2012 Kia Optima Hybrid
2012 Kia Optima Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s web site
Kia Canada

Review and photos by Haney Louka

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2012 Kia Optima

I’ve now had the opportunity to drive most trim levels of the Optima, from the entry-level LX to the ridiculously powerful and content-filled SX which includes, among other things, a 274-hp turbocharged engine. Now, I’ve turned my attention to the Optima Hybrid, a car that is fresh off a category win at the recent Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) as the best new family car over $30,000 for 2012.

This car is also of particular interest because my experience with fuel-efficient cars, and hybrids in particular, has taught me that our Prairie winters are not kind to the real-world fuel consumption figures that the cars can generate. It’s important to note though, that no matter what you drive, it will consume more fuel in the winter than in the summer thanks to increased warm-up times and a higher demand on the car’s systems once up and running.

Hybrids are affected much more than conventional gas-engined cars because they rely on a warm and fully charged battery to allow the electric motor to provide either supplemental or complete power to the driven wheels to achieve the enviable fuel consumption figures published by the car companies. And we all know what happens to our favourite battery-powered electronics when they’re left in a cold car overnight, right?

2012 Kia Optima Hybrid
2012 Kia Optima Hybrid
2012 Kia Optima Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Two years ago I drove a Lexus HS 250h hybrid to test its winter mettle and found that despite its city fuel consumption rating of 5.6 L/100 km, I averaged between 7.5 and 9.5 L/100 km, depending on the outside temperature conditions. Last winter saw a diesel-powered Audi A3 TDI land in my driveway; the entry-lux hatch carries a city consumption rating of 6.7 L/100 km, but produced real-world consumption of around 8.0 L/100 km during its time with me. Plus, it was a lot more fun than the Lexus.

This year I’m hoping to find that the Optima can be as efficient as the Lexus in a package that is both better looking and less expensive than that provided by Toyota’s upscale brand. A tall order, I know, but it’s not entirely unfounded. First, there’s the Guinness record set by an unmodified Optima Hybrid which travelled through the lower 48 states and consumed only 3.6 L/100 km (78 mpg Imperial). Of course, that feat was accomplished by seasoned hypermilers (and I would have hated to be stuck behind these guys in traffic), but at least the record gives me hope that real-world figures can actually resemble the car’s official published ratings. Time will tell. Kia also makes much of its lithium-polymer batter technology, which is lighter, smaller, and more efficient than Toyota’s more conventional nickel-metal-hydride pack.

To provide a more ‘normal’ driving experience, the Kia eschews a droning CVT in favour of a more conventional six-speed automatic transmission. This may well be at the expense of minimizing fuel consumption, but their end goal is to make a hybrid that is desirable to consumers, and a CVT just didn’t make the cut. And thank goodness for that. At least, that was my first thought on the matter.

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