Comparison Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid

Comparison Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid

Top Choices for a Fuel-Efficient Midsize Sedans

Choices are sometimes easy—like first class versus coach—or difficult—like the 20-page menu at a restaurant that makes your head spin. Then, there is Kia, which presents us with two good options.

Kia gives fuel-conscious, midsize sedan buyers two choices with the 2017 Optima Hybrid and Optima PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). Both are worthy to be in your garage, but are different enough to take a closer look as one may be better than the other for your driving pattern and lifestyle.


Both models are front-wheel drive with 2.0-liter, four-cylinder DOHC (double overhead cam) engines, mated to six-speed automatics and using regular fuel. The engines put out 154 horsepower and 140 pounds-feet of torque and promise similar EPA fuel economy ratings—the hybrid gets 39 mpg city/46 highway/42 combined, and the PHEV 38 city/43 highway/40 combined. So far so good, as you would not be disappointed owning either car as far as fuel economy is concerned.

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

Two ways to go fuel thrifty from Kia

But here is the big difference between the two: the PHEV has an all-electric range (AER) of 29 miles and a 103 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). The AER may seem low at 29 miles, but Kia has a neat little secret of a generator to replenish the AER battery while you are driving in gasoline mode. It turns off hybrid mode (where the engine computer selects whether to use the gas engine, electric motor or a combination of the two) and directs engine energy to recharge the battery.

Keeping the AER charged to maximum allows you to not use the less-efficient gasoline engine when driving around town or stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You need to manually place the car in pure EV mode, but once there, you zip around with good torque and power in silence. For a bit of fun, you can go up to 75 mph on electricity where the only sounds you hear are the tires on the road.

So, depending on how much city driving you do, your need for gasoline could be very, very low. With the AER able to be topped-off at all times, you just might experience the 600 miles of total driving range estimated by Kia. Yes, that is San Diego to San Francisco with one hundred miles to spare. If you decided to cruise over the Golden Gate Bridge and visit the Napa or Sonoma Valley for some wine tasting, you would still have driving distance remaining.

Driving Experience: On the Road

Clean Fleet Report was driving the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid Premium that weighed in at 3,486 lbs., while the Optima PHEV which added 302 pounds, two-thirds of that coming from its larger battery. Both cars, with electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering, handled corners well, but not exciting. In all fairness to Kia,

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

The Optima Hybrids will tell you how you’re doing

the Optima is not marketed as a sports sedan, so the handling in that case was just fine. The overall ride comfort and quietness was excellent in the Optima PHEV, and it had a bit better cornering grip than the Optima Hybrid. This would be attributed to the added weight of the PHEV and the 17-inch tires and wheels versus the 16-inchers on the Hybrid.

Stopping was straight and true with no fading from the power-assisted front ventilated and rear solid disc brakes, with four-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS) and brake assist.

Common on all hybrids is a regenerative braking system. Kia’s is a key part of the recharging of the Optima’s Lithium-ion polymer battery. Regenerative braking converts braking or coasting into electricity, which charges the battery. You will come to enjoy monitoring the battery charge and mileage range (metered instantly with dash gauges) when driving around town, stuck in stop-and-go rush hour traffic, or coasting down hills.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Kia has received wide praise and acknowledgment of the Optima’s design, which they say has “European styling…delivering a class-up experience.” The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

Subtle tips

exterior design is differentiated from the gasoline versions, but still retains its 0.24 Cd, which equals the Tesla Model S. The front end has active grille shutters and an air curtain, while the rear has a diffuser to maximize airflow. Even the wheels have a hybrid-specific aerodynamic design.

The Optima has wrap-around, projection headlights (LED with dynamic bending on our PHEV model) that extend wide on the fenders. The roofline has a sports coupe look with a raked A-pillar and long swept-back C-pillar leading to a raised deck lid, capped-off with a subtle integrated lip. Finishing off the rear are narrow, down-and-inward angled LED tail lights that start midway through the rear fender and end on the trunk lid. Kia even hid the exhaust tips, which are concealed by the rear diffuser.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving two different, but similarly equipped Optima Hybrid models. One had the Convenience Package and the other with the EX Technology Package. Both packages made the interiors a comfortable place to spend lengthy, fuel-efficient road trips. We were very impressed and a little surprised with the EX Technology Package (a $5,250 additional charge) that had everything a higher-end luxury car would have as an option.

First and foremost, Kia has spent time making the driving experience one of convenience and comfort. The cockpit layout is simple and clean with soft touch materials on the dash and door panels. The easy to find and read cruise control, telephone and audio controls are housed on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. I was especially pleased to see the radio had on/off knobs for volume and channel selection, and the climate control wheels were a different size than those of the radio. This may not seem like a big thing, but it is when reaching for these very different controls in the dark—regardless of your familiarity with the dash layout.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Tech, but with real knob functionality

The simplicity of the dash layout made reading the gauges easy. The Optima PHEV with the EX Technology Package came with an eight-inch LCD touch screen for navigation and the rear view camera display. A great sounding Harman Kardon QLS premium surround sound system came with SiriusXM (three-month trial subscription) and an AM/FM/HD/CD/MP3 radio with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Siri Eyes-free. You also get USB ports, iPod connectivity, Aux-in jacks, Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free telephone. All of this technology is controlled through the UVO Infotainment and Connectivity Platform, which is unique to Kia.

The list of convenience features is what would be expected (when paying more than five grand for an optional package) and Kia does not disappoint. You get power everything and leather everywhere. The very comfortable heated and ventilated front leather seats (with tasteful hand stitching) are power for the driver and passenger, with the driver getting power lumbar adjustments as well. Even the rear outbound seats are heated. The power panoramic sunroof brings the skies into the cabin.

Safety and Convenience

Clean Fleet Report’s 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid and PHEV models came with safety and convenience features including seven air bags, remote keyless entry, tire pressure monitoring system, push button start, electronic stability control, traction control, vehicle stability management, hill start assist, projector beam headlights, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, anti-theft engine immobilizer and ABS mentioned earlier.

In crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid has an Overall 5-Star rating (their Top Rating), while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2017 Optima Hybrid its highest rating of a Top Safety Pick. Note: the Optima PHEV was not rated separately by either organization.

Pricing and Warranties

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid Premium

$25,995 Base Price

$27,790 As tested, with options

2017 Kia Optima PHEV

Smooth sailing in a slippery skin


2017 Kia Optima Hybrid PHEV

$35,210 Base Price

$40,510 As tested, with options

All prices exclude the $895 freight and handling charge.

The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrids come with these warranties:

  • Battery – 10 years/150,000 miles (CA, OR, WA, NY)
  • Battery – 10 years/100,000 miles (remaining states)
  • Basic – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles

Observations: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid & Optima Plug-in Hybrid

If an auto manufacturer doesn’t have a hybrid, PHEV, EV or fuel cell in their line-up by now, they had better do so real soon. The electrification of automobiles (buses, trucks and tractors too) is here and is only growing. High fuel economy and clean air is not a trend or pipe dream, but a reality.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Two choices, but one has greater EV potential

The two Kia Optima models reviewed here are part of the company’s hybrid family that is among the best on the market. And, if you are looking for a plug-in hybrid with an onboard battery charger, only Audi/Porsche and Kia’s sister company Hyundai offers the same technology.

So what makes a PHEV worth the extra expense over a conventional hybrid? Driving range and increased fuel economy.

Having driven hybrids from several manufacturers, the Kia hybrids offer a good compromise of excellent fuel economy and performance/ride dynamics. The smooth operation and seamless transition between gasoline and electric drive in the refined hybrid powertrain makes it a pleasure to drive.

The big selling point, though, is the onboard generator, where Kia has provided consumers an impressive all-electric driving range. By a simple push of a button, the generator quietly turns on and the AER will, in theory, never run out. Being able to travel 600+ miles in a comfortable, midsize sedan is remarkable. The EPA says the Optima PHEV gets 103 MPGe, which is easily reached—or exceeded—under normal driving conditions. Oh, and don’t forget that in many states owning a plug-in electric car qualifies you for a coveted HOV lane sticker and will let you get into city centers where gasoline powered cars are banned.

This might be the time to broaden your vehicle consideration list to include a Kia Optima PHEV. You will have to balance cost versus your driving pattern to see if it makes sense. If it does, sit back and enjoy a comfortable, fuel-sipping ride for years to come.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

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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.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

Road Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

What a Difference Five Years Makes

When I reviewed Kia’s first Optima Hybrid in January 2012 after its arrival in November 2011, I noted its eye-riveting styling and tech-rich standard equipment. I also commented that the Korean automaker’s first hybrid system misfired during city driving and delivered mediocre fuel economy, a calamity that was not only off-putting, but a possible deal breaker for many shoppers.

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

This isn’t your older brother’s Optima Hybrid

Fast forward five years, and the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid is a completely different car. It is still distinctly an Optima, but the sheet metal is a little softer, which takes off some of the edgy styling of the outgoing model. The new hybrid continues to be tech laden, but the interior’s redesign is more upscale in appearance with higher quality materials and luxury-influenced details.

However, the biggest change is the hybrid system. It no longer stumbles and fumbles, and the fuel economy numbers have vastly improved. In short, there are no longer any deal breakers associated with the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid.

There are two trim levels offered for 2017. The base model is priced starting at $26,890, including an $895 destination charge. Our EX test driver had a base sticker price of $31,840, with a Snow White Pearl paint job and a technology package adding $5,395 for a total of $37,235.

MPG Improvement, Now A Smooth Operator

Criticized for middling fuel economy its previous iteration, the hybrid system was meticulously rethought and reengineered, casting aside that criticism. The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid is EPA rated at 39-mpg city/46 highway/42 combined. That compares to the 2016’s EPA numbers of 35 city/38 highway/37 combined. While the improved fuel economy numbers are not hybrid midsize class-leading—that belongs to the 2017 Toyota Prius Eco Hybrid with a combined 56-mpg—an EPA combined 42-mpg rating is nothing to sneeze at.

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid,engine

Smaller is better–in every way

Much of the Optima Hybrid’s mpg improvement was achieved by jettisoning the former 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine and downsizing to a more efficient direct-injected 2.0-liter four. Engine output is 154 horsepower (hp) and 140 pounds-feet (lb-ft) of torque. Adding to the equation is a new electric water pump and a new electric oil pump, which help improve overall fuel economy. Additional gains come from higher voltage for the lithium-polymer battery pack and a new electric motor’s remarkable willingness to kick into electric mode, even at 62 mph (which just happens to be 100 kilometers per hour) on the interstate.

To make up the performance slack of the smaller engine, the previous 35-kilowatt electric motor was replaced by a smaller, but more powerful 38 kW unit that generates 51 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. Under acceleration, the engine and motor pool their resources to provide a combined system output of 193 horsepower. The upshot is an eight-second 0-60 run.

As for the hybrid system’s calamity during in-town driving, Hyundai has ironed out that issue with significant changes to the six-speed automatic transmission, which houses the traction motor. The words to describe the hybrid system now are smooth and seamless.

It’s a full parallel hybrid design that permits operating in three modes: gasoline power, electric-only power and a combination of both. Like other systems of this type, it has stop-start capability to conserve fuel, as well as regenerative braking that feeds energy to the battery during slowing and braking.

Sleek And Slippery

When Kia redesigned the Optima last year they took a step back from the forward-looking, forward-thinking example of daring and aggressive design of the previous version. The new look is conservative and mature. With the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid, the automaker put form in the service of function—better aerodynamics.

Styling is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, building on the looks of the previous car, with Kia’s trademark grille treatment stretched wide and featuring active air louvers as well as an “air curtain” method of tuning the front-end to sweep airflow outside to front wheels and over the hood. Hybrid-specific alloy wheels help diminish wind drag, while a covered undercarriage, a rear spoiler and redesigned rear fascia improve downforce. All of these touches add up to a slick and slippery drag coefficient of just 0.24 Cd, matching the Tesla Model S electric sedan.

Exterior dimensions are marginally longer, taller and wider than the previous generation. The wheelbase has been extended to 110.4 inches (increased 0.4 inches), and the vehicle has been widened to 73.2 inches (increased 1.0 inch).

Inside there is a delicious amount of passenger space, front and rear, and the car sets a high standard for fit and finish and high-quality materials. The dash design is linear and horizontal, while an upper crease arcs around the top of the dash and through to the doors, framing the cabin for the front occupants. Buttons and switches inside improve by leaps and bounds, and you won’t have to look far to see the level of improvement here in the details. It’s one very well-coordinated cabin.

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

Hot buttons all around

A distinctive instrument cluster with a 4.3-inch color LCD multi-purpose display lets Hybrid drivers know the status and flow of the hybrid system.

The 2017 Optima Hybrid continues Kia’s knack for creating strong showroom appeal by including hot-button features as standard. These include Kia’s UVO’s infotainment telematics system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone linking, and satellite radio, all housed in a seven-inch color touch-screen display. Add to the list an auxiliary audio jack and a USB interface for iPods and other digital media, plus a tilt/telescoping steering wheel fitted with audio, Bluetooth, and cruise controls.

There is ample room in the trunk’s 13.3 cubic feet of space to stash strollers and other kid paraphernalia. That’s thanks to Kia placing the battery pack under the trunk floor, which allows 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

The Optima Hybrid’s resume includes a full suite (seven) of airbags, a backup camera and stability and traction controls. Optional are forward collision, lane departure and blind-spot warning systems along with rear parking assist with rear cross-traffic warning and active cruise control.

On The Road

Driving the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid is a soothing respite to the bustle and hubbub of city traffic.It’s nicely soundproofed, luxuriously appointed and pleasant to drive. Get up to speed from a stop via the gas engine, ease off the accelerator and the transition to electric power is uncannily smooth and allows all-electric driving for several miles.

Kia’s reason for choosing an automatic transmission rather than the more common hybrid continuously variable transmission (CVT) was to address the complaint that hybrids were boring to drive.

Mash the throttle and the six-speed transmission winds nicely toward top rpm, shifting each time somewhere around 6,000 rpm, when the full tug of torque seems ready to run out. So it would seem that Kia accomplished its goal of achieving a driving experience that closely parallels a conventional car.

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid,wheel

For 2017, the Optima Hybrid knows how to keep the rubber on the road

As for handling, the car has balanced agility for the hybrid sedan class and the suspension keeps everything secure. The ride is composed and comfortable with the suspension soaking up potholes and rough pavement.

My favorite aspect of the Kia’s road manners is its responsive steering. It has a quick and precise feeling, is balanced and firm, but never twitchy.

Regenerative and hydraulic braking play a role in the hybrid system and the brake pedal felt squishy and unnatural, something I couldn’t get used to during our week with the car.

We accelerated moderately and kept pace with 70-75 mph freeway traffic. After diving 236 miles in our EX test car, nearly equally divided between city and highway driving, we averaged 42.8 mpg. What likely helped beat the EPA rating was the hybrid system’s ability to travel on electric power at freeway speeds, something I found fairly easy to do.

In The Marketplace

The 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid faces different market conditions than the 2012 model. Its two main competitors, the Fusion Hybrid and Camry Hybrid have recently been refreshed and deliver better fuel economy than the old models, as does it’s sister Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Plus, there is now the Chevrolet Malibu that hits the street with 46-mpg combinded fuel economy rating and the Honda Accord Hybrid at 48 combined. The Prius Eco is the fuel economy leader, but really is a smaller car than this quintet.

Also, 2012 was the priciest year ever for gasoline prices, averaging $3.60 per gallon with a peak of more than $4.00. Today the national average is $2.27, which makes it tough to sell a gasoline-electric hybrid car.

At $26,890 to $31,885, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid is priced competitively. Ford’s Fusion Hybrid is priced from $26,660 to $38,005, while the Toyota Camry Hybrid runs from $27,795 to $30,040. Chevy’s Malibu Hybrid starts at $28,750 and tops out at $31,850 while the Hyunda Sonata Hybrid comes in at $26,835 to 30,935. And then there’s Hyundai’s new Ioniq Hybrid, a slightly smaller model coming soon.

The Warranty Boost

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

It’s all good–and the warranty is better

But the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid offers a compelling reason to  buy—Kia’s warranty. Basic coverage is five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, and 10 years/100,000 miles for the hybrid powertrain, which includes the battery pack, electric motor, gear drive unit, electric power control unit, onboard charger, the works.

Owners also receive 24-hour roadside assistance at no extra charge for five years/unlimited mileage.

Then there’s the warranty knockout punch—a lifetime warranty for the hybrid battery pack. If the lithium-polymer battery fails, Kia will replace the battery and cover recycling costs of the old battery pack free of charge to the original owner.

That’s impressive and reassuring. If for no other reason than the warranty, if you have decided it’s time to move to a hybrid, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid should be on your shopping list.

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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.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at