The Best of Both Worlds
Plug-in hybrids address two concerns, one environmental and one practical. First, they help reduce carbon emissions by limiting gas consumption. With an 18-mile commute each way and a charger at work, I drove my Snow White Pearl 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid test car to the office and back all week, burning exactly zero gasoline, thanks to the Optima’s 27 miles of all-electric range.
The second concern is an electric car’s limited ability to take long trips. But with the Optima PHEV, if I suddenly decide to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the weekend, I can —without stopping to refuel! The total gas + electric range is more than 600 miles.
The EPA gives this efficient model numbers of 38 mpg city/43 highway/40 combined. But the number EV enthusiasts care about is 103 MPGe. I earned 99.9 mpg on the gauge over my test week, a great achievement—without any special effort.
A Kia Sub-brand
The Kia Optima PHEV is part of Kia’s EcoDynamics sub-brand, which also includes the regular Optima Hybrid and the all-new Niro hybrid utility vehicle. Of course, Kia is also home of the Soul EV hatchback, which comes as an all-electric model.
The Optima is a midsize sedan that competes with the perennial favorites–the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It wears a distinctive look while avoiding over styling—important in this segment—and has loads of room inside.
The plug-in hybrid version looks pretty much like the gas and regular hybrid models, but sports special aerodynamic alloy wheels. Up front, you’ll find a unique “air curtain” and an active grille that opens and shuts to balance optimal aerodynamics with efficient engine cooling. A beveled rear bumper and rear diffuser add to the aerodynamics, helping deliver a Tesla-matching low co-efficiency of drag (cd) of just 0.24.
Under the Hood
The hybrid blend includes the 2.0-liter “Nu” four-cylinder gasoline direct injection engine that puts out 154 horsepower (hp) and 140 pounds-feet (lb.-ft) of torque. The 50-kW electric motor it’s mated with chips in 66 horsepower, so combined, the 3,788-pound sedan has 202 hp and 276 lb.-ft. of torque on tap.
You can control which power source is doing the work, depending on your situation. In town, put the 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid in EV Mode and use the electric motor exclusively.
On the freeway, switch it into Hybrid Mode and save your battery power for in-town driving later. There’s also a Charge Mode, which directs more energy to the battery as you’re driving, filling it up more quickly for urban motoring later.
The Screens of Eco-Fun
Part of the fun—and reward—of driving a car like this is monitoring your green driving progress, and Kia provides a rich set of displays. The colorful screen shows energy flow between the engine, motor and battery. Click a tab to see battery information, including total range for electric and gasoline. The Eco Level screen shows the Optima against a tree made up of dots. The more dots are illuminated, the better you’re driving—and you get a rating of 1 to 8. I proudly earned a 7.
You can also see your driving style in percentages, including Economical, Normal, and Aggressive. I drove in Economical mode about a third of the time, with the other two thirds in Normal, with just a few percent Aggressive. Your numbers may vary.
Another useful screen shows EV Range and location of the closest charging stations. Of course, with a plug-in hybrid, you don’t ever have to seek out a charger since you have a gas engine under the hood as backup. When you do charge, though, you can fill the 9.8-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery in three hours on a 240-volt Level 2 charger or nine hours on standard 120-volt household current.
So, if you’re on the go, a standard charging station will do it during part of your workday or shopping trip, while at home, you can charge overnight, at the lower rate, and don’t have to install a Level 2 charger in your garage.
The Story Inside
The Optima PHEV is quite comfortable inside and practical for carrying people. Although the trunk is a little battery-constrained, you still have nearly 10 cubic feet of capacity, and passengers can spread out in the roomy back seat.
The Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid retails at $36,105, including shipping. Sold in EX trim only, it’s full of virtues, including all the high-tech wizardry you expect for active and passive safety and entertainment options, so you don’t need to add on any special packages.
However, the Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic Premium Surround Sound Audio is a worthwhile option if you plan to take advantage of that 600-mile range. It features 10 speakers, 630 watts and Clari-Fi technology to thrill your ears.
The 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid is a major step towards an all-electric future, with zero sacrifice.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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