With regular unleaded gasoline priced at $2.21 per gallon around Connecticut, who needs a hybrid? The base version of the Kia Optima Hybrid costs about $3,800 more than the conventional Optima, which delivers 31 miles per gallon on average, 11 fewer than the hybrid model. But the price of gasoline can be volatile, and there’s something to be said for the Optima Hybrid’s incredible cruising range of more than 600 miles.
Whether conventionally powered or equipped with the advanced gasoline-electric system, the Optima is a pleasing car to drive. It rides smoothly and quietly, handles competently and exudes quality. The hybrid system is unobtrusive, and power is ample in all circumstances.
The 2017 Optima Hybrid Premium — the base model — is competitively priced at $25,995. Our silver test car was the higher trim level, the EX, with a list price of $30,990. The Technology Package, which included heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, panoramic sunroof, smart cruise control, blind-spot detection and other safety features, added $5,000 to the car’s price.
Competing models include the similar Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Volkswagen Jetta. Most cost more than the Optima Hybrid, and some, notably the Accord and Jetta, deliver higher fuel economy. But the Korean models tend to come with more standard equipment than the others.
In EX trim, that means dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen, premium audio, UVO infotainment system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, leather upholstery, push-button start, heated steering wheel and more.
The Optima Hybrid is rated at 39 mpg city, 46 highway — a dramatic shift from earlier hybrids that tended to be less thirsty in urban driving. The best we could do in our daily 44-mile commute was 39 to 40 mpg, even though our route mainly follows Interstate 84 in western Connecticut.
The Optima’s cabin was roomy and comfortable. Very tall passengers will wish for more head room in back, but most passengers will be content with the knee room.
The Optima Hybrid has a smaller trunk than the conventional Optima because it has lithium-ion batteries, and both models are equipped with tire-repair kits rather than spares tire to save space and reduce weight. The 60-40 folding rear seatbacks can be lowered to extend the trunk forward.
In addition to the conventional and hybrid models, Kia offers a plug-in hybrid version of the Optima. Like the Chevrolet Volt, it can run on electric power alone when fully charged, then switch automatically to the gasoline engine when the battery is exhausted — typically, after about 29 miles. It’s rated at 103 mpg equivalent, can be recharged in as little as three hours, and is priced at $35,210.
The Optima and Optima Hybrid have compiled excellent scores in government crash tests. They received overall vehicle scores of five stars.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2017 Kia Optima Hybrid EX
Engine: 2.0-liter inline hybrid Four, 192 horsepower, 271 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,538 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17×7-in. alloy
Tires: P215/55R V all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 13.4 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons
Fuel economy: 39 mpg city, 46 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline