Road Test: 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

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.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

My week in numbers

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.

Kia EcoDynamics Sub-brand

The Optima Plug-in Hybrid has some company at Kia

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.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

The mode matters

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.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Kia offers feedback on your driving

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.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

The plug and badge show the secret of dual threat

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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Disclosure:

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, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles 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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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.

Drivetrains

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

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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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Disclosure:

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.