Kia’s newest family-sized green machine

The mid-size Optima is Kia’s best-seller, and it’s been an impressive contender in a highly competitive market. Between the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu, there’s not much room for slacking when it comes to family sedans. Kia has worked hard to successfully keep up with the demands of nipping at the heels of the best-sellers, and it follows up on the fresh redesign of the Optima with an equally refurbished Optima Hybrid.

Not to be overshadowed by the introduction of the all-new Niro hybrid, Kia’s gasoline-electric Optima broadens from a single model into a lineup, with the addition of a plug-in hybrid version to the stable. This is as much to improve the breed as it is to keep up with the figurative Joneses: Ford, Toyota and Honda all offer hybrids, and the Optima is available as a plug-in version as well.

Both of the upcoming Optima hybrids are sold under Kia’s new EcoDynamics sub-brand. Kia’s future electric and hybrid projects will also migrate to this umbrella, for stronger brand recognition.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid.

Exterior

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The Optima is a striking car, with a dramatically sloped fastback look and a curve, coupe-like roof. The Optima’s got flashy new styling, and the Optima Hybrid doesn’t change that much. Kia’s familiar "tiger nose" grille has a flush piano-black cover, similar to the smooth face of the Kia Soul Electric. In the Optima Hybrid this is part of an active grille system, that’s able to open and close automatically at high speeds to improve engine cooling and aerodynamics.

From there back the changes to this long, low hybrid are subtle. At a glance it shares the looks of the gasoline version, but Kia has installed a unique front apron, a redesigned rear bumper with an air diffuser and more aerodynamic wheels that are unique to the Optima Hybrid. LED exterior lighting and satin-finish paint also set the Optima Hybrid apart.

Interior

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The Optima Hybrid features a unique instrument panel that enables monitoring of the battery, and it shares the Optima’s wide console and comfortable cabin. Vibration-reducing seat frames improve the ride, and heated and cooled seats are available. A cool new feature is Eco-DAS1 ("Driver Assistance System"), which offers a "Coasting Guide." It coaches the driver, offering efficiency-improving advice on when to coast and brake with blinking icons on the instrument panel. The Optima’s wireless phone charger and 360-degree Surround View Monitor are available on the hybrid as well.

Kia’s UVO infotainment system is expanded for use in the Optima Hybrid with battery life and other vehicle telematics functions. It’s compatible with Android 4Auto and Apple5 CarPlay as well. A navigation system, and Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic sound system are also available.

Drivetrain

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Just as it is with performance cars, constant improvements are vital to keep the Optima Hybrid relevant. Kia has replaced the former 2.4 liter four-cylinder with an all-new 2.0 liter direct-injection four. The water pump and oil pump are electric, to reduce parasitic power losses. This 154-horsepower engine is connected to a 38-kW electric motor via a hybrid starter-generator, providing a system total of approximately 193 horsepower.

The electric motor replaces the traditional torque convertor in the six-speed automatic transmission, so the instant torque improves off-the-line performance. Because the Optima’s running a conventional six-speed transmission instead of a CVT, it provides a more direct and engaging driving experience, which will definitely appeal to drivers who don’t like the rubbery feeling of continuously variable units.

A compact high-density lithium-polymer battery lives under the trunk floor, and doesn’t reduce cargo space. The 1.62 kWh battery represents a 13-percent increase in capacity over the previous model. With the relocated battery, the Optima Hybrid is also able to offer 60/40 folding rear seats, unlike many hybrids that mount the battery behind a fixed rear bulkhead.

Safety

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Crash test ratings for the 2017 Optima Hybrid aren’t yet available, but the 2016 gasoline-powered version performed strongly in both IIHS and NHTSA testing, landing five-star scores across the board. The Optima’s structure is about half Advanced High Strength Steel; in addition to providing a quieter ride it offers a stronger structure. Active drive aids include a new Autonomous Emergency Braking system that can bring the Optima Hybrid to a complete stop when triggered, a blind spot detection system and lane-departure warning system, and intelligent cruise control.

Prices

Optima Hybrid pricing hasn’t been set yet. The car goes on sale later this year and pricing will be announced closer to launch. The competition’s priced in the mid- to high-$20,000 range, so expect the Optima to slip into a similar bracket.

Competition

Ford Fusion Hybrid

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The Fusion’s 2.0 liter four-cylinder and electric motor combination is one of the smoothest out there, and the Fusion Hybrid combines many of Ford’s upscale interior options for a luxurious ride.

Read our full review on the Ford Fusion Hybrid here.

Toyota Camry Hybrid

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Toyota was one of the first to the hybrid party, and the Camry has remained a benchmark. With a 2.5 liter four-cylinder, it has one of the larger gasoline engines in the segment, which is pleasantly noticeable when it comes time to pull away from a stoplight.

Read our full review on the Toyota Camry Hybrid here.

Honda Accord Hybrid

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Honda’s large hybrid surprises with 50mpg fuel economy in the city and a very spacious interior. The recently-redesigned Accord feels like a much more expensive car, and it’s reasonably fun to drive as well.

Read our full review on the Honda Accord Hybrid here.

Conclusion

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Hybrids have become such an integral part of a mass-market lineup that the redesigned Optima Hybrid seems almost like a foregone conclusion. Although most of the alt-fuel attention is on full electrics these days, the advances in battery technology and system efficiency are still trickling down, and the Optima Hybrid’s a good example of the breed.

  • Leave it
    • Very little to distinguish it from the conventional model

Press Release

Kia Motors America (KMA) today unveiled the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid (HEV) at the Chicago Auto Show. The Optima HEV enjoys the same full redesign – inside and out – as the conventional gas-powered model, the all-new fourth-generation Optima sedan, bringing with it a new hybrid powertrain that targets a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing model. The enhanced HEV blends modern styling and a premium driving experience with an even more intense focus on efficiency and is being introduced under the Kia Motors EcoDynamics environmentally friendly sub-brand.

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“Kia is pursuing a bold initiative to increase fuel efficiency by 25 percent across our entire model line-up by 2020, and new models like the Optima HEV and PHEV will be critical to realizing that vision,” said Orth Hedrick, vice president, product planning, KMA. “The brand’s commitment to sustainability, coupled with our history of delivering premium amenities and value, has never been more evident than in these all-new hybrid vehicles, which are world-class examples of green engineering, advanced technology and design.”

Enhanced Hybrid Performance
Targeting a 10 percent increase in fuel economy, the Optima Hybrid replaces the previous generation’s 2.4-liter engine with an efficient and compact 2.0-liter GDI four cylinder – estimated at 154 horsepower – coupled with a hybrid starter generator and tied to an upgraded, smooth-shifting six-speed transmission. A 38 kW electric motor and clutch replaces the traditional torque converter to provide strong off-the-line acceleration and power assistance to the engine when necessary. Energy flow is fast and seamless between EV mode and hybrid mode. Total combined output for the Optima Hybrid is estimated at a robust 193 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Also adding to the equation is a new electric water pump and a new electric oil pump, which help improve overall fuel economy.

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Giving life to the electric motor is a more compact, lightweight, high-density lithium-polymer battery pack with a 13-percent increase in capacity to 1.62 kWh. With improved packaging, this more potent energy source now fits neatly underneath the trunk floor without encroaching into cargo space. The revised battery configuration results in a larger, more practical load area and allows the integration of 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

All-new Eco-DAS1 (Driver Assistance System) features Kia’s first application of Coasting Guide. This feature aims at maximizing fuel economy by essentially coaching the driver on when to coast and brake via an icon in the Instrument Panel that blinks for four-seconds and sounds a one-time audible alert.

The Optima Hybrid features a uniquely engineered body that combines various high-tensile strength steel alloys, creating a stiffer, more durable chassis with more than 50 percent Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) construction. In addition, a significant increase in hot-stamped components and greater use of structural adhesive improves NVH and contributes to structural rigidity. This new body structure helps provide crash protection and better driving dynamics and is the foundation for a quieter ride.

Aerodynamic Form and Function
Although the new Hybrid boasts the same bold styling as the redesigned 2016 Optima, it offers distinctive design features and exterior elements that differentiate it from the gas-powered models in the Optima range, while also achieving a coefficient of drag that is among the lowest in the segment at 0.24 Cd. Featuring an active grille, which automatically opens and closes at high and low speeds, the Hybrid is able to improve aerodynamics while optimizing engine bay cooling. Numerous other styling differences include a model-specific front air curtain, a beveled rear bumper, a rear diffuser designed to streamline airflow by shrouding the exhaust tip, and an aerodynamic alloy-wheel design. These are complemented by modern LED lighting, satin finish accent trim and special ‘EcoHybrid’ badging.

Intelligent Technology
The new Optima Hybrid makes intelligent use of technology to deliver a host of comprehensive driver assistance systems and convenience features. The HEV now offers Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)2, which, under appropriate conditions, will bring the vehicle to a complete stop to potentially avoid a collision or reduce damage. Other key driver assistance systems include Blind Spot Detection (BSD), Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) and Front Collision Warning System (FCWS)2.

To make life on the road easier and more enjoyable, the Optima Hybrid brings convenience offerings such as the Hands-free Trunk Open feature with Smart Key, a Wireless Phone Charger and Surround View Monitoring (SVM) to aid parking maneuvers.

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Kia’s cutting-edge connectivity system with smartphone-projected navigation, UVO33, comes standard with UVO telematics, and is enhanced with Android4 Auto™ and Apple5 CarPlay®, which allow drivers to access a suite of core functions from their smartphones. There’s also an upgraded AVN 4.0 Navigation system combined with the Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic™ Premium Surround Sound Audio System6, which includes 10 speakers, Clari-Fi™7 technology and a 630-watt digital amplifier. Clari-Fi is a patented music restoration technology that rebuilds audio signals that are lost in the digital compression process.

Refined Cabin
The Optima Hybrid’s passenger compartment is larger and more comfortable with an innovative and functional cabin that is well-appointed with class-up touches. Drawing inspiration from Kia’s premium sedans, the Optima Hybrid features its own model-specific instrument panel gauges and utilizes more soft-touch materials throughout. Obsessively crafted with an impressive attention to detail, the interior features real stitching along the dash and doors.

Overall, the driver-oriented cabin has been simplified with a cleaner, more unified design than the previous generation. A stronger horizontal plane and a wider center console help create a greater sense of space. By grouping and reducing the number of functional keys and buttons, Kia’s already-superior ergonomics are markedly improved.

The interior design team also paid particular attention to seat comfort with a stiffer seat frame that reduces vibration, as well as greater use of soft foam in the headrest and upper back, and denser, more supportive foam in thigh-support areas. For extra convenience, heated and ventilated front seats are available with power adjustable driver and front passenger seats. The 2017 Optima Hybrid also offers a height-adjustable front passenger seat, a feature normally found only in premium vehicles.

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