2017 Kia Optima Hybrid provides seamless drive, big fuel economy

SHARE 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid provides seamless drive, big fuel economy

The ascension of the modern hybrid has seen its share of ups and downs over the last decade. When fuel prices were in excess of $4 a gallon, hybrids were the stars of the manufacturers’ lineups; with today’s gas prices, there’s a lot less incentive to commit to hybrid powertrains.

Fuel prices aside, there are a lot of reasons to commit to the Kia Optima Hybrid, from the Hyundai Sonata-based powertrain to the same shared sleek exterior style of the gas-powered Optima. My tester delivers a slightly more athletic and aerodynamic shell. The big exterior add-on is new active grille shutters and aerodynamic changes to the front and rear fascias (and wheels) to push Optima more efficiently forward.

Costing in excess of $3,500 more than the gas-only Optima LX, prices for the base Optima Hybrid Premium I tested start at $26,845. I often cringe when the case for hybrid prices’ being more expensive are propped up only by saving money on fuel. There are the additional environmental benefits of simply using less fossil fuel and the emissions they generate. If you want to see what the benefits of a non-green thought might look like, take a look at air quality in any major city in China.

Unlike the big exterior differences from the gas-powered Optima, the inside of the Optima Hybrid is largely unchanged. This is smart: the Optima has one of the great interiors in the class, and a hybrid version is no reason to make big changes.

From the conservative dash to the soft-touch material quality and comfortable seats, everything in the Hybrid version is just as nice as the traditional gas version — except upholstery trim upgrades, which the hybrid does not offer yet.

Under the hood, there’s a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder gas engine, a 38-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.62-kilowatt-hour battery pack. The Optima Hybrid’s total system output is 192 horsepower with 271 pound-feet of torque, netting 39 mpg city and 46 mpg highway. Kia adds a torque converter with a clutch and electric motor to its six-speed automatic transmission; this melds together different power sources into a seamless mix of zero-emission systems. Lift off the throttle, and the four-cylinder engine shuts down and lets the 50-horsepower electric motor handle light, constant-throttle cruising below 62 miles per hour. I found this regular occurrence to be smooth and never concerning in local traffic.

I found the 2017 Optima Hybrid to handle pretty much like its gas-only counterpart. I enjoyed driving the Optima Hybrid; steering was light and pleasant but clearly targeted toward comfort and not athleticism.

My tester landed at a final as-tested $33,545. When it comes to fuel economy — and for hybrid models, that’s really the talking point — the Optima’s 42-mpg combined rating is very good when compared against the 40-mpg Camry, ties the Ford Fusion and is six points behind the Honda Accord.

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