2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

Bragging rights among hybrids often come down to a matter of just a few miles per gallon in the EPA ratings. It seems like a somewhat arbitrary metric given the old “your mileage may vary” disclaimer, but fuel economy is nonetheless an important measurement for the engineers, marketers, and consumers of these thrifty machines.

Among hybrid mid-size sedans, the Kia Optima hybrid can’t claim best-in-class mileage—that honor belongs to the Honda Accord hybrid, which achieves 48 mpg combined compared with the Kia’s 42 mpg. The 46-mpg Chevrolet Malibu hybrid also beats the Optima, while others in this class, including the Ford Fusion hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata SE hybrid (the Optima’s corporate cousin), tie the Kia in the government’s testing.

You can’t accuse Kia engineers of not hitting the mark in creating this second-generation Optima hybrid, however. Its thoroughly updated gas-electric powertrain boasts numerous improvements over the previous system, and its fuel economy represents a big jump from the outgoing model’s 37-mpg combined rating. That’s thanks to a more efficient 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine that replaces the previous 2.4-liter unit; a slightly higher-capacity, 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; and a more powerful, 50-hp electric motor.


Unconventionally Conventional

While most other hybrid systems use continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs), the Kia matches its 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a conventional six-speed automatic, with the electric motor and a clutch replacing the torque converter. This slightly unconventional setup pays off in terms of refinement, as it avoids the droning sensation present in many other hybrids when the powertrain is tasked with urgent acceleration. Read more...

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30 Dec 2016