2012 Kia Optima Hybrid Review

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$32850

Pros: Easy-to-use hybrid monitoring; Wide array of media offerings; Slick exterior styling

Cons: Navigation controls can be confusing; Touch screen angled away from passenger; Jarring transition from electric mode to gas engine;

Verdict: The Optima Hybrid is an attractive, teched-out sedan that offers some cool ways to see how much gas you're saving. However, the controls could use some streamlining.

Getting 30 miles per gallon on the highway is nothing to sneeze at, but today's drivers want each and every drop of gas to go further. That's where the 2012 Optima Hybrid comes in. Starting at $25,700 ($32,850 as tested), this stylish sedan's gas/electric powertrain can get up to 39 mpg on the highway. Plus, Kia's infotainment system not only offers satellite mapping and traffic, but lets you monitor how efficiently you're driving. So is the Kia Optima Hybrid the teched-out fuel saver for you? Take a spin with us to find out.

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Design

The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid looks identical to the standard Optima, save for a green-and-gray Hybrid emblem on the rear. The design is surprisingly fierce for a mid-sized vehicle, and looks more like a sports sedan than a hybrid. Angular sheet metal, a raked-back windshield and sleek headlight covers accentuate the Optima's sporty styling. Our Optima came equipped with optional 17-inch wheels, a deck lid spoiler and HID headlights.

Inside, the Hybrid is outfitted with all manner of accoutrements, including heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, door mood lighting and driver's seat memory settings, not to mention the included Sirius infotainment system and 7-inch, touch-screen display. Of course, all of those goodies add up to $32,850. But when you consider the fact that many of the features you get in this hybrid are similar to those found in more expensive luxury vehicles, the Optima Hybrid's price is fairly reasonable.

Infotainment

Our Optima Kia Hybrid came equipped with the top-of-the-line $5,350 Hybrid Premium Technology Package, which gets you a 7-inch touch-screen, along with Sirius satellite navigation, SiriusXM radio and traffic, a backup camera, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and voice controls.

Below the Optima Hybrid's touch screen are a series of physical controls for the satellite radio, navigation, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth and Aux-in media players and hands-free calling. We found the large number of buttons, combined with the radio's volume knob, to be slightly overwhelming when trying to glance away from the road to change a setting. We prefer to have the system's physical buttons on either side of the display, similar to the setup found in Kia's Rio SX 5-door. The Kia Optima's steering wheel-mounted controls helped alleviate this issue, however. We would have also preferred if the touch screen wasn't angled toward the driver, so passengers could get a a good look at it as well.

The Optima's Sirius infotainment system doesn't have a classic home screen, but instead allows users to navigate among the media, phone, route, destination and satellite menus using various on-screen buttons or the physical buttons below the display. The vehicle's 7-inch touch screen proved responsive, and its interface was fairly intuitive. Navigation was another matter, however.

Audio and Voice Control

As in the Rio SX we tested in October, users control the terrestrial and satellite radios via a funky digital d-pad, complete with up, down, left and right buttons. When using the controls in satellite mode, the up and down buttons allow you to move between different genres of music or talk radio, while the left and right buttons tune in individual stations. There are also four preset options for saving your favorite stations.

The Media button controls your Bluetooth, USB and Aux-in settings. To connect your phone via Bluetooth, navigate to the phone settings menu and select Pairing Options. We paired an ancient Droid X with the system in just a few seconds.

Drivers can take full control of the infotainment system via steering wheel-mounted controls. The Mode button on the left side of the wheel let us switch between the terrestrial and satellite radio and Bluetooth and Aux-in options. Up and down buttons cycle between preset stations, audio tracks when using the CD player, and USB or Bluetooth streaming.

Voice controls are also accessible via the steering wheel, which proved reliable during our week with the Optima Hybrid. Still, we found the system a bit clunky. For example, when making a phone call, you have to press the voice control button, say "Make a call" and then say the person's name. We would rather simply press the voice control button and then say "call" and then the person's name.

Maps and Navigation

The Sirius system's Map, Route and Destination buttons on the Optima Hybrid each perform different navigation functions. Pressing the Map button launches a 2D map on the Optima's touch screen, from which you can zoom in as close as 150 feet. You can also search for nearby points of interest by tapping the on-screen Sirius POI button. Tapping the Sirius Traffic button activates the system's real-time traffic options.

The Destination button allows drivers to enter their desired destination, while the Route button lets you control various routing options. We found the three different buttons for the navigation system to be rather unintuitive, and we expect many first-time users will feel the same way.

Green Tech

Like many hybrid vehicles, the Optima Hybrid offers drivers several ways to monitor fuel efficiency. By tapping the Eco button, users can activate the Optima Hybrid's EcoDynamics menu. This menu provides two ECO Level screens. The first shows an Earth sandwiched between a gas engine on its left side and an electric motor on its right. When the electric motor is running, a blue beam streams to the Earth. When the engine is running, a grey beam streams to the Earth.

A second ECO Level screen shows an animated Optima Hybrid that sheds leaves as you drive more efficiently. An Energy Flow monitor shows you when energy is moving from the Optima Hybrid's engine to the battery or wheels, from the battery to the wheels or from the wheels to the battery. A fourth Fuel Economy screen displays the miles-per-gallon ratings for the past hour.

An Eco button located on the Optima Hybrid's steering wheel allows users to switch between optimal fuel economy mode and standard driving modes. We found ourselves alternating between the instant fuel economy option and the energy-flow screens, trying to get our Optima Hybrid to run on the battery as long as possible. That's the purpose of systems like these, to make the entire fuel economy experience feel like a game.

An EcoMinder screen, also accessible via the steering wheel controls, lets users view instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, average miles per hour, distance driven and energy flow on a small LCD screen situated between the speedometer and power meter in the Optima Hybrid's instrument cluster.

Safety

The Optima Hybrid comes with a backup camera that instantly streams video to the Optima's 7-inch display whenever you put the car in reverse. Static distance lines provide drivers with an idea of how close they are to objects while backing up. Although the distance lines were helpful, dynamic lines that provide an idea where your car will move in relation to your steering inputs would have been more helpful.

The Drive

The Optima Hybrid uses a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to an interior-permanent magnet synchronous motor and 1.4 kWh battery, providing 206 horsepower and 195 ft-lb of torque. During our week with the Optima, we drove from midtown Manhattan to central New Jersey and regularly managed to get roughly 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

Kia says the Optima Hybrid can be driven at speeds of up to 62 miles per hour in full electric mode, something we frequently acheived. When idling, the Optima's gas engine will shut down and its electric motor and battery will take over. While this does wonders for fuel economy, the switchover can be rather jarring, especially when the engine shuts down. Several times, the car shook as the engine came back to life. When driving over the harsh cobblestone streets of Manhattan's Meatpacking District, the Optima Hybrid's suspension shuttered and shook, but we never felt as though control was compromised.

Verdict

With its Sirius infotainment system, easily accessible fuel-monitoring features and sleek lines, the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid is a teched-out hybrid vehicle with an attitude. Managing the infotainment and navigation controls can be confusing, and we're not fans of the jolt you feel when the gas engine gives way to the electric motor (and vice versa). But the number of features offered for $32,850 is impressive. For roughly $1,770 less we would opt for the more refined Ford Fusion Hybrid, which offers that automaker's MyFord Touch System and can get 47 mpg on both the highway and in the city. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a green and geeked-out hybrid, the Optima Hybrid is a solid choice.

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Author Bio
Dan Howley
Dan Howley, Senior Writer
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media's Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
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