Op­tima PHEV Seam­lessly Mixes Elec­tric, Gaso­line Power

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - AUTOS - Derek Price cargaz­ing.com

By 2020, Kia thinks it can in­crease fuel econ­omy across its lineup by 25 per­cent. That’s the goal.

If the brand has any shot at ac­tu­ally achiev­ing that moon­shot, cars like this — ones that wreck the gas-mileage bell curve — will have to be a huge part of the plan.

The Op­tima PHEV plug-in hy­brid elec­tric ve­hi­cle is rated for 103 MPGe, or “miles per gal­lon equiv­a­lent” in fed­eral bu­reau­crat speak.

The­o­ret­i­cally, though, if you keep it plugged in and take short trips, you can com­pletely avoid burn­ing gas in this car by run­ning it in elec­tric mode and re­ly­ing on bat­tery power. Kia claims it has an all-elec­tric range of 27 miles, which is more op­ti­mistic than I got in my real-world, lead-foot-driv­ing tests.

Still, the pos­si­bil­ity of dart­ing to the gro­cery store and drop­ping kids off with­out burn­ing fos­sil fu­els is a bud­getary and en­vi­ron­men­tal mir­a­cle.

Af­ter the elec­tric power runs out, the Op­tima PHEV can con­tinue to drive on di­nosaur juice with its 2.0-liter, four-cylin­der gaso­line en­gine. In gaso­line-only mode, it’s rated for a still re­spectable 40 mpg in com­bined city and high­way driv­ing.

OK, so those are the num­bers. What’s it like to drive?

As a whole, it’s sur­pris­ingly un­event­ful.

While many elec­tric cars have a flair for the dra­matic, with odd­ball styling, flashy dig­i­tal graph­ics and sci­ence-fic­tion sound ef­fects when you open the door, this one takes a more low-key ap­proach.

De­spite the grad-school en­gi­neer­ing les­son tak­ing place un­der its sheet­metal, it both looks and drives a lot like the stan­dard Op­tima.

It de­liv­ers good power for pass­ing and a rea­son­ably quiet in­te­rior. And while it es­chews the Lu­cas­film styling of the Toy­ota Prius and Honda In­sight, it’s still a sharp look­ing car from most an­gles. It even gives off the air of a lux­ury car with lots of chrome and sleek lines in places.

With a price ap­proach­ing lux­ury ter­ri­tory, that makes per­fect sense. It starts at $35,210. My tester, af­ter be­ing loaded up with lots of tech­nol­ogy up­grades and fancy pearles­cent paint, rang up closer to $42,000.

The tech in this car is truly im­pres­sive, start­ing with the near-si­lent whirr of its elec­tric mo­tor. It makes 50 kilo­watts, which is 42 per­cent more than the old Op­tima Hy­brid, and you can sure feel it when you step on the “gas” pedal and sense an in­stan­ta­neous rush of smooth torque.

Press hard and fast enough, and the gaso­line en­gine will also fire up to add its 154 horse­power to the mix and help you ac­cel­er­ate faster. The com­plex tran­si­tion from elec­tric­ity to gaso­line, in­clud­ing rout­ing power through a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, is a bliss­fully seam­less process from the driver’s per­spec­tive.

In-car tech­nolo­gies check all the right boxes, too, but were un­for­tu­nately bun­dled in a pricey EX Tech­nol­ogy Pack­age that added $5,250 to the cost of my test Op­tima.

For that money, you get a long list of premium fea­tures, in­clud­ing a gor­geous panoramic sun­roof, LED head­lights that turn with the steer­ing wheel, heated and ven­ti­lated front seats, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, and my per­sonal fa­vorite, Ad­vanced Smart Cruise Con­trol that keeps a set dis­tance from the ve­hi­cle in front of you.

Su­per-duper-ef­fi­cient cars like this al­ways make me wish for some­thing more, though: a bud­get ver­sion.

While it’s nice that peo­ple who can af­ford a $35,000 sedan can save money at the pump, the peo­ple who need it the most are the ones shop­ping for $20,000 cars — or used cars.

Eco­nomic re­al­ity be­ing what it is, though, that’s not likely to change. Even at $35k, I sus­pect Kia may be los­ing money on ev­ery Op­tima PHEV it sells given how much high-ca­pac­ity bat­ter­ies and en­gi­neer­ing cost.

For peo­ple who want a premium car with one of to­day’s best plug-in elec­tric pow­er­trains, though, it’s quite a ride.

Kia’s new Op­tima PHEV is a plug-in ve­hi­cle that can run purely on elec­tric power for up to 27 miles. Af­ter that, a gaso­line en­gine ex­tends its range for a to­tal of more than 600 miles.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.