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2017 Kia Optima Hybrid Review – By No Means Perfect, But Largely Free From Imperfection

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

2.0-liter inline-four, DOHC (154 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 140 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm)

Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor (50 horsepower @ 1,630 rpm; 151 lb-ft @ 0 rpm)

Combined system horsepower: 192 @ 6,000 rpm

Combined system torque: 271 lb-ft @ 1,770 rpm

Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

39 city / 46 highway / 42 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

6.0 city / 5.1 highway / 5.6 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

44.4 mpg [5.3 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $26,890 (U.S) / $31,655 (Canada)

As Tested: $26,890 (U.S.) / $31,855 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,660 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Automobile manufacturers send a new car to my driveway every week. Last week, the manufacturer was Kia. The vehicle, an Optima Hybrid.

Spending a full week with a vehicle should expose a vehicle’s positive attributes, not only the most obvious traits but those hidden under the surface at a first-drive event in an exotic location or during a test drive where a yammering salesman regales you with tales of J.D. Power awards.

Spending a full week with a vehicle should also expose a vehicle’s faults, not just the glaring flaws. The kind of blunders only made evident when you truly get to know a car.

That’s my job. I’m given time to spot everything, because you won’t be afforded the same privilege. So what happens when a vehicle is unable to incite any passion in the automotive enthusiast erogenous zones while also avoiding the exposure of any intrinsic weaknesses? What happens when there’s nothing to spot?

Writer’s block.

However, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid, tested here in Canadian-spec LX guise that’s similar to Kia USA’s base Premium trim, certainly sends out a clarion call to car buyers eyeing dedicated hybrids.Compared with its Hyundai Ioniq cousin, which we tested earlier this year, the Kia Optima Hybrid suffers a negligible fuel economy penalty but provides greater passenger space, far more power, and distinctly superior ride quality, all in a similar price bracket. Based on our real world mileage in mixed driving and $2.50/gallon fuel, the designed-to-be-a-hybrid Ioniq would save you $210.

Over the span of 100,000 miles.

With 9 percent more space for passengers than the Ioniq, 38 percent more horsepower, and a pillowy ride courtesy of 205/65R16 Hankook Kinergy GT rubber, isn’t a conventional sedan the more — how do you say in America’s crumbling midsize market — sensible choice?

An argument can be made for a wheel/tire/suspension package that would make the 2017 Optima Hybrid a more realistic competitor for athletic sedans such as the Honda Accord and Mazda 6, but the Optima is no barge. The stiff structure and nicely weighted steering, along with surprisingly natural brake feel, conspire to make the Optima a willing off-ramp partner. While Kia’s top-spec Optima SX could do with a dose of athleticism to match its torquey turbo, the Optima Hybrid’s on-road behavior suits its mission: efficient and serene transportation.Granted, the Optima Hybrid is torquey, too. Combined, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor produce 271 lb-ft of torque not far off idle. Working in conjunction with a six-speed automatic — not the CVT of many hybrids, nor the sometimes confused DCT of the aforementioned Ioniq — the hybrid powertrain feels like a proper 271-lb-ft beast. The Optima Hybrid pulls away from a seven-lane tollbooth ahead of everyone with ease, propelling itself uphill with the kind of umph a Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius can only dream of.

And at what cost, 44 miles per gallon? Pfft.

That’s not too much of a price to pay, not when the Optima more happily takes a rear-facing Diono Radian R120, offers decent rearward visibility, and squelches the rumors going around your neighborhood that you — Stars & Stripes forfend — reduce, reuse, and recycle.

A straightforward infotainment system causes no offense. Equipment levels are Kiaesque: proximity access, dual-zone auto climate control, power driver’s seat, and Kia’s Smart Trunk are all standard. (Kia Canada’s standard kit includes heated seats and a heated steering wheel.) Material quality is up to snuff. The cabin is hushed; vibrations are nonexistent. The stop-start system is all but imperceptible.

There’s little, aside from the hilariously tall tires on hideous wheels, to stand in the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid’s way.But what about Kia’s own non-hybrid Optima? The LX 1.6T is similarly equipped and stickers for $25,035, $1,855 less than the Optima Hybrid Premium’s $26,890 MSRP. Without the hybrid paraphernalia, the EPA says that car will cost only $300 more per year to fuel than the Optima Hybrid. That’s a six-year hybrid payoff.

Then there’s the real Kia alternative, the new Niro. Toyota Matrix dimensions and the absence of an all-wheel-drive option do not an SUV make, but Kia is successfully marketing its fraternal Ioniq twin as a crossover. In April, Kia sold 13 Niros for every Optima Hybrid. Superior fuel economy and body cladding? The Optima Hybrid, a comparative wallflower, simply can’t compete.

The presence of the Optima 1.6T and $24,180-$32,840 Niro in Kia’s lineup cast the Optima Hybrid into the shadows with economic and trendy arguments, respectively. But they won’t cause me to consider the Optima Hybrid a poor value.

Space, refinement, torque, and fuel economy are characteristics I’ll champion. Besides, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid made my job difficult this week. I can respect that.

[Images: © 2017 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net and a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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