First Drive: 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid videos kia hybrids first drives
2011 Kia Optima Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2011 Kia Optima Hybrid

Tofino, British Columbia – One supposes that the natural splendour of Vancouver Island’s lush, green environment was seen as an obvious complement to the Kia Optima Hybrid’s eco-credentials, hence our presence in this magnificent and memorable place for the car’s introduction.

Well, why not make the connection? The natural world is our home; we want to protect it, and hybrids arguably contribute to that worthy goal. But when it comes to personal transportation, most consumers are okay with protecting the environment as long as they don’t have to compromise on price, power, appearance and utility.

Fortunately, the Optima Hybrid scores on all these parameters. At $30,595, the Optima Hybrid is aggressively priced against midsize hybrid sedan competitors from Ford, Toyota and Nissan. Standard features include push-button ignition with smart-key, UVO by Microsoft audio entertainment system, power heated front seats with memory driver’s seat, cloth/leatherettte upholstery, cooled glove-box, LED tail lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic headlights, LED outside mirror repeaters, fog lights and rear-view camera among a long list of other amenities and features.

First Drive: 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid videos kia hybrids first drives
First Drive: 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid videos kia hybrids first drives
First Drive: 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid videos kia hybrids first drives
2011 Kia Optima Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

The $35,495 Optima Hybrid Premium adds a range of features, some of which are typically only found in luxury cars. A leather interior with heated and cooled (ventilated) seats, for example, is unheard of in mainstream family sedans, as is a heatable steering wheel and heated rear seats. A navigation system is included, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, xenon headlights, an Infinity audio system and automatic defogging. The Optima Hybrid Premium handily out-prices and out-equips the Ford Fusion Hybrid, for example, which lists for over $40,000 without leather upholstery.

Power is also more-than-sufficient for a vehicle of this size and type. Kia’s Theta 2.4-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine is used, but has been converted to operate on an Atkinson cycle. Making 166-horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque, the engine’s numbers jump to 206-hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque when operating with Optima Hybrid’s 40-hp electric motor. This exceeds the equivalent output from its direct competitors, and provides acceleration from zero to 100 km/h in 9.2 seconds, which is also class leading, according to Kia.

Notably, the Optima Hybrid does not use a continuously variable (CVT) type of automatic transmission typically found in hybrids. Instead, it has a conventional, but “intelligent,” six-speed automatic transmission for a more familiar driving experience. The use of such a transmission obviates the need for Kia to develop or purchase a CVT, thus reducing costs. However this transmission does slightly increase fuel consumption, in comparison with a CVT.

The Optima Hybrid battery also deserves mention as it is a next-generation lithium-polymer type developed with Kia partner LG Chem (the company that also developed the battery for the Chevrolet Volt). A lithium-polymer battery is smaller, more energy dense and lighter than nickel-metal-hydride type used by auto manufacturers over the past decade. It also holds its charge longer, and provides more recovered kinetic energy and charging energy to move the vehicle as required, using electric drive assist more often and for a longer period of time.

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