Kia Optima Hybrid
Kia Optima Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Long-term Kia Optima Hybrid, part one

Manufacturer’s web site
Kia Canada

Review and photos by Haney Louka

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Kia Optima Hybrid

I had high hopes for the Optima Hybrid.

First, there was the fabulous first impression I had of the Optima from driving it in full-load SX trim: a 274-hp rocket with knockout styling and all the goodies for a bargain price in the mid-$30s. Then there was the Guinness record set by a couple of hypermilers who drove an Optima Hybrid across the United States while consuming just 3.6 litres for every 100 km they drove. For a while I thought this might just be the hybrid I’ve been looking for: good looks, spirited drive, minimal fuel consumption.

For me the hybrid litmus test is accomplished by spending several weeks with one during a Winnipeg winter, because so far I have found, without fail, that hybrids are affected by cold weather to a greater degree than conventional vehicles. My first impressions on the car were published here a few weeks back, but that was before the cold snap of January, 2012. Admittedly short, it provided me with what I needed to know about how the Optima Hybrid handles cold weather.

At a very basic level, the car has no problem functioning in extreme cold; it fires right up and starts pumping warm air just as well as any other car. But my goal is to assess how the frigid weather affects operation of the hybrid system in terms of its primary design objective: lower fuel consumption.

Kia Optima Hybrid
Kia Optima Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

For perspective, the Optima Hybrid starts at $30,595, or about $4,000 more than a comparably-equipped Optima EX without the hybrid powertrain. Our tester was the $35,495 Optima Hybrid Premium, which, equipment-wise, lines up with the $32,095 EX Luxury with Navi. So in the Optima’s case, buyers are shelling out a $3,500 to $4,000 premium, depending on which model you choose.

So what does one get for the extra cash? Certainly, lower official fuel consumption ratings, to the tune of a 3.1 L/100 km advantage in the city and 0.9 L/100 km out on the open road. This is achieved thanks to the electric motor fed by a 270-volt lithium polymer battery pack that provides sole or supplemental power to the vehicle depending on the conditions. Under coasting, cruising, or light acceleration, the engine can be found shutting off while the electrics do their thing.

And this is where the decision to buy a hybrid needs to be scrutinized: if you think you’ll be saving money by driving a more efficient vehicle, think again. Let’s say you’ve spent $3,500 extra to buy the Optima Hybrid instead of an Optima EX. In this situation, and assuming a price of $1.10 per litre for regular unleaded and all city driving (introducing highway numbers would go even further to illustrate this point), you would need to drive 102,639 km before earning your investment back; hardly a sound financial strategy.

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