2014 Kia Optima Hybrid Test Review

Jon Rosner - CAP staff
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For several year now Kia has been coming up with some really sharp and appealing cars that are simply classic in design, offering rooflines that don't require you to bang your head upon entry front or rear, yielding interiors which are spacious and work well for anyone from petite to long of leg and wide of girth. Taking a page from the Audi playbook the exteriors and interiors are handsome verging on elegant. Luxurious soft-touch materials made this driver feel pampered.

The 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid is set up on a 2,794-mm wheelbase, base models sport 205/65/16 rubber while our test car traveled on the 215/55/17 tires. The 2.4-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine offers the latest in high efficiency technologies. Kia calls it GDI or gasoline direct injection. Fuel is injected directly into the cylinders rather than the intake manifold. This not only allows the fuel to be spread more evenly across the piston face, but it does a nice job of cooling the pistons off after each firing sequence. A cooler chamber means that a higher compression ratio can be used. Higher compression means more power out of each gram of fuel. Aside from fuel economy one more benefit from the technology is that higher compression engines require stronger, more carefully designed and balanced engine internals, which means that the engine should last longer than a standard engine as it is simply better built.

This is a hybrid powertrain, but a simplified one that does not have the Rube Goldberg complexity of the Toyota Prius, nor the prone to failure MMA battery that comes with the Honda hybrids. The Kia exchanges the standard torque converter for a huge water-cooled generator that serves multiple functions including power regeneration on braking. The gasoline engine puts out 159 horses at 5,500 rpm while the electric one puts out 46.9 horsepower between 1,630 and 3,000 rpm. The gasoline engine's torque comes to 154 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm while the electric motor delivers 151 pound-feet from zero to 1,630 rpm. The electric motor puts out locomotive levels of power right off the line, while the gasoline engine creates a nice bump further up the power curve. By using electronics Kia keeps the total horses at 199, with 235 combined pound feet of torque. With a flat torque curve mated to a buttery smooth six-speed automatic, the car hauls butt.

Kia may be owned by Hyundai, but the suspension set up, ride and handling are far more in tune with Mazda and Alfa Romeo in terms of finesse and basic delight for the driver. At 3:00 PM on the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend we started off by truddling through northbound traffic. Route 80 through Berkeley and Albany, CA was miserably choked, for an instant we got up to speed across a bridge and then back to a snail's pace on Route 29. We passed through a tired looking Vallejo downtown, the usual strip malls and then open air where the Silverado Trail pitched a right just south of the city of Napa.

We had switched out of the "Eco" mode in the worst of the traffic in hopes of gaining more instant off-the-line power. That seemed to help some, but there was still a slight hesitancy when this author was playing sports car, pushing the Optima Hybrid by shooting for holes in traffic in an effort to get out of town fast. The car appeared to be learning my behaviour. Once we reached those twisty bends known as the Silverado Trail the Optima Hybrid decided that it liked me, because it seemed to take delight in sweeping from off-camber corner to off-camber corner like a cross country runner hitting their stride.

Included in the hyper-milers bag of tricks for lower fuel consumption is the use of the tabs on the cruise control to raise and lower speeds to meet traffic. We ran this way while negotiating those tight sweeping backroads between Napa, Calistoga and Middletown, California. The Optima Hybrid weighs maybe 110 kilos more than its non-hybrid sisters, mainly due to the addition of the compact high-density battery that lives just behind the rear seats. But the net is that this is a hybrid that gets out of its own way. The Optima is not a real sports sedan. It isn't going to truly encourage you to drive hard, but it's not going to discourage you either. And what's not to like about a well-appointed midsize car that consumes half a tank of fuel to travel 620 kilometres, the net result coming in at 5.2 L/100km from the 65-litre tank on regular fuel? Claimed ratings are 5.4 city and 4.9 highway for the base model, while the Hybrid Premium is rated at 5.6 and 5.0 respectively. On most roads a near silent cabin makes for a superb long-range cruiser too.

By offering a car that is visually appealing inside and out, with a proven track record for durability and excellent fuel economy at a $29,995 price point that few can match, the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid is delight to drive and a home run in terms of value.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, HEV, Kia, 2014, Optima Hybrid, $30,000 - $39,999, Hybrid, Midsize,

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