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2012 Kia Optima Hybrid Premium Tech Review & Test Drive

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First introduced in 2011 and recognized as an excellent choice for discerning eco-conscience consumers, the 2012 is designed to appeal to consumers looking for a stylish and a well-appointed sedan that does not sacrifice style, comfort, performance or value for fuel efficiency, the new Optima Hybrid offers the same combination of head-turning design and modern amenities that earned critical and consumer acclaim for the Optima following its debut, and adds a more fuel-efficient drivetrain and state-of-the-art lithium-polymer battery pack to deliver up to 35mpg/city and a class-leading 40mpg/highway.

The Optima Hybrid is available in two configurations-a base model or with an advanced Hybrid Premium and Technology Package that I tested and came away very impressed with the all-around features inside and outside.  The base price is just $25,700.00 and the loaded Premium/Technology Package model that I tested listed for $31,750.00.  With those low prices think of the money you can save on gas plus the incentives that the state and federal government gives you for buying a true hybrid vehicle.  You can take it to the bank!

The Optima Hybrid features a fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain with a 2.4 liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gas engine that produces 166 hp connected by a wet clutch to an Interior Permanent Magnet (IPM) synchronous electric motor producing 40 hp and 151 lb.ft. of torque up to 1,400 rpm (in full electric mode only).  The advanced powertrain, mated to an efficient six-speed automatic transmission, with sequential shifting, delivers 35 mpg in the city and up to a class-leading 40 mpg on the highway.  The full parallel hybrid system can be driven in zero emission, full-electric drive mode at speeds up to 62 mph or in blended gas-electric mode at any speed.  When the car comes to a stop and the electrical load is low, the engine shuts down to completely eliminate idle fuel consumption and emissions.  To power the electric motor, the Optima Hybrid leverages a state-of-the-art, air-cooled 270V lithium-polymer (Li-PB) battery.  Developed in partnership with LG Chem, Li-PB chemistry offers an optimum balance of power delivery, energy density, reliability and thermal stability.  Compared to commonly used nickel metal hydride systems, Kia’s Li-PB system is 20-30% lighter, occupies 40% less volume, is 10% more efficient, offers two times the power density, and holds a charge 25% longer than many competitor systems.  At only 95 lbs. the battery system is extremely durable with warranty coverage for up to 10 years or 150,000 miles. Total hp is rated at 154 at 6,000 rpm and 154 lb.ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm.

I really liked this hybrid system since I was able to drive in electric mode only at 60 mph when I gave the powertrain light throttle or when just coasting, saving gas at that low mpg speed for regular gas-engine cars.

Maintaining the performance-oriented yet refined aesthetic of its non-hybrid siblings, the Optima Hybrid’s world-class design continues a sleek silhouette and aggressive stance with sculpted elements that evoke a certain passion and communicate the Kia Motors philosophy of creating stylish and fun-to-drive vehicles.  In keeping with Kia’s visual motif, the Optima Hybrid proudly features a unique hybrid-specific black gloss and chrome version of the brand’s signature tabbed front grille.  Five millimeters lower than the non-hybrid Optima, the vehicle’s coupe-like profile is accentuated by a sweeping chrome arc that flows seamlessly from the A through the C pillars, a distinctive design element that visually lowers the car, while enhancing its proportions.  Optima Hybrid’s roofline connects with it pronounced shoulder line that leads to its sculpted flanks and extended wheelbase.  Boldly flared wheel arches and a raked cabin create a graceful and muscular stance.  The look is unique among hybrids and very refreshing from any angle.

The Optima Hybrid comes with several enhancements to its exterior to improve aerodynamics, including a unique headlamp design that helps to channel air around the vehicle, rear spoiler, smooth underfloor panels that provide improved airflow under the vehicle, and smoother rear fascias (sides).  The use of an active air flap system in the front grille helps to reduce drag by automatically opening or closing based on vehicle speed, engine temperature, and airflow in the front of the car.  A lower ride height (five mm lower) and unique side mirror design, also contribute to the Optima Hybrid’s improved aerodynamic profile as it cuts through the wind with a coefficient of drag of just 0.26.  Every 2012 Optima Hybrid comes well equipped with these standard features-hybrid specific, lightweight 16 in. alloy wheels, SX trim-inspired front and rear lower bumpers and side sills, unique LED taillight design, rear lip spoiler, single hidden exhaust tip, and a Virtual Engine Sound System that plays a pre-recorded engine sound during electric-only operation up to 12 mph to help notify people outside the vehicle that it is approaching.  The Premium/Technology package that I tested   also came with 17 in. alloy wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires, power folding outside mirrors, and HID headlamps with auto leveling.

Like all Optima models, the Optima Hybrid offers sleek modern lines and numerous well-positioned features inside the cabin and exudes a sporty, yet efficient layout designed with the eco-conscious driver in mind.  From the instrument panel that’s contoured toward you to create a cockpit-like feel to the precise gauges and engaging technology, the Optima Hybrid’s interior provides a unique driver-centric experience without sacrificing passenger comfort or roominess.  The car adds to the extensive list of standard convenience features and stylish appointments found on the well-equipped Optima LX A/T trim, with equipment including an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, electric dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, push-button start/stop with Smart Key, Supervision meter instrument cluster with unique LCD display for hybrid information, leather-wrapped/tilt/telescoping steering wheel with shift knob, one-touch automatic up/down on front windows, power door locks, chrome interior door handles, glove box illumination, rear reading lamps, and fixed rear seats with a ski pass-through (a feature not found on most hybrid midsize sedan competitors).

The car’s A/C system uses an electric compressor, reducing parasitic losses common in belt-driven systems and allowing cool air to flow with the engine off in ‘idle-stop’ mode.  The Optima Hybrid was the first Kia to offer the company’s propriety UVO powered by Microsoft voice-activated infotainment system, which is paired with the AM-FM-CD-MP3-Sat audio system with Sirius XM satellite radio capabilities, a back-up camera, auxiliary and USB audio input jacks for connecting with MP3 players and Bluetooth with steering wheel-mounted controls.  My Premium/Technology package included a panoramic sunroof, unique 17X7 in. wheels, a four-way power adjustable front passenger seat, driver’s seat memory, heated/cooled front bucket seats, HID headlights, heated rear seats and steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink and compass, a navigation system and an eight-speaker Infinity audio system.  My loaded test hybrid also came with leather-trimmed seats.  Also coming standard in the hybrid models are dual map lights, dual lighted vanity mirrors, grab handles above each seat, dual cupholders and padded armrest on top of the storage bin, storage slots in each door, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, floor mats, and rear-seat pull-down armrest with dual cupholders.  This loaded new Optima Hybrid doesn’t miss a beat to keep you comfortable and up-to-date with the latest features.

It is also fun-to-drive with its distinctive styling and sporting demeanor that is evident from its sheet metal down to its platform.  Optima’s low, aerodynamic and powerful stance is assisted through it overall length of 190.7 in.-an increase of 1.7 in. over the previous generation model-overall width of 72.1 in. and a wheelbase of 110 in. and has a low ground clearance of 5.1 in.  The midsize sedan’s lightweight design uses high-tensile-strength steel to enhance structural strength while also achieving high torsional stiffness, benefitting handling, ride quality and refinement.  Additional measures to help improve noise, vibration and harshness reduction qualities are fitted throughout the car.

Further enhancing the existing platform with more features that are designed to reduce weight and improve efficiency include the lighter and more aerodynamic wheels that reduce weight and drag while low-rolling-resistance tires are used to lower the amount of friction generated when driving, which decreases fuel consumption.  The extensive use of aluminum instead of steel for the lower front and rear control arms, tie rods and rear knuckles helps contribute to the weight reduction of the new Optima Hybrid.

Build on a unibody frame, the front-wheel-drive Optima Hybrid utilizes independent front and rear suspension systems.  MacPherson struts, coil springs  and an anti-roll bar are used up front with a multi-link layout in the rear that are joined with coil springs and anti-roll bar to engage drivers with responsive handling and provide the utmost comfort whether the road is smooth or less than ideal.  An electric-assisted, rack & pinion steering system helps guide the new Optima Hybrid on its way.  You’ll feel good feedback from the road with outstanding on-center feel.  It is boosted just right with sharp feedback when turning.

The new Optima Hybrid uses electric-regenerating, power-assisted, steel disc brakes at all four-corners for excellent braking power.  Up front are 11.8 in. vented discs clamped with dual-piston calipers while 11.2 in. solid discs clamped with single-piston calipers are in the rear.  Helping to keep you in control and adding to your braking power are standard ABS, EBD and BA plus electronic stability control and traction control systems all working together to keep you and your passengers safe.

Safety is very important with Kia and the Optima Hybrid comes standard with dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, 3-point seatbelts with pretensioners/load limiters up front, the LATCH system for child seats, Hill Start Assist, a tire pressure monitoring system, front/rear crumple zones and steel beams in each door.

With the lowest base price in the segment for a car of this type that has so many standard features and driving dynamics, the new 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid is on the leading edge of all midsize sedan hybrids.



  • Price: Base Optima Hybrid $25,700.00 / As-Tested Optima Hybrid Premium Tech $31,750
  • Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle gas engine w/ Interior Permanent Magnet (IPM) synchronous electric motor – 206 total horsepower @ 6000 rpm / 195 ft-lbs. total torque $4250 rpm
  • Headroom: f/r-40/37.6 in.
  • Legroom: f/r-45.5/34.7 in.
  • Total interior volume: 112.1 cu.ft.
  • Cargo volume: 9.9 cu.ft.
  • Turning circle: 35.8 ft.
  • Fuel Economy: 35 mpg city / 40 mpg highway
  • Fuel Tank size: 17.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: 3,490 lbs.
  • 0-60 mph: 8.4 seconds

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