2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Style

The pleasant, conventional Optima and its plug-in variant are hard to tell apart. Compared to other family sedans, the Optima has a slightly lower and more aggressive stance.

The plug-in has distinct design features including active grille shutters, low-drag bumpers, and a blue tint on the headlights and chrome work. Other styling differences include a model-specific front air curtain, a rear diffuser designed to streamline airflow by shrouding the exhaust tip, and an aerodynamic alloy-wheel design. And there’s an “Eco Plug-In” badge.

The decision between the similar Optima and Sonata plug-in hybrids is mostly a matter of brand and styling. Both vehicles have a familiar shape that’s unlikely to stand out from a crowded field of midsize sedans.

Performance

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

The Optima Plug-in Hybrid’s 67-horsepower electric motor and 2.0-liter four-cylinder 154-horsepower GDI engine combine to produce a peak 202 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels. Zero-to-60 performance is between about eight and nine seconds. The electric side of the powertrain provides zippy EV acceleration.

Like other hybrids from Hyundai-Kia, the company uses a six-speed automatic transmission teamed with the electric motor—supplanting a traditional torque converter. This strategy provides the familiar, conventional feel of a car shifting gears—as opposed to the disconnected and delayed feel of a continuously-variable transmission. The hybrid operations—switching back and forth between gas and electric—is smooth and quiet.

Like most of the plug-in hybrids on the market, the Optima offers various driving modes: all-electric for short-range driving, a hybrid mode for overall efficiency even on the highway, and charging mode to usurp some energy from gasoline and use it to charge the batteries on the fly. While the EV mode is designed to operate at speeds of up to 75 mph without firing up the gasoline engine, some drivers report that an aggressive foot triggers the use of the gas engine at much lower speeds.

Efficiency & Range

The Optima Plug-in Hybrid is rated to drive up to 29 miles on electricity alone. That helps give the Optima Plug-in Hybrid and E.P.A. efficiency rating of 103 MPGe. After those first 29 miles, the plug-in Optima gets 40 miles per gallon—nearly as good as the 42 MPG granted by the regular hybrid version of the car. Kia helps drivers save energy by using a blinking icon in the dash and a single audible alert to prompt the driver when to brake or coast.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Kia has some catching up to do. The conventional Camry Hybrid is now rated at 51 MPG in the city and 53 MPG on the highway. Meanwhile the Prius Prime, after its 25 miles of all-electric driving are used up, can sip fuel at the rate of 54 miles per gallon. Of course, the king of plug-in hybrid all-electric driving is still the Chevrolet Volt—which manages 53 miles before using any gasoline. Its $34,000 price range is tough to beat, especially when considering the Volt’s bigger tax credit of $7,500 (compared to the Optima’s $4,919 federal incentive). The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, available at a price that’s similar to the Optima, grants 48 miles of all-electric range.

Charging

The Optima’s 9.8 kWh battery pack recharges in about nine hours with a standard household outlet and less than three hours with a 240-volt outlet. That’s standard for the class.

Passenger & Cargo Room

The Optima Plug-in Hybrid is only available in the EX trim, which is a well-equipped but not top-of-the-line version. The Optima’s interior is somewhat dull. The front and rear seats are roomy but don’t provide much lateral support.

A navigation system comes standard, as does a premium Harman Kardon sound system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 8-inch touchscreen is intuitive. A unique display indicated if you’re using electricity or gasoline.

Visibility is somewhat compromised looking back due to a high rear deck lid. Some reviewers complain of limited headroom in the back. While the Optima is praised for including a lot of high-tech gear, it’s criticized for an interior that relies on hard plastic material (which are considered visually appealing nonetheless).

Kia divides the 2018 Optima interior in two—with gauges, infotainment touch screen, and vents positioned above the audio and climate buttons below. Kia thankfully uses buttons and knobs for most functions, rather than hard-to-use screen-based controls.

There’s one area where the Optima Plug-in Hybrid will be quite competitive: cargo space. Kia claims that it packaged the 9.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack behind the rear seat and tire well to give the Optima Plug-in Hybrid “one of the largest cargo areas among all midsize plug-in hybrids.” While the battery pack robs the Optima’s trunk of three cubic feet of capacity when compared with the standard Optima, it still provides a decent 13 cubic feet. The Volt offers 10.6 cubes.

The Ford Fusion Energi, arguably a better-looking sedan, doesn’t have as many tech features as the Optima. The Chevrolet Volt is a smaller hatchback and the Toyota Prius Prime strictly seats four passengers.

2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Safety

The plug-in hybrid version of the Optima has not been tested. However, the conventional hybrid Kia Optima received a perfect set of "Good" scores from the IIHS, and top "five-star" ratings from NHTSA in all categories. The model comes standard with blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking-assist systems.

Price

Unlike the standard hybrid, which comes in a base version as well as EX trim, the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid is sold exclusively in the mid-range EX trim. With a base price of $35,205, the plug-in hybrid is about $4,000 more than the conventional hybrid EX car. That premium is more than covered by the $4,919 federal tax credit—plus a $1,500 rebate in California.

Given the incentives, shoppers thinking about an Optima Hybrid can enjoy the benefits of plugging in—most notably, driving your first 29 miles without using a drop of gasoline—at a lower net price. The bonus could be utilized by first-time plug-in drivers to install a home electric-car charging station—and thereby greatly reduce your trips to a gas station.

There are no special packages to consider. The shortlist of exterior colors are Snow White Pearl, Aluminum Silver, Gravity Blue, and Aurora Black Pearl.

As with all Kia vehicle, they come standard with the best warranty on the market—10 years or 100,000 miles.

Purchase Process

The Optima Plug-in Hybrid is available in all 50 states—although availability might be limited considering its low selling rate (of about 120 units nationwide per month). Get an exact quote at a local dealership via Kia.com.

Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $35200
Est. tax credit: $4900
Technology: Plug-in Hybrid
Body type: Sedan
Seats: 5
EPA Range: 29 miles electric + gasoline
Battery size: 10 kWh
Charging rate: 3.3 kW

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