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Kia Optima Hybrid delivers lots of enviable qualities



There have been so many new hybrid vehicles over the past decade that it's getting hard to keep track of them. Of course, that's a good problem, since they are "green" vehicles that will save on gas and are partially electrically powered.

Kia jumped into the hybrid fray a year ago with the Kia Optima. It was a great move by the South Korean automaker, which already had a strong, well received product in the Optima and increased its prestige by adding the hybrid for 2011.

What's so good about the 2012 Kia Optima hybrid? First off, it looks really classy. At first glance one might mistake the Optima for a German-produced vehicle, which is high praise. It looks good on the outside and the interior features a very sensible layout with an intuitive design - wish more vehicles would follow that same line of thinking.

The Optima hybrid also has a very smooth shifting transmission that is not only quite efficient, but also very quiet. And the handling is sporty for a hybrid that sells for a reasonable $25,700.

And one more thing about this midsized sedan: the Optima has a big back seat that is roomy for taller folks and will also fit three passengers without the usual overcrowding issues.

If one understands the Kia-Hyundai relationship, it should come as no surprise that the Optima mirror some of the Hyundai Sonata basic designs.

For those not in the know, Kia and Hyundai do lots of sharing, including factories, engineering, parts and similar testing. Yet the two South Korean companies maintain their own marketing, distribution and styling departments.

The Optima hybrid has just one trim model. So if you're not enamored with it, move on. And there are certainly a number of fine choices if one really wants to purchase Optima, because it has three other trim models besides the hybrid version.

The hybrid engine pairs a 30-kilowatt electric motor with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder that produces 206 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It's far from the quickest sedan around, going 0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds. But that's not bad for a hybrid model.

For higher performance, the Optima SX is the best bet. It's 2.0-liter, turbo-charged four-cylinder that creates 274 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and is clocked 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. The other two trims (LX, EX) are 2.4-liter, four-cylinders with 200 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque.

With any hybrid, perhaps the prime consideration is gas mileage. While no slouch in that department, the Optima hybrid only gets a reported 35-40 mpg. The other three Optima models range between 22-35 mpg.

As mentioned previously, the Optima provides a very nice ride. It's a fairly easy vehicle to maneuver, thanks to its responsive steering. It has good passing power in freeway situations and also features dependable braking power.

The Optima's smart interior utilizes the Uvo electronics interface system, which is offered in all but the base model. Uvo allows for voice control of cell phones and MP3 players, plus services like turn-by-turn navigation, which is a little too chatty for my liking.

A low roof line is one downside to the Optima because it limits visibility. Another negative is the trunk's substandard in the hybrid version with only 9.9 cubic feet due to sharing space with the battery pack. The other Optima models measure 15.4 cubic feet in trunk space.

For anyone shopping for a midsize car with a lot of value, the Optima hybrid should be considered. It blends a sporty look with a comfortable, well designed interior. It also offers a smooth ride for a vehicle in its price range.

2012 Kia Optima hybrid

  • Performance: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 206 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 35-40 mpg
  • Price: $25,700
  • Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles; drivetrain 10 years/100,000 miles; corrosion 5 years/100,000; roadside assistance 5 years/60,000; 24-hour roadside assistance
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Weidel on Wheels author Jeffrey Weidel is an award-winning writer from the Sacramento region who has reviewed automobiles for more than two decades. He can be reached at skiweidel@gmail.com
Follow him on Twitter at @jeffweidel.




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