2011 Kia Optima Hybrid gets a makeover

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid gets a makeover

By BARRY SPYKER – McClatchy Newspapers

BARRY SPYKER McClatchy Newspapers

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The beauty of the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid is – surprise! – the beauty.

Weird, huh? A hybrid. Beautiful?

Thing is, the plain-Jane look of the old Optima was in dire need of revision. And for 2011 Kia must have sent it to Elena Castaneda in Manhattan, who turns Plain Janes into prom queens by sharpening their appearance, confidence and attitude. Yes, the newly redesigned Optima certainly has all of that.

First time I laid eyes on the new Optima Hybrid, I thought, “Hey, you forgot to bring me the hybrid.” It’s downright sporty with its sleek profile, wrap-around headlights and high belt line. Opt for the 18-inch sport wheels that fill the wells, and the Optima looks faster and pricier than it is.

Of course, once you step inside and take off you are reminded that the Optima Hybrid is not about sporty behavior; it’s about achieving nearly 40 mpg on the highway and shrinking your so-called carbon footprint.

Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a 40-hp electric motor, which lends a hand on the low-end torque. Combined, the Hybrid power team produces 206 horses and 195 pound-feet of torque.

Go easy and the electric motor alone can take you beyond 40 mph. But it doesn’t take much pressure on the accelerator to wake up the gas engine.

And when you do ask for more, there’s some hesitation. It seems the Hybrid powertrain can be a bit indecisive as to when to kick in something extra – and how much extra kick to give you.

Still, zero-to-60 can be done in around 9 seconds, which is not too bad for the hybrid segment. And, besides the 40 mpg or so on the highway, this hybrid should manage mid-30s around town, too.

When it comes to regulating the speed, the good news is that a six-speed tranny is standard. No dull CVT, or continuously variable transmission, here. The not-so-good news is that the six-speed tranny seems to be indecisive at times, too.

Steering is wonderfully responsive, answering your turns with quickness and precision. And Optima’s suspension is surprisingly firm, offering good road feel with comfortable management of the bumps.

Despite the around-town nuances, you’ll find the highway ride truly pleasurable. Here, the powertrain offers a confident ride with enough oomph for the passing lane.

But plan on a couple of rest stops: Seats are unusually firm, I thought, for this sort of animal. Legroom is more than ample in the front and rear. Headroom is fine up front but tighter in the rear – blame its sloping roof line. And it gets worse if you opt for the dual sunroof option.

And, speaking of space, figure on losing about a third of Optima’s trunk space to the battery pack. I made use of every bit of the 9.9 cubic feet when I packed for a weekender with the wife and daughter. However, I would have made use of every bit of 16 cubic feet, too. If there’s space for more, the ladies will not waste it.

The cabin is exceptional, though, with soft touch services and an attractive instrument panel featuring white-on-black dials with green accent lighting.

Within the gauges are displays that show the gas-electric power flow and your driving efficiency. And, knowing that you’re a green kind of buyer, Kia also included an Active Eco system. Controlled on the steering wheel, it can adjust the transmission and accelerator for more fuel-conscious driving.

On the trip, I also appreciated cruise-control toggles within easy reach of the right thumb. No need to for your hand to leave the wheel. Why haven’t all carmakers figured that out?

This Optima Hybrid version also gets Kia’s Uvo system, which provides voice control to navigation, cell phones and even MP3 players.

Besides the ABS system, all Optimas get traction and stability control, side air bags and side curtain air bags. Pay a bit more if you want a rear-view camera – not a necessity with this car. The Optima also has achieved top ratings in frontal and side-impact crash tests.

Optima comes in five trims; the hybrid, one of them, is much like the mid-range EX. That means it gets the Convenience package with eight-way power seats, auto headlights and fog lights.

Instead of leather seats, though, you get cloth. And instead of 17-inch wheels, there are sporty 16-inch wheels. Go nuts with the tech package: The hybrid can be enhanced with nav system plus rear-view camera and eight-speaker Infinity sound system.

A Premium package adds the dual sunroom and memory driver seat as well as four-way power passenger seat.

The Optima Hybrid is available in only about half the states presently, but the other half of the nation will come on board in 2012.  

But with Optima’s great looks – I’m not sure there’s a sharper looking hybrid out there – and 10-year powertrain warranty, it just might be worth your while to wait it out.

2011 KIA OPTIMA HYBRID:

-MSRP: $26,500

-As tested: $32,250 (with $5,000 premium package and $750 destination charge)

 

 

 

Karp Kia (www.karpkia.com) is a division of Karp Automotive (www.karpauto.com), a family owned and operated dealership since 1957 located in Nassau County on the South Shore of Long Island in Rockville Centre, NY between Baldwin and Lynbrook, handling all Volvo, Buick, Saab, and Kia needs.  Since its inception, Karp Automotive has made a commitment to upholding its core values of integrity and honesty.  Karp is an active member of the community sponsoring many local outreach programs, community service projects, and community development initiatives.  This has made Karp Automotive widely regarded as “the Auto Authority” and providing a superior ownership experience.  As our customers would attest, there are many places a person can purchase a vehicle, but only here will you be treated like family by family.

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