Family car over $30,000: Category-topping Kia Optima Hybrid a real looker

It’s clear family cars are going green — but there’s still room for full-size sedans.

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Looking at this category, it’s clear the menu is expanding for families seeking “green” transportation, as half the group is hybrid/electric. And then we have Chevy’s extended range electric Volt which carries around a 1.4L four cylinder gas engine to charge the battery pack when range anxiety would normally have you squirming. Mini enters the group with its all-new four-door, four-seat Countryman and the refreshed Dodge Charger echoes a time when “family car” meant full-size, rear-drive sedan.

WINNER — Kia Optima Hybrid ($30,595) 677 points: Penned by ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer, this Kia is a real looker. As a sister ship to the Sonata, it uses the same hybrid system. But in keeping with the brand differentiation, the Kia has sharper steering and a slightly more sporty chassis. So you’re looking at a very fuel-efficient yet somewhat uneven driving experience dressed in a sharp suit.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid ($29,999/$34,499) 665 points: Hyundai’s in-house hybrid system delivers on its promise, giving stellar fuel mileage and — unlike any other hybrid — posting better numbers for the highway thanks to the segment-only lithium ion batteries that allow for more gas-free high-speed cruising. What this stylish Korean won’t do is hide its hybrid-ness. Unlike the near seamless Ford Fusion Hybrid, a slight shudder is felt when the gas engine enters the party, the regenerative brakes are grabby and the steering is just plain weird.

Chevy Volt ($41,545/$45,270) 660 points: As arguably the most “important” car in this group, the much-anticipated Volt takes us where no electrically driven vehicle has been before — say Montreal or Minneapolis without stopping for a recharge. Most surprising, the Volt proves to be a very nice car to drive — this is no quirky spaceship. It delivers poised handling, good steering, solid refinement and a seamless driving experience that eludes most hybrids, especially the two in this group. When the gas engine does come on board to charge the lithium-ion battery pack, it is near silent. It only seats four, however, and the cost of early adoption is high even with the government rebate.

Dodge Charger ($29,995/$38,720) 656 points: This full-sized, rear-drive, Brampton-built sedan benefits from the benevolent hurricane of improvements currently sweeping across the Chrysler lineup. The new body features a taller greenhouse with more glass, the Mercedes-derived platform shows further refinement and the interior is now a classy affair with soft touch plastics. Factor in the 292 hp, 3.6L Pentastar V6 and smooth 8-speed auto, and you have a very capable and comfortable family hauler.

Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 ($32,400/$41,420) 649 points: This scrappy four-door, four-seat, four-wheel-drive Mini with the thyroid problem was the handler of the group, but as a family vehicle you’d be making some sacrifices for the sake of Mini-brand agility. It only seats four and the cargo space behind the second row is limited. Yes, the 181 hp turbo 1.6L four pulls hard and the steering is super keen, but the ride is as stiff as the as-tested price.

Toyota Prius V ($27,200/$33,605) 643 points: Fans of the world’s best-selling hybrid will embrace this latest version with open arms. The tallboy body yields more passenger and cargo room, and the hard plastics and monochrome display of the previous generation make way for softer surfaces and coloured graphics. The steering is more natural and the ride much better, too. But it’s still slow and, thanks to the CVT (continuously variable transmission), the gas engine complains vociferously when calling for some giddy-up. You have to baby it to get anywhere near the claimed mileage.

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