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Optimizing Kia’s Optima

The Kia Optima HEV, a hybrid electric vehicle, completely revised inside and out for 2017, seen here in optional Gravity Blue, posing confidently in a sophisticated setting, even in base LX trim.

  • 2017 Kia Optima

THE PROS & CONS

    • What’s Best: New stronger framework, new aerodynamic changes, new lighter more potent combined gas/electric power, and a long list of other improvements.
    • What’s Worst: Price premium always hard to justify compared to fuel savings. It’s a personal choice.
    • What’s Interesting” The battery pack’s under-the-trunk configuration frees up trunk space and allows a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, as in any other sedan. A hybrid rarity.

There may be nothing like throwing your car into a racetrack hairpin.

There’s all sound and fury, the smell of hot brakes, the protesting tires, the g-forces straining you against your seat belts as you sling through an apex, the growing roar of the engine as you squeeze the power back on, more, more, more until you finally squirt out of the corner and onto the next straightaway.

Oh, yeah.

But, nerdy as it sounds, I get almost as big a kick out of glancing at the gauge clusters in a hybrid, carefully milking the most available EV propulsion out of the combined gas/electric powertrain.

It’s all about striving for “leaves” or “flowers” or whatever gimmicky graphic the eco gauge is showing, and maxing out the best fuel economy numbers possible.

It just never gets tired.

Tested here is an optimized Optima, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV), loaded with the latest in fuel efficient hybrid technologies and posing quite confidently in the kind of sophisticated setting that I would normally use as a backdrop for a premium luxury sedan.

Kia’s fourth-generation Optima lineup already offers a broad range of gasoline-powered models to choose from, ranging in price from around $23K – $38K, and with three four-cylinder engine choices – a 185 hp 2.4-litre motor for starting LX, LX+ and EX models, a 245 hp 2.0-litre turbo unit for gearheads going for SX and SXL top-end performance models, and a 178 hp 1.6-litre version leaning towards fuel-efficiency in the lightweight LX ECO Turbo trim level.

Also Read: Two flavours of Malibu – regular and hybrid

The 2017 Kia Optima HEV, tested here, takes this fuel efficiency effort one stop further. This hybrid debuted last year alongside its plug-in sibling (the Optima PHEV, coming later this spring) at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show.

The Optima HEV was heavily revised for 2017, aiming for a 10 per cent increase in fuel efficiency, starting with a stronger, quieter framework carrying new outer styling cues geared towards improved aerodynamics, including a new front air curtain, a new active grille shutter, new side sills, a beveled rear bumper, a rear diffuser designed to stream airflow more efficiently around the rear and the shrouded exhaust tip, and also adding new aerodynamic wheels and new tires.

All these factors combine for a 0.24 Cd of drag, one of the lowest in the segment.

2017 Kia Optima HEV LX

The exterior treatment also separates this HEV from the rest of the Optima herd via hybrid-exclusive LED headlights, satin finish trim and “EcoHybrid” badging.

More significantly, a smaller and more efficient 2.0-litre GDI four-cylinder engine making 154 hp and 140 lb/ft of torque replaces the former 2.4-litre unit.

The new 2.0-litre is also mated to a normal six-speed Sportmatic transmission instead of the normally expected CVT, eliminating the usual WWI airplane-like constant droning of CVT operation. A new electric oil pump and electric water pump add to the fuel economy equation.

Also Read: More powerful, full frugal Honda Accord Hybrid on the way

A 38kWh electric motor and clutch unit adds 51 hp and 151 lb/ft of torque to the hybrid mix for an estimated combined power rating of 193 hp at 6,000 rpm.

And, as much as this might seem targeted towards an impressive fuel economy rating of 6.0/5.1L/100km (city/hwy), the added and rather instantaneous electric torque also bolsters the accelerative snap off the line.

2017 Kia Optima HEV LX

It’s pretty impressive, even with the extra 130 kg or so of ancillary hybrid mass. And there’s still plenty of pep left over at cruising speeds for mid-range passing maneuvers.

Providing that oomph, another integral change for 2017, is a new, more compact and lightweight high-density lithium-polymer battery pack with a 13 percent power increase to 1.62 kWh.

Packaged to now fit neatly underneath the trunk floor, the new layout results in a larger load space and, unlike many hybrids, now also allows for practical 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

Inside, the Optima Hybrid offers extra stretch-out space with a larger, more comfortable cabin that reflects influences from Kia’s premium sedan lineup – real stitching touches, more soft-touch surfaces, reworked seats, a wider centre console, improved ergonomics and an overall uptick in style and sophistication.

2017 Kia Optima HEV LX

These refinements are already evident in our base tester LX hybrid ($29,995) and a long list of upgraded standard equipment and optional extras are available through two more upscale trim levels – the EX ($33,895) and EX Premium ($39,395).

I’m not about to argue the economic justifications of a hybrid purchase.

Also Read: Fuel-sipping Sonata Hybrid a great ride

That choice reflects a personal commitment to conscientious sustainability that customers have to make on their own, balancing the hybrid price premium against reduced emissions and the pleasure of passing by fuel pumps more frequently.

But for those ready to make that kind of commitment, the 2017 Kia Optima HEV offers a viable alternative as a hybrid choice that blends the latest in classy styling and cutting-edge technology.

2017 Kia Optima HEV LX

2017 Kia Optima HEV LX 

BODY STYLE: Mid-size four-door, five-passenger hybrid sedan

DRIVE METHOD: Front engine, front-wheel-drive, six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission

ENGINE: 2.0-litre GDI four cylinder (154 hp, 140 lb/ft); 38 kW electric motor (54 hp, 151 lb/ft) for a combined 193 hp, 271 lb/ft rating.

CARGO: 380 litres (compared to 450 litres gas-powered Optima)

FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 6.0/5.1L/100km (city/hwy)

PRICE: LX $29,995

WEB: kia.ca

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