some competitive products.
Standard comfort and convenience options on the upscale Technology grade include dual-zone climate controls, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, push button start, a power driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar control and a rearview backup camera.
Lithium battery is lighter and more compact
Not only is the lithium-polymer battery lighter than nickel-metal hydride units, it can also hold its charge up to 25 percent longer, according to the manufacturer. The Optima’s battery pack, which is positioned between the rear seats and trunk, weighs 94 pounds. Its compact dimensions enabled designers to include a small pass-through from the trunk: something not found in competitive models.
Test drive in Palm Springs
Last week, I had the opportunity to take the Optima hybrid for a 30-minute test drive in Palm Springs, California. The route included surface streets in town, and the tram road to the north. The tram road, which rises in elevation about 3000 feet, was the perfect test for the Optima’s low-end power and acceleration.
Designers differentiated the hybrid exterior from other Optima models with a unique grille color and trim which extends around the headlamps and side panels. The sedan is five millimeters lower than other Optima models, and has panels under the chassis to enhance aerodynamic performance.
The rear decklid sports a functional spoiler. Fuel economy, according to the manufacturer, is 36 miles-per-gallon around town and 40 on the highway.
Except for an energy meter display on the center stack, the hybrid technology on the new Optima is essentially invisible to the driver. A single power control unit operates the electric motor. Regenerative braking recharges the battery during driving. A clutch between the gasoline engine and electric motor controls the operation of both components.
The big advantage of gasoline/electric hybrids, as compared to conventional gas-powered cars, is their acceleration off the line. Electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds. As a result, the Optima Hybrid handles like a much more powerful car than its horsepower and torque numbers would indicate.
Although the Optima Hybrid comes with a continuously-variable automatic transmission, drivers can opt to shift the car manually. This makes a huge difference on steep grades, such as the tram road. The sedan literally sailed up the road, passing everything in its path with ease.
The electric power steering system is well tuned to the car, providing good feedback at all speeds. A 35.8-foot turning radius makes U-turns a possibility on wider suburban roads.
Although the Optima Hybrid is heavier than either the naturally-aspirated or turbocharged sedan, it’s well balanced, thanks to the rear-mounted battery pack. Front-to-rear weight balance is 59/41: the same as the naturally aspirated sedan. The fact that the hybrid is not particularly nose-heavy reduces its tendency to push in the corners when driven aggressively.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
The placement of the battery pack behind the rear seats means that there is very little impact to space in the passenger cabin. The Optima’s attractive interior easily accommodates up to four adults.
Tech-savvy drivers will appreciate the energy monitor display, which includes a fuel economy graph. The quiet interior enables passengers in both rows to converse easily, or enjoy the standard satellite radio.
A dual-pane panoramic sunroof, which comes standard on the Technology model, brings an abundance of ambient light into the interior. Other comfort and convenience features include an Infinity audio system, leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, driver’s seat memory and illuminated scuff plates.
Kia is modifying the Optima seats to be less rigid based on early customer feedback. The hybrid is the first model to get the softer seats. All models will have these revisions by 2012.
The trunk is shorter than it is on other Optima models, due to the battery pack. However the pass-through makes it possible to load some longer items such as skis inside the car. The trunk is large enough to hold groceries or luggage for a weekend road trip. A temporary spare tire, which comes standard on other Optima models, is an option on the hybrid.
The Optima Hybrid comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and hill start assist.
The Kia Optima Hybrid begins arriving in dealerships this June.
Likes: An affordably priced hybrid sedan with excellent fuel economy, and a high level of comfort, convenience and safety features.
Dislike: Small trunk
Model: Optima Hybrid Technology
Base price: $26,500
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 206.2 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 195 lbs.-ft. @ 1400-4250 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 36/40 mpg city/highway (estimated)
2 responses to “2011 Kia Optima Hybrid”
One nit: the transmission is a six speed automatic, not a CVT. This is a difference between Hyundai/Kia and almost all other hybrids.
Actually, according to the manufacturer it’s a CVT, although it can be manually shifted, so it resembles a six-speed auto. I don’t know how they accomplished that because I’m not an engineer, but that’s the information I was given.
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