By David Colman
- High Level of equipment
- Refined interior
- Stunning looks
- Balky drivetrain
- Annoying “Easy Access” seat slide on entry
The 2011 Kia Optima sedan is a spectacularly successful styling effort. Its proportions, stance and attention to detail make it look twice as expensive as its $32,000 price tag. It is more handsome and better proportioned than any of the current gape-mouthed Audis or flame surfaced BMWs. But where those storied German makes succeed is performance. In that regard, the Kia falls short of the lofty mark promised by its stellar styling.
The Optima Hybrid returns excellent gas mileage, thanks to a 2.4 liter gas engine teamed with an electric motor feeding a 270V lithium polymer battery proprietary to Kia. In the spot on the dash where you’d normally find a tachometer, Kia has placed a gauge monitoring battery charge of the lithium polymer cell. An adjacent “Eco-Guide” gauge keeps track of your carbon footprint. The 160 mph speedometer is about 50 mph optimistic.
A tiny, vertically oriented tachometer that is almost impossible to read, resides between the Eco-Guide and the speedometer. Clearly, the visual information presented to the driver focuses on conservation rather than performance. To that end, the Optima Hybrid achieves reputable fuel economy of 35 MPG City/40 MPG Highway, In a week of solid short trip driving with this car, we never ran the fuel level below a half tank.
Considering its modest base price of $26,500, Optima buyers will be more than mildly surprised by its level of opulence. Standard niceties include dual zone climate control with rear seat vents, Sirius® satellite radio with free 3 month subscription, Smart key with push button start, cruise control, rear vision camera, and power windows, door locks and exterior mirrors. If you opt for the Premium Technology Package ($5,000 extra), your drive time will benefit from a navigation system, a 500 Watt Infinity premium audio system, and best of all, a double-sized “Panorama” sunroof that sheds plenty of light on front and rear seat passengers. Only the front half opens, however.
Sparkling 17-inch alloy wheels feature prominently in the extra cost package, as well as leather seats, HID headlights and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Back seat occupants are well looked after, with windows that retract fully into doors, lounge chair seating posture, and that claustrophobia-beating rear sunroof.
In the driving dynamics department, however, the Optima Hybrid falls short of the current mark set by other hybrids like GM’s Volt, and Toyota’s Camry. The 206hp combined gas/electric drivetrain in the Optima performs like the first generation hybrids that were marketed years ago by Toyota and Honda. Transitions between hybrid and gas powered mode are ragged in the Optima, with some shudder detected.
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