Review: 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid – The Perfect Car Made Worse

 

For two weeks I sat around trying to find excuses to drive a 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid I had. Sadly, I couldn’t find many.

When I drive a press car, I own that car for the time that I have it. It’s something I’m very adamant about. It is, after all, the only real job I know. I’m a car critic, reviewer, idiot, whatever you’d like to call me. I don’t dismantle bombs, nor do I preform surgery on sick children. Nope, I drive the hell out of a car in order to tell you, my faithful reader, whether it’s okay to spend your hard earned money on.

Such is the dilemma that I had with the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid recently. A beautiful car, and, in my mind, the Optima in general is the best car in the world for 30-grand or less. I’d have it over any car in its segment. Maybe not the Ford Fusion, only because I haven’t driven it yet.

I’m mildly obsessed with Kia these days. Why? Because I used to sell them at a dealership in the days when I had to make up reasons in my own head why they were good enough to allow someone to buy one. I never came up with one single reason why anyone should buy a Kia over anything else, or a used bicycle. The latter being more reliable.

Now, though, Kia are at the top of their game. A game that’s not too far off from Honda and Toyota. I have respect, and I give them props every chance I can. They’ve fought their way up a mountain not unlike the US troops in Normandy, France on D-Day, or officially called Operation Neptune. Toyota and Honda were always at the top of the beach taking out any competition they could. They had the high ground, and over the years Toyota and Honda earned the right to be at the top of that hill. But here come Kia and Hyundai, charging up as hard as they could from the ’90s to the mid-2000s. They were bad… just plain bad.

Then finally, with a little leadership and creativity, like Tom Hanks and his Rangers in Saving Private Ryan, they got up that beach and made fast movements to take out the holders of those dunes. This is a story all too similar to that of Kia. Over the last 5-6 years they’ve made extreme changes in their makings and dealings of cars. They look, sound, smell and feel better in every way. They’re better made, and they go up against the competition like they never have before.

Now, just for the sake of the lawyers, I’m not saying Toyota and Honda were or are anything like the Nazi army. Just using a historical situation we’re all familiar with.

That is the case with the Kia Optima, but unfortunately not the Optima Hybrid. You see, this is Kia’s first shot at the Hybrid badge, and it’s not terrible out of the gate, but it’s not good, either. A couple of years ago Kia sent me their brand new 2011 Optima EX to evaluate, and man was it good. At $27,440 it is, without question, a car with no equal in terms of bang for buck. I averaged about 38-40 mpg in combined city and highway driving, which goes against what the EPA claimed; it exceeded their estimations.

The electric motor adds 40.2 horsepower and 151.2 lb-ft of torque on the Optima Hybrid.

So you’d expect adding a hybrid motor would make it better, right? In this case, no. The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid is a great looking car, an incredible value when it comes to features, fit and finish. However, I, for some odd reason, couldn’t seem to average more than 32-33 mpg between city and highway driving. This means that at $32,500 as-tested, you’re paying $5,060 for about 5 fewer miles to the gallon. The EPA claim 34 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. Uh…

This also brings me to the driving portion. It’s comfortable to a T, the seats and driving position are just right for pretty much any person. You have UVO to sync your Bluetooth media to, a nice sounding Infinity sound system, and navigation with a backup camera, iPod adapter and satellite radio. The green graphics shown on the tach displays and the navigation are bright and attractive, and they give you all the low down you need on how the electric motor, gas motor, and the environment are interacting with one another. Behind the wheel you’ll hardly notice you’re driving anything different than a Kia Optima. The battery is pretty quiet, for the most part. However, coming off a a stop sign or light into traffic you’ll notice an odd 2-3 second hesitation from the time you press the gas pedal to the time that it actually starts moving. Part of this is due to the electric motor, somehow, not being activated right away. It’s very odd, and a few times it left me with a shocked face as I heard loud horns blowing from behind. Oops… This happened more than once on more than one road, and I was able to repeat it on the same roads with my buddy Rob driving (as seen in the photo gallery below).

The other bad news about the Optima Hybrid is the fact that the trunk is roughly half the size of the standard car’s trunk, which is a big shame. Also, the thin floor is very flimsy and caves in with anything heavier than a backpack being placed in the trunk. So with the size and weight issue, it’s not very useful in the long run.

The backseat stays the same luxurious length, luckily. I threw blanket over the rear seats and put my two 80 lb German Shepherd sisters who’re a little over a year old in the back for a ride. Both fit perfectly and the seat butts are wide and long enough to fit two big dogs laying down without spilling over on to the floor.

Styling wise I think the Optima Hybrid is better looking than the regular Optima. Bear with me for a second. The revised lower fascia, and especially the silver plastic trim on the corners of the bumper is very sexy, and it’s also the exact same style as the leather stitching and plastic that covers the driver air vent. Now that’s cool to me. I love it when car companies add little bits of flare that appear on both the interior and exterior. It’s very exotic by nature.

At the end of my time with the Kia Optima Hybrid I was happy to see it go. The hybrid part, that is. The standard Optima is worth every penny you’ll spend, but the Optima Hybrid’s just not quite up to the challenge. However, give Kia a few more years and they’ll get it right, I’m sure of it. Don’t believe me? They’ve gotten everything else right thus far…

[Photos by Corey Privette and Josh Lewis]

2012 Kia Optima Hybrid

Base MSRP: $25,700

Destination: $750

Price as-tested: $32,500

Exterior color: Light Graphite

Engine

Type 2.4L HEV, aluminum block and head

Valve gear DOHC, four valves/cylinder with CVVT

Displacement 2,359 cc

Horsepower (SAE net) 166 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 40.2 hp @1,400-6,000 rpm (electric)

Torque (SAE net) 154 @ 4,250 rpm, 151.2 @0-1,400 rpm (electric)

Fuel system Multi-point Injection (MPI)

Transmission 6-speed automatic without lock-up torque converter

Dimensions

Wheelbase 110.0 in.

Track (front/rear) 63.0 in./62.6 in.

Length 190.7 in.

Width 72.1 in.

Height 57.1 in.

Ground clearance 5.1 in.

Headroom (front/rear) 40.0 in./37.6 in.

Shoulder room (front/rear) 57.3 in./55.7 in.

Legroom (front/rear) 45.5 in./34.7 in.

Hip room (front/rear) 54.7 in./54.5 in.

Interior volume 112.1 cu. ft.

Cargo volume (rear seat up) 9.9 cu. ft.

Tires & Wheels

Wheels 6.5J x 16, 6.5J x 17

Tires P205/65R16, P215/55R17

Body & Chassis

Body type Steel unibody

Front suspension Independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension Independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Steering type Rack and pinion, hydraulic power-assisted

Turning circle, curb-to-curb 35.8 ft.

Curb Weight

Automatic transmission 3,490 lbs.

Brakes

Type Active hydraulic boost

Front/rear 11.8 in. vented discs/11.2 in. solid discs

Estimated Fuel Economy

Automatic transmission, city/highway (mpg) 34/39

Fuel tank capacity (gallons) 17.2

Standard features

16″ tires with alloy wheels

Body-color side molding (unique design for HEV)

Chrome/body-color door handles

Solar glass

Projection headlamps

LED tail lamps

Outside mirrors with turn signal indicator

Power folding outside mirrors

Rear lip-type spoiler

Heated rear glass with timer

USB/auxiliary input jacks

Bluetooth® wireless technology

Steering wheel-mounted audio/Bluetooth® wireless technology/cruise-control buttons

Tilt and telescopic steering column

AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM audio system

Active ECO switch

Rear view camera

Push-button start with Smart Key

Power windows with driver’s/passenger’s one-touch auto up and down

Power door locks with remote keyless entry

Dual-zone automatic temperature control with ionized air filtration

Rear air conditioning

Illuminated glove box

Cooling glove box

Front and rear cup holders

Sunglasses holder

Cloth seat trim

8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support

60/40 split-folding rear seats

Seat back pocket

Leather-wrapped steering wheel/gearshift knob

Black metal paint center fascia panel

Dark silver metal paint center fascia

Dual front advanced airbags

Dual front seat-mounted side airbags

Side curtain airbags (1st and 2nd rows)

Front active headrests

Front and rear 3-point seat belts

Front seat-belt pretensioners

Height-adjustable front seat-belt anchors

4-wheel disc brakes

4-wheel Anti-lock Brakes System (ABS)

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Traction Control System (TCS)

Brake-Assist System (BAS)

Vehicle Stability Management (VSM)

Hill-start Assist Control (HAC)

Tire-Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Side-impact door beams

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH)

5-mph bumpers

Options

Convenience Package: $700.00

– 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat

– UVO infotainment system with rear-camera display

Premium Technology Package: $5,350.00

– Navigation system with back-up camera and SiriusXM Traffic

– Infinity audio system, 8-speakers

– Panoramic Sunroof with gloss black B-pillar

– Unique 17″ alloy wheel design

– Compact spare tire

– 4-way power front passenger seat

– Driver’s seat memory

– Heated and cooled front seats

– Heated rear seats

– Heated steering wheel

– HID head lights with auto-leveling

– Leather and woven fabric seat trim (black interior)

– Leatherette wrapped center fascia

– Auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink and Compass

– Hybrid unique trim (film insert) door inserts, center console

– Door mood lamp and overhead pin lamp

– Illuminated door scuff plates

The Good: A classy looking car with a lot of design character; Still a great interior layout with plenty of goodies to enjoy; rear seat space is abundantly perfect.
The Bad: Worse gas mileage than the standard Optima; 5 grand more than a standard Optima, and it’s no better to drive.
The Ugly: Acceleration hesitation from stop signs and lights into traffic could cause a pretty severe accident.
The Truth: Sorry, Kia, but for the first time in your new range of cars you’ve made a bad choice. The Kia Optima Hybrid needs a bit of work before I’d say anyone should buy it, especially those looking at other hybrid cars.

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I'm a car, music, and Howard Stern aficionado. I also love planes, trains, anything to do with science and engineering, as well as politics. I'm working on my screenplays, TV shows, and a book or two. Stay tuned to when I'm really famous and even more awesome.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=778555533 Mirko Reinhardt

    Who would buy this over the much cheaper diesel Optima?