Easy-to-use hybrid monitoring; Wide array of media offerings; Slick exterior styling
Navigation controls can be confusing; Touch screen angled away from passenger; Jarring transition from electric mode to gas engine;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.