We spend a week in the completely redesigned midsize hybrid sedan from Kia.
Cargo volume vs. gasoline-only model
Fuel economy disparity
2017 Optima Hybrid EX
2011 was the coming-out party for the Optima Hybrid. Designed by Peter Schreyer, like the rest of the lineup it marked the transition of Kia's midsize sedan from that of a throwaway vehicle to one that could seriously compete in the segment.
All-new for 2017, the headlights and the signature blank Tiger Nose grille that they flank are both narrower, while the trailing edges of the headlight enclosures extend further back along the fenders. The lower fascia features a more aggressive air intake, flanked by a pair of deeply recessed outer pods and sitting above an aggressive chin spoiler.
The sides retain the familiar raked A-Pillar with bright chrome trim strips that trace the arc of the roofline. The lower bodyline is more deeply sculpted, while the lower chrome trim strip between the wheel wells is retained.
The rear fascia looks more familiar; however, the tail lamp housings are narrower, the trailing edge of the trunk more pronounced, the reflectors are vertical, and the lower valance is now blacked out and more aggressive-looking.
By the numbers, the new Optima Hybrid is 1.2 inches wider, 0.4 inches longer, and 0.6 inches taller. Its wheelbase is also up by 0.4 inches, while ground clearance, at 5.3 inches, remains unchanged.
Like its predecessor, the latest Optima Hybrid interior has soft-touch surfaces wherever you place your arms or hands. From the steering wheel to the door panels, everything is nicely turned out and it all fits together with a precision that puts a number of luxury vehicles to shame.
The gauges and controls are intuitive, large, easy to read, within easy reach of the driver, and buttery smooth. The infotainment system also comes with redundant controls for most of the major functions – giving users a choice of either delving into the touchscreen menus or working with conventional buttons.
The leather-trimmed seats on our EX tester were nicely bolstered, offering plenty of lateral support. The only issue we noted was the re-styled dashboard. Unlike the previous model, the wide band of soft-touch black vinyl, trimmed with fake stitching, looked a bit on the cheesy side in what otherwise is a nicely thought-out and well-executed interior.
On the other hand, the airy feeling you get when stepping into the cabin isn't your senses playing tricks on you, as the latest Optima Hybrid has an EPA passenger volume of 104.8 cubic feet. Due to a low cowl, the view out the front and sides is excellent, although the sloping roofline, rising beltline, wide C-pillar and high deck lid hinders views out the rear and rear three-quarters. Fortunately, both trims come with a rearview camera.
Because of the placement of the hybrid batteries, cargo capacity is 13.3 cubic feet, down from the gasoline-only model's 15.9 cubic feet. But unlike many hybrid sedans, the Optima's rear seats flip forward revealing a trunk pass-through that adds versatility and cargo-carrying capacity.
Like all Optimas, the hybrid, even in base trim, comes with a laundry list of equipment in addition to the usual assortment of power features. There's a proximity key with push-button start, power-folding heated outside mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED tail lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped shift knob, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with Bluetooth, audio and cruise controls. Also included is a 7-inch touchscreen, USB and auxiliary outlets, satellite radio, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
Stepping up to the EX adds 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and front positioning lights, an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harmon/Kardon premium audio system, and leather seats (power driver and front passenger that are also heated and ventilated).
Our tester was also equipped with the optional EX Technology Package which includes dynamic LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, heated outboard rear seats, rear side window sunshades, LED interior lighting, an auto dimming rearview mirror, and rear parking assist.
The package also includes a suite of advanced active safety features including radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection, forward collision warning, high beam assist, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.
All that is in addition to a list of standard safety equipment that includes a full 7 airbags, ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management and hill-start assist control.
Under the hood
The 2017 Optima Hybrid is equipped with a normally-aspirated, direct injection 2.0-liter inline-4 that generates 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. It's coupled to a 51 horsepower electric motor for a total of 193 system horsepower.
The engine is paired to a conventional 6-speed automatic (the electric motor and a clutch replacing the torque converter).
EPA estimated fuel economy numbers for the hybrid are 39/46/42 city/highway/combined miles per gallon. Our observed fuel economy, however, was just 30.3 mpg in very cold winter city driving.
On the road
One of the few dings we gave the previous Optima, both gasoline and hybrid versions, was a lack of feedback through the steering wheel and a tendency for the suspension to float over uneven road surfaces. Both issues have been corrected with the latest generation.
On the road, the suspension does a nice job of soaking up both small and large potholes and other imperfections. Toss it into a corner and there's very little body lean. And while there's still a bit of a dead spot on-center, in all other situations the steering system is greatly improved with good feedback to the driver.
The brakes are also very good with a bit of an initial bite. Brake modulation is progressive, although feedback through the pedal is not as direct as the gasoline-only model.
At high speeds the new Optima Hybrid tracks well and is unaffected by either crosswinds or grooved pavement. Lane change maneuvers can now be made with much more precision. The level of interior sound is another one of the high points, as very little in the way of wind, road, tire or engine noise enters the cabin.
Finally, passing and merging on the expressway is never a problem and, thanks to the added torque of the electric motor, acceleration is nearly immediate in everyday driving situations.
2017 Kia Optima Hybrid prices
2017 Optima Hybrid prices start at a very affordable $26,890 (including freight) for the base Premium trim. But the price can quickly escalate, and an EX equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission and a smattering of accessories can top out at nearly $38,000.
Our Crimson Red EX tester had a base price of $30,990. Adding the $5,000 Technology Package along with $895 for inland freight and handling charges brought the grand total to a lofty manufacturer's suggested retail price of $36,885.
The Bottom Line
After spending a week with one, we found that there’s even more to like about the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid. It has great styling and a roomy interior. It also comes with a better ride, more responsive steering and handling, and a more involving driving experience. On the other hand, the design of the dashboard seems like a step backward, while we didn't experience anything close to its EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers (although, in all fairness, it was really cold outside).
But when all is said and done, the 2017 Optima Hybrid, at least in base trim, represents one of the better hybrid buys and one that also comes with one of the best new car warranties in the business.
We believe that car buyers looking at a midsize hybrid sedan now have even more of a reason to put the Kia Optima (especially the Premium) at or near the top of their shopping lists.