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.
The rise of Korean automobile makers is an oft-told tale â€“ cheap lemons to top-notch serious competition for the likes of Toyota and Honda. The 2012 Kia Optima isnâ€™t your fatherâ€™s Kia. Heck, it isnâ€™t even your big brotherâ€™s Kia.
The Kia Optima Hybrid is a good-looking car â€“ sleek, aggressive, more German sports sedan than Korean family sedan. A slightly lower stance â€“ just five millimeters â€“ a special side mirror design and other aerodynamic tweaks give the hybrid model a 0.26 drag coefficient â€“ 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 â€“ again recalling a German sports sedan. The leather-trimmed seats provide great lateral support. The Premium Technology Package â€“ a $5,000 option â€“ 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 carâ€™s air-cooled 270V lithium-polymer battery weighs 95 pounds â€“ 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 isnâ€™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 â€“ which included the Premium Technology Package with a navigation system, satellite radio, panoramic sunroof and other goodies â€“ was $32,250.
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