2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Review

Written by Anqoinette Crosby

Kia's Electrified Overview

Feeling particularly elegant in a black sequined cocktail dress and rhinestone heels, I slid behind the wheel of the 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid to attend the Afro-American Newspaper’s star-studded 125th anniversary gala. Hundreds of guests came out that evening to celebrate the publication’s years of providing its people with a powerful voice.

 

During our red carpet interview, the AFRO’S publisher explained the paper’s survival in a dying print industry had much to do with its constant strides to remain relevant, in addition to adapting to changes in reader behavior.

Kia's electrifed lineup: Optima Hybrid, Niro, Optima Plug-in

Interestingly, Kia has done exactly the same and its Optima family of four-door sedans is a perfect example. The all-new Optima Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is the carmaker’s first foray into the plug-in market and a very smart move on Kia’s part. Calculated to help the company become more competitive in this growing segment, it’s also a strong play toward relevance in today’s eco-conscious society.

I had a lot of fun quizzing my friends who drive internal combustion-only vehicles about their idea of the range capability of the Optima PHEV. While most of them settled in the high 300-mile range, the Kia actually offers some 610 miles on a full tank of fuel and a completely charged battery pack.

What’s more, the Kia plug-in hybrid is capable of traveling nearly 30 miles on electricity alone. Earlier that day, I’d run all of my errands on electric power. My circuitous route included a trip to the gym, the grocery store and my nail salon—on one charge. Planned carefully, one can do everything they need to do in an urban environment using very little gasoline at all—if any.

The Optima’s 2.0-liter, 154-horsepower four-cylinder GDI engine is teamed with a 50-kilowatt electric motor to provide motivation. Together, they produce a total system output of 202 horsepower and 276 ft-lb of torque. Meanwhile, a six-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels.

Electricity is stored in a 9.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack fitted behind the rear seat. It does infringe on what would normally be trunk space, but the PHEV Optima still provides a reasonably generous 13 cubic feet of carrying capacity back there. I do wish it were configured with a bit more depth than width though. Transporting a pair of mid-size plastic storage totes required wiggling and wrangling them into place. The battery pack can be recharged in about three hours with a 240v charging system. A 120-volt solution extends charging time to about nine hours.

While the Kia accelerated briskly and handled nicely, its braking behavior produced some consternation. Like other hybrids, the Optima captures braking energy and recycles it into electricity for the battery pack. However, this can wreak havoc on brake feel. In my car’s case, they were overly sensitive and aggressive. I eventually got used to it, but it was pretty disconcerting until I did. There were also times when I felt a lag in acceleration, but this always smoothed out. Ultimately, driving the Kia felt like a conventional car.

The super quiet nature of the powertrain was another thing I had to get used to. When the Kia is in electric mode, the gasoline engine is shut down, so it would be altogether possible to get out and leave the car activated — were it not for the beeper reminding you the ignition is still on. Providing an additional fail-safe, the doors won’t lock from the outside when the powertrain is live.

As I walked to and from the Optima Hybrid, I couldn’t help but admire the car’s sleek lines—especially its version of Kia’s signature  “tiger” grille. On the other hand, the interior design didn’t exactly blow me away, but there were some notable touches. In-cabin storage is generous and the lid provided for the USB compartment keeps mobile devices and appurtenant cables out of sight.

Optima’s leather seats are sufficiently comfortable and legroom for the driver is almost unlimited. The front seats are heated and ventilated, while the rear seats can be had with heat as well. With that said, my ideal driving position produced a blind spot over my left shoulder. Fortunately, the Kia’s rear-view camera was easily viewed on the eight-inch touchscreen display to help alleviate this situation.

Other key electronic features included a ten-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and forward collision warning.

Taking all of this in on my way home from the event, it struck me how much effort must be put into staying relevant; whether you’re a contemporary car manufacturer, or a century and a quarter-old newspaper.

Pricing for the 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid starts at $35,210.

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