If there were a Most Improved Award for cars, the Kia Optima would be a solid candidate. The evolution of the Korean carmaker's midsize sedan has seen it vault from back-of-the-pack to contender status. Sharp styling, a handsome cabin fitted with quality materials, strong engines and a pleasant driving experience mark the modern Optima. Plenty of standard and optional state-of-the-art luxury and safety features, along with a long warranty, are two more perks that have not been overlooked by savvy shoppers.
The hybrid version of the Optima has followed a similar, if briefer, path. Though the earlier version came about when the Optima took a giant leap forward in styling, cabin refinement and performance, it didn't share its non-hybrid sibling's level of performance. Specifically, that first hybridized Optima lagged behind its rivals in the all-important fuel economy category, and it didn't provide the most refined driving experience either. But the following generation got it together with notably better fuel efficiency as well as more refined dynamics on the road.
Current Kia Optima Hybrid
The current Kia Optima Hybrid is a midsize hybrid sedan that comes in two trim levels, Premium and EX. Standard highlights of the well-equipped Premium include keyless entry and ignition, a rearview camera, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Added features of the EX include heated front seats, leather upholstery and rear air vents.
Under the hood, the Optima Hybrid features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine working in tandem with an electric motor. Together they send 192 horsepower to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Delivering 42 mpg combined, this Optima Hybrid's fuel economy is much improved over the previous version, if still not quite as efficient as the segment leaders.
Although we haven't yet driven the redesigned Kia Optima Hybrid, we have driven its corporate cousin, the similarly powered Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. As such, we'd expect the Optima Hybrid to provide smooth, if not class-leading, performance; a comfortable and quiet ride; and respectable, if not exciting, handling. Those who plan on regularly carrying taller passengers in back should note that the Optima's sleek roofline cuts down on rear-seat headroom.
Used Kia Optima Hybrid Models
The previous, first generation of the Optima Hybrid was introduced for the 2011 model year. At first, this model came in a single trim level that included keyless entry and ignition, a rearview camera, and leather upholstery among its many standard features. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine worked in concert with an electric motor to generate 206 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission sent power to the front wheels. For 2013 the Optima Hybrid came in two trims: a base but still nicely equipped LX and the leather-lined, loaded EX. That year also saw the hybrid powertrain revised for slightly better fuel economy, though it still lagged behind the segment's superstars. The following year brought mild styling updates and a few new features that included a blind-spot monitoring system. The Optima Hybrid essentially stood pat for the remaining years of this generation.
In reviews, this Optima Hybrid garnered mixed ratings. Although it had most of the strengths of its gas-powered sibling, such as handsome styling inside and out, a nicely trimmed cabin, and a surprising number of standard and optional luxury features, its hybrid powertrain lacked similar polish. When dealing with the cut and thrust demands of city traffic, for example, the transmission could get befuddled as it hunted for the right gear, sometimes resulting in a noticeable shudder. And braking performance, though plenty strong enough when need be, was nonlinear in action due to a minute yet noticeable delay after the point the pedal is pressed until braking is felt. Finally, this Kia's fuel economy estimates (rated at about 36-38 mpg combined), although still impressive for a midsize sedan, lagged behind those of key competitors.