By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

You reach a certain age when it seems the only surprises are bad surprises. The 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid is a rare happy surprise.

Kia Optima Hybrid, a happy surprise.

The rise of Korean automobile makers is an oft-told tale – cheap lemons to top-notch serious competition for the likes of Toyota and Honda. The 2012 Kia Optima isn’t your father’s Kia. Heck, it isn’t even your big brother’s Kia.

The Kia Optima Hybrid is a good-looking car – sleek, aggressive, more German sports sedan than Korean family sedan. A slightly lower stance – just five millimeters – a special side mirror design and other aerodynamic tweaks give the hybrid model a 0.26 drag coefficient – a 10-percent improvement over the standard Optima. A downside to the design is limited rear visibility, but a rear back-up camera solves that problem.

The interior is nicely done – again recalling a German sports sedan. The leather-trimmed seats provide great lateral support. The Premium Technology Package – a $5,000 option – includes heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats. Rear legroom is very good while rear headroom is a bit tight.

The hybrid engine mates a 2.4-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gas engine with an electric motor for a power output peaks 206 horsepower. The car’s air-cooled 270V lithium-polymer battery weighs 95 pounds – 20-30 percent lighter than nickel metal hydride systems. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth enough.

The Kia Optima Hybrid is more fun to drive than you might expect. A good thing. But the gas mileage isn’t a high as you might expect. A not so good thing. The EPA fuel economy estimate is 35 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. We got about 34 mpg in a mix of typical suburban driving and, ahem, spirited mountain driving.

Safety features include driver and passenger advanced front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, first and second row side curtain airbags, front active headrests, side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control.

The sticker price on the test car – which included the Premium Technology Package with a navigation system, satellite radio, panoramic sunroof and other goodies – was $32,250.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network