Sleek Design in a Midsize Hybrid
It may not have occurred to you until you start shopping for a midsize car that most of the major brands offer a hybrid version. One of the latest to do so was Kia with its Optima Hybrid. Debuting in 2011, the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid has freshened styling, technology upgrades and mechanical improvements to make it worth adding to the list of good-looking five-passenger cars that might include:
- Chevy Malibu with its start-stop mild hybrid system,
- Ford Fusion Hybrid,
- Honda Accord Hybrid,
- the related Hyundai Sonata Hybrid,
- Toyota Camry Hybrid,
- and maybe even the Volkswagen Passat TDI, which, while not a hybrid, turns in comparable fuel economy in the 40s on the highway.
- Then there are some high-mileage non-hybrid models like the Nissan Altima.
The front-wheel drive 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-liter, 16-valve double overhead cam (DOHC), gasoline-powered in-line four-cylinder engine and a 74-kW electric motor with a lithium polymer battery. The two power sources produce a combined peak output of 199 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy for the Optima Hybrid is rated at 36 city/40 highway with a combined of 38 mpg. Running on regular unleaded, I drove 1,034 mostly highway miles and averaged 36.9 mpg. The 17-gallon tank is a good size for long distance
road trips, only having to refuel after 600 miles.
As with all modern hybrid vehicles, to maximize fuel economy the Optima Hybrid system automatically switches between the electric drive (EV), gasoline engine or both modes. The Kia system worked well except when at a stoplight and needing to accelerate hard as there is a small, but noticeable, delay before the car goes from pure electric to gasoline/hybrid mode. Otherwise, the transitions were not noticeable and the car ran smooth and quiet on gasoline power when cruising the highway. The Optima Hybrid automatically slides into EV mode when coasting down a hill, increasing the fuel economy when running on gasoline is unnecessary.
The Optima Hybrid has two drive settings, EV and ECO, that are indicated by a lighted EV and ECO on the instrument cluster. ECO is the default setting for optimal fuel economy when cruising on the highway and EV is where you will be for around-town driving. The Kia Hybrid system automatically chooses the drive setting based on power needs and driving conditions and cannot be manually controlled.
The lithium polymer battery is charged through the regenerative charging system (and of course by the gasoline engine), which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process is also viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid weighs in at 3,622 lbs., which is 385 lbs. more than the gasoline-powered, base model Optima LX and 154 lbs. more than the gasoline-powered Limited model. These are small weight differences considering the added hybrid components.
The previously noted EV and ECO drive modes get the car to 60 mpg in about eight seconds, which is certainly respectable and sufficient for getting into the flow of freeway traffic. Once on the freeway, passing was efficient but there were
noticeable shift-points of the six-speed automatic.
The Optima Hybrid EX comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, hydraulic power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with front independent MacPherson struts and anti-roll bar, and a rear multi-link independent anti-roll bar suspension. All this delivers a smooth and quiet highway ride with little wind noise. While common freeway maneuvers were done with confidence, the Optima Hybrid is not designed to be a sports sedan. Hard or spirited cornering revealed understeer and a lack of steering feel. Overall, the car felt heavy to drive, which is a unique experience among mid-size cars, whether they are hybrid or gasoline-powered.
But going fast is worthless if you can’t stop. The Optima Hybrid comes with Kia’s Brake Assist System (BAS) that includes power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, which are part of Kia’s regenerative braking system. The stops were straight and consistent, but the brakes were touchy to the point of making me want to stay off them as much as possible until some experimentation took place. We hope the dealer service department could dial out the over-sensitivity so stopping isn’t a series of coasting and then gingerly applying the brakes. When coming to a stop, the combination of the regenerative braking and the hybrid motor made a noticeable, but not unpleasant, whine.
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Kia Optima is arguably the best looking car in the mid-size category. The dynamic design of the 2014 Optima Hybrid EX has dramatic front and rear views that give the car a sense of motion even when sitting still. The high beltline rises gracefully from the front to rear taillights, drawing your eye to a sleekness that would look good on cars at a much higher price.
Kia has thankfully stayed away from an overabundance of chrome bits and pieces, including the temptation to place a chrome eyebrow on the trunk lid above the license plate. And for fun, the LED rear lights give off a slightly menacing, but enticing, look.
Driving Experience: Interior
Smarticd was driving the fully optioned 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX with the optional Panoramic Sunroof, Technology and White Interior packages, which made for a very enjoyable, 1,000+ mile experience behind the wheel. It is easy to say that, as good looking as the Optima Hybrid’s exterior is, the interior may be the high point of this car’s appeal.
The optional dual-panel panoramic sunroof gives an open-air feeling through a wide opening that at speeds up to 50 mph is quiet. Much above that and the wind noise can get a bit much. Our EX model had
white leather seats that were power eight-way adjustable (with memory) for the driver and four-way for the passenger, were heated, air cooled and ventilated. It was easy to find a comfortable driver seat position, including power lumber support. However, the passenger seat position was too low and could not be adjusted.
The rear seats have a center fold-down console and can hold three adults, but two is more realistic for a long journey. They offered good support and leg room, but taller passengers might find the sloping roof takes away some head room. The outboard rear seats are heated, which is a nice touch for a midsize sedan.
The Optima Hybrid’s infotainment (entertainment and information) comes through Kia’s EVO system, which includes telematics and voice command navigation. Tunes come from the Infinity surround-sound audio system with eight speakers and an external amplifier and subwoofer to enjoy the SiriusXM/FM/CD/HDAM with MP3 playback capability. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB
port with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability. The auto-dimming rearview mirror was Homelink equipped and the voice activation for the telephone and navigation worked well.
Features that are now expected to be standard equipment on many cars included power windows, door locks and mirrors, 12V power outlets, cruise control and multiple cup holders.
The cockpit design is driver-friendly. The gauges are in easy sight and the controls within easy reach, especially with the video screen, dual-zone automatic temperature controls and the radio buttons angled towards the driver a slight bit. The leather-wrapped steering wheel contains audio and telephone buttons. The optional Nappa white leather seats have gray piping accents and the gloss black interior trim added an upscale contrast.
But what is all the comfort and convenience worth if the car isn’t safe? The Optima Hybrid is well-equipped with active and passive safety features including six air bags, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), High-Intensity Discharge (HID), projection and self-leveling headlights and LED fog lights. The smart key system for the doors and trunk, push button start and illuminated entry added safety and convenience, as did the heated, power folding and adjusting outside mirrors with turn indicators, rear view camera and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability traction and hill assist control, and vehicle assist management.
The 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid comes in two models, but can be ordered with Option Packages that will affect your final price. The base MSRP for the two hybrid models, excluding the $800 Inland Freight and Handling Fee:
The Optima Hybrid EX Smarticd was driving had the optional Panoramic Sunroof ($1,500), Technology ($700) and White Interior ($400) packages bringing the total MSRP, with the $800 Inland Freight and Handling Fee, to
The 2014 Optima Hybrid EX comes with these warranties:
• 10-year/100,000-mile Powertrain
• 5-year/60,000-mile Basic
• 5-year/60,000-mile Roadside Assistance
• 3-year/36,000-mile Non-impact paint repairs (fading, cracking, chipping or flaking)
• 10-year/100,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage for Pennsylvania and Washington
• 15-year/150,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage for all other states not listed above
• 5-year/Unlimited miles Anti-Perforation
Observations: 2014 Optima Hybrid EX
The Optima Hybrid was completely redesigned in 2013, carrying-over to the 2014 model. As mentioned earlier, Kia did an excellent job of bringing the Optima to the top of the midsize class in looks, stance and image. The Optima interior has an upscale look and feel with refined materials, subtle mood lighting and contrasting leather seats. The Optima Hybrid was designed in the Kia design studios in the United States and Germany, under the leadership of Chief Designer
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