Kia's Optima gets petrol electric Plug-in hybrid technology. Does it represent a decent alternative to diesel power? Jonathan Crouch decides.
Ten Second Review
Kia has decided that the second generation of its mid-sized Optima saloon should get the hybrid technology that the UK was previously denied. The MK2 model gets this engine in a more sophisticated Plug-in form and in this guise, it can travel up to 33 miles before the 2.0 GDI petrol engine cuts in.
Kia wants to re-position its Mondeo-sized Optima model as a contender that more and more buyers consider in this segment, hence the second generation range's headline-making inclusion of Plug-in petrol electric power. Yes, the CRDi diesel version is a more obvious choice but look closely at what's on offer with this Plug-in derivative and you could find yourself seduced with its clever technology. It does, after all, offer one of the longest all-electric driving range figures in the segment, plus the up-front asking price is a lot lower than that of its most direct Plug-in rival, Volkswagen's Passat GTE.
The Optima Plug-in Hybrid is powered by a 9.8 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack paired with a 50 kW electric motor, allowing it to operate in pure-electric mode for up to 33 miles at speeds as high as 75mph, placing this Kia among the leaders in the Mondeo-class D-segment for pure-electric range. The innovative powertrain employs Kia's efficient 2.0-litre 'Nu' four-cylinder GDI engine at its core, which on its own generates156PS and 189Nm of torque. The engine is coupled with the electric motor, which allows the car to operate in charge-sustaining mode once the battery runs out of charge. The powertrain's total power output is 205PS, with the application of the electric motor facilitating immediate engine response to throttle inputs. With the addition of electric power, the Plug-in Hybrid's total torque output is a high 375Nm, so you shouldn't want from grunt through the gears. Power is applied to the road through the front wheels via a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic gearbox. The 62mph from rest sprint time occupies 9.4s. As for handling, well there will be more involving cars in this segment you could consider, but you'll be buying this car for its technology, not to throw it around.
Design and Build
You'll have to look closely to visually identify this Plug-in Hybrid Optima model from its diesel stablemates. This petrol/electric variant gets special chrome trim with a clean metallic blue finish for the rear bumper, grille surround and wheel arches, as well as special 'EcoPlugin' badging. The charging port is integrated into the driver-side front wing. There's a choice of both saloon and 'Sportwagon' estate bodystyles. The Optima Plug-in Hybrid offers a high level of safety from its lightweight, high-strength body and high levels of passive and active safety, with the maximum possible five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The bodyshell benefits from the extensive application of Advanced High-Strength Steel, which makes up 51% of the body. This has been used to reinforce the car's A and B-pillars, side sills, roof, floor pan and front wheel arches. The neat integration of the batteries behind the rear seat and in the spare wheel well, along with a 15-litre reduction in the car's petrol tank, means the Optima PHEV is still able to offer a generous 307 litres of luggage space. This model also gets Kia's latest audio-visual navigation functionality, with an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system featuring DAB digital radio. The monitor features a series of menus to show the car's current EV range, as well as a useful function to locate nearby charging stations. Buyers can also sync in their smartphones using the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto systems.
Market and Model
At present, this PHEV derivative comes only as a saloon. You'll need a budget of around £31,500 to get yourself this Optima Plug-in hybrid - that's once the useful £2,500 government Plug-in car grant is subtracted from the initially off-putting asking price. That might seem a lot given that a decently-specced Optima diesel costs only around £25,000, but it still undercuts a rival Volkswagen Passat GTE Plug-in hybrid by round £2,500. You get a wide range of electronic safety features too, things like Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Autonomous Emergency Braking, High Beam Assist, a Lane Keeping Assist System, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Plus of course all the usual features you'd expect to find on a car of this class, things like alloy wheels, dual-projection headlamps with static cornering lights and LED daytime running lights, UV-reducing tinted solar glass, auto headlamps and wipers, heated power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors and an alarm. Inside, there's a 7-inch infotainment screen incorporating satellite navigation, a six-speaker DAB stereo, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility and a reversing camera. Plus dual automatic air conditioning, USB and Aux-in ports, cruise control with a speed limiter, powered lumbar support for the driver's seat, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, a trip computer and a clever automatic defogging system.
Cost of Ownership
Huge efforts have been made with this car to try and achieve a best-in-class efficiency showing - hence the quoted 37g/km CO2 showing and the faintly unbelievable 176.6mpg combined cycle fuel showing. Take, for example, the range of enhancements supposed to improve aerodynamic efficiency. When the car's neat active air flap grille is activated, the drag coefficient is reduced to just 0.25 Cd. Reprofiled front and rear bumpers enable more efficient air-flow over the body of the car, thanks to a more aerodynamically efficient design. Inside, the Optima Plug-in Hybrid features a series of enhancements to reflect the innovative nature of the car and its powertrain. A neat driver instrument cluster displays key information about the Plug-in Hybrid powertrain - such as the battery's state of charge - as well as details on driving style, highlighting where a driver can drive more efficiently so as to extend that 33 mile all-electric driving range figure. As usual with Kia models, this one gets a long 7-year/100,000 mile warranty as standard.
We can understand why Kia didn't offer hybrid technology in the first generation version of this Optima. Back then, it didn't really offer enough to prise buyers away from diesel power. With Plug-in power though, things are different. No, it won't really work for high mileage company buyers - or those without access to garage charging facilities. For everyone else though, this is a car that might well make sense if you can make the ongoing figures work for you and finance the slightly higher up-front asking price. It's nice to see this approach provided more cost-effectively in this segment.