When the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid arrives in summer 2017, it will join a growing list of hybrids that can recharge by plugging in. The Optima Plug-in Hybrid borrows the same system used in the Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, which grants 29 miles of all-electric range and a total driving range of about 600 miles.
The Optima Plug-in Hybrid will start at $35,210, shaving a couple of hundred dollars off the Hyundai version. Those prices are in the middle of the pack (while several thousand dollars more than the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid). The decision between the similar Optima and Sonata plug-in hybrids is mostly a matter of brand and styling—although the Kia is slightly more efficient. The Optima Plug-in Hybrid goes two miles further in all-electric mode and is rated at 42 miles per gallon after those electric miles (compared to the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid’s 40 mpg).
The two plug-in hybrids from Hyundai-Kia—as well as the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in due in late 2017—will be measured against the Chevy Volt. If you’re looking for maximum EV range, the Volt’s 53 miles before using gasoline and 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).
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 Optima Plug-in Hybrid’s 50-kilowatt (67 hp) 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 about 9.1 seconds. The electric side of the powertrain provides the expected zippy EV acceleration.
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, early drive reports indicate that drivers with an aggressive foot might trigger the use of the gas engine at much lower speeds. Unfortunately, that means changing your driving style, a compromise that we don’t like to see with plug-in hybrids. (Pure EVs don’t burn gasoline even when drivers stomp on the go-pedal.)
As is typical of plug-in hybrids, a full charge takes about three hours from a 240-volt Level 2 charger, and a full night using standard 120-volt trickle charging.
The conventional Optima and the plug-in version are hard to tell apart. The plug-in has distinct design features including an 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 Optima Plug-in Hybrid is only available in the high-end EX trim. The front and rear seats are spacious, and the cabin feels open. Some reviewers complain of limited headroom in the back. Visibility is somewhat compromised looking back due to a high rear deck lid. As a result, the standard rearview camera comes in handy. The Optima received criticism for the preponderance of plastic on the interior. The Optima Plug-in Hybrid features a ton of tech—including high-caliber telematics and infotainment upgrades, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There’s also a healthy does of safety tech gear, such as Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection, Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Front Collision Warning System.
Add it all up to produce a capable and affordable plug-in hybrid with a combined EPA efficiency rating of 103 MPGe.