By on May 24, 2017

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid - Image: © Timothy Cain

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

2.0-liter inline-four, DOHC (154 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 140 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm)

Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor (50 horsepower @ 1,630 rpm; 151 lb-ft @ 0 rpm)

Combined system horsepower: 192 @ 6,000 rpm

Combined system torque: 271 lb-ft @ 1,770 rpm

Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

39 city / 46 highway / 42 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

6.0 city / 5.1 highway / 5.6 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

44.4 mpg [5.3 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $26,890 (U.S) / $31,655 (Canada)

As Tested: $26,890 (U.S.) / $31,855 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,660 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Automobile manufacturers send a new car to my driveway every week. Last week, the manufacturer was Kia. The vehicle, an Optima Hybrid.

Spending a full week with a vehicle should expose a vehicle’s positive attributes, not only the most obvious traits but those hidden under the surface at a first-drive event in an exotic location or during a test drive where a yammering salesman regales you with tales of J.D. Power awards.

Spending a full week with a vehicle should also expose a vehicle’s faults, not just the glaring flaws. The kind of blunders only made evident when you truly get to know a car.

That’s my job. I’m given time to spot everything, because you won’t be afforded the same privilege. So what happens when a vehicle is unable to incite any passion in the automotive enthusiast erogenous zones while also avoiding the exposure of any intrinsic weaknesses? What happens when there’s nothing to spot?

Writer’s block.

However, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid, tested here in Canadian-spec LX guise that’s similar to Kia USA’s base Premium trim, certainly sends out a clarion call to car buyers eyeing dedicated hybrids.2017 Kia Optima Hybrid LX - Image: © Timothy CainCompared with its Hyundai Ioniq cousin, which we tested earlier this year, the Kia Optima Hybrid suffers a negligible fuel economy penalty but provides greater passenger space, far more power, and distinctly superior ride quality, all in a similar price bracket. Based on our real world mileage in mixed driving and $2.50/gallon fuel, the designed-to-be-a-hybrid Ioniq would save you $210.

Over the span of 100,000 miles.

With 9 percent more space for passengers than the Ioniq, 38 percent more horsepower, and a pillowy ride courtesy of 205/65R16 Hankook Kinergy GT rubber, isn’t a conventional sedan the more — how do you say in America’s crumbling midsize market — sensible choice?

An argument can be made for a wheel/tire/suspension package that would make the 2017 Optima Hybrid a more realistic competitor for athletic sedans such as the Honda Accord and Mazda 6, but the Optima is no barge. The stiff structure and nicely weighted steering, along with surprisingly natural brake feel, conspire to make the Optima a willing off-ramp partner. While Kia’s top-spec Optima SX could do with a dose of athleticism to match its torquey turbo, the Optima Hybrid’s on-road behavior suits its mission: efficient and serene transportation.2017 Kia Optima Hybrid LX rear - Image: © Timothy CainGranted, the Optima Hybrid is torquey, too. Combined, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor produce 271 lb-ft of torque not far off idle. Working in conjunction with a six-speed automatic — not the CVT of many hybrids, nor the sometimes confused DCT of the aforementioned Ioniq — the hybrid powertrain feels like a proper 271-lb-ft beast. The Optima Hybrid pulls away from a seven-lane tollbooth ahead of everyone with ease, propelling itself uphill with the kind of umph a Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius can only dream of.

And at what cost, 44 miles per gallon? Pfft.

That’s not too much of a price to pay, not when the Optima more happily takes a rear-facing Diono Radian R120, offers decent rearward visibility, and squelches the rumors going around your neighborhood that you — Stars & Stripes forfend — reduce, reuse, and recycle.

A straightforward infotainment system causes no offense. Equipment levels are Kiaesque: proximity access, dual-zone auto climate control, power driver’s seat, and Kia’s Smart Trunk are all standard. (Kia Canada’s standard kit includes heated seats and a heated steering wheel.) Material quality is up to snuff. The cabin is hushed; vibrations are nonexistent. The stop-start system is all but imperceptible.

There’s little, aside from the hilariously tall tires on hideous wheels, to stand in the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid’s way.2017 Kia Optima Hybrid LX interior - Image: © Timothy CainBut what about Kia’s own non-hybrid Optima? The LX 1.6T is similarly equipped and stickers for $25,035, $1,855 less than the Optima Hybrid Premium’s $26,890 MSRP. Without the hybrid paraphernalia, the EPA says that car will cost only $300 more per year to fuel than the Optima Hybrid. That’s a six-year hybrid payoff.

Then there’s the real Kia alternative, the new Niro. Toyota Matrix dimensions and the absence of an all-wheel-drive option do not an SUV make, but Kia is successfully marketing its fraternal Ioniq twin as a crossover. In April, Kia sold 13 Niros for every Optima Hybrid. Superior fuel economy and body cladding? The Optima Hybrid, a comparative wallflower, simply can’t compete.

The presence of the Optima 1.6T and $24,180-$32,840 Niro in Kia’s lineup cast the Optima Hybrid into the shadows with economic and trendy arguments, respectively. But they won’t cause me to consider the Optima Hybrid a poor value.

Space, refinement, torque, and fuel economy are characteristics I’ll champion. Besides, the 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid made my job difficult this week. I can respect that.

[Images: © 2017 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net and a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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39 Comments on “2017 Kia Optima Hybrid Review – By No Means Perfect, But Largely Free From Imperfection...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The lady who lives across the street from me is often visited by her daughter and family whom I first saw in an Optima Hybrid (from the early available model years) and are now driving an Optima Turbo. The do live in the area which means they are far from a Kia dealer.

    Must be satisfied customers.

    Forget the hybrid fuel economy for a moment. That much torque just off idle connected to an ordinary automatic transmission in a family sedan sounds wonderful.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      Yes, I would pay more for the torque over the 1.6. The fact that it gets better mpg is just icing on the cake. I suspect resale is a little better too.

    • 0 avatar
      jkk6

      Kia with their newly established foot hold of being able to lease vehicles, they have been aggressive with their leases. A coworker was returning his lease and was sold on sign again today and pay $30 less than you are now or upgrade to EX for $20 more. Took a discount for a brand new car with Honda Civic payments.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Look at those sidewalls!! There is hope!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 2013 OH is rated 36/40, and gets 34/42 in real life if you keep it at 65 or below. It has the 2.4L (yes, the one under recall for Kia’s crankshaft supplier defect).

    My two complaints about it: a) driveability isn’t good, and b) the seats become very uncomfortable after a couple hours. The driveability issue wasn’t apparent on my short test drive.

    Hopefully H/K has improved the smoothness and responsiveness of their newer hybrids. Ours has an almost-dangerous throttle lag sometimes off the line, resulting in tire-spinning surge as you depress the accelerator in a panic to merge. But we’ve gotten used to managing it. And perhaps the 2017 seats are better.

    Tim – any comments on these specific items?

    As for pricing, I got my 13 OH in May of 2014, starting at $6000 off MSRP. Kia continues to heavily discount them even now, so in reality there may be no need to pay the ‘hybrid premium’.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    How much is trunk space affected by the battery?

    I had both an Optima rental followed by a Sonata rental to drive to Chicago in the last several months. The Kia had a nasty smelling interior (plastic) and really cheap feeling interior cloth. The Sonata did not suffer these maladies, and in my mind was a smidge quieter and rode a bit better (it had 4 people in it versus 2, could explain some of the difference). Both cars got an easy 36mpg going 75+ mph on the interstate. Gotta say I’m impressed with the Koreans these days. I know there’s substantial discounts on both of these models now given the exodus to CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      15.9 cubic feet in the Optima, 13.4 in the Optima Hybrid. Broad, deep toward the rear seat, but shallower than you’d like.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      The typical consensus is that the Optima has the edge over the Sonata in seat comfort and ride quality. Maybe your Optima had bad tires. Or was the previous gen, like the time I got a 2011 Versa hatch as a rental in 2014. Thanks, Hertz!

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        No the Optima was actually almost brand new with only 1700 miles on it or something like that. I think having 4 people in the Sonata must have made the difference. Seat comfort I can’t say, both were just fine, arguably better than my wife’s 2012 Camry.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      I came here to bring up the rear space issue. That is the glaring problem in a lot of these midsize hybrids: the shortage of space and the inabyto fold down the seats. My best friend really liked the Fusion hybrid and was ready to buy one but ruled it out for that reason. That would be a glaring area the Prius still has a distinct advantage. It’s also a reason, as much as its cliche, that I pound the wagon drum. If you’re going to have a hybrid like this, you really need that extra space.

      Yes the Niro can pass for a crossover and that helps tremendously, but I have to imagine that it’s 20 cubic ft of cargo room and seats folded 54.5 cubic feet of space isn’t also at play here. Plus, the styling trends of modern sedans has afflicted them with another challenge – the available space is hard to use because of the small opening and often deep proportions leading to long reaches in small areas. It’s hard to beat the accessibility and ease of loading and unloading offered by a liftback.

  • avatar
    n_tesla

    Nice review. A common theme of EV and Hybrid reviews is the “how long does it take to save money” question. That’s a good question, but perhaps not the only motivation when somebody buys an alternatively powered car. I have a buddy with a Tesla. He likes how it looks, drives and the buying experience. Our family has two Volts. We like the quiet drive, look, hatchback and that they are good for the environment. Yes we will save money, but buying a used Civic would have saved even more. Interesting to me is we were all BMW owners before.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Ah, yes, the tiresome “never pay for itself” argument. Standard reponses available for it:

      1. Some people would buy ev’s and hybrids even if gas was free and there were no subsidies.

      2. Ev and hybrid fans do not post in every performance car review that performance cars and options never pay for themselves and actually cost money forever. Not to mention diesel engines that cost more to make.

      3. The ev/hybrid payback arguments never factor in the savings in brake repairs etc.

      4. The ev/hybrid payback contrarians never factor in the externalized costs of burning the additional fuel. Oh, except for thermal power generation, when they’re on it like a dirty shirt.

      But so far, no post making the ev/hybrid payback argument for this review. Maybe the facts finally are sinking in.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Some people don’t like going to gas stations.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          This should be a selling point but, as typical in the segment, Kia shrunk the fuel tank by 3 gallons relative to the standard model so you’ll be making just as many pit stops as before.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            (Hyundai Sonata Hybrid) 31 mpg vs. 18 mpg in CR’s “city” cycle = 66% better fuel economy >> than a 14% reduction in tank size (15.9 from 18.5). Fewer trips to the gas station for most buyers (who buy hybrids to save gas in commuting).

  • avatar
    CitationX9

    I’m seriously considering one of these to replace my Genesis Coupe; my commute is 14 miles in downtown DC, and I’m averaging 13mpg in the Genny. I just wish the SXL interior package was available in the hybrid, b/c I’m sure I could substantially beat the EPA ratings given my driving conditions.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Please post a trunk picture if you can. Thanks.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    I’d normally skip this post because it’d be beating a dead horse. But in making MPG comparisons, it’s relevant to mention Hyundai/Kia’s history of exaggerating fuel economy numbers for marketing purposes. It’s also worth noting that the Niro’s sister ship, the Ioniq, has been advertised both here and abroad as delivering better mileage than the Ioniq’s target the Prius, but independent testers have found it falls short.

    Caveat emptor, at the dealership and at the pump.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      But note that the reviewer got better than the spec mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I think the Koreans were sufficiently burned by that scandal that they don’t want to make that mistake again. Bringing it up now makes as much sense as complaining about unintended acceleration in a new Camry.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      Hybrids often meet or exceed the EPA ratings, especially “city” numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      So are you doing the same for Ford and BMW (3 Series)?

      Actually, the “poster child” of the MPG fiasco was the Elantra and Popular Mechanics and C&D were able to hit (and exceed) the EPA rating, but as they say, YMMV based on the driver and driving conditions and Hyundai (USA) didn’t build in enough of the cushion into its MPG rating (was purportedly the reason Krafcik was let go).

      Now, they are probably being too conservative in their ratings where auto publications have been regularly hitting or even exceeding the listed MPG rating.

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    For some reason, the staging of the lead photo (IMO) makes this particular car look almost like a base stripper version?!

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      Those wheels/tires will hurt sales – average consumers would prefer losing an MPG or two for better looks.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        I would pay extra for those 16″ tires with actual sidewalls and not the useless rubberband tires that ride hard, last 18k miles, are noisy and make Winter driving futile. I agree that the alloy wheel does look a bit dorky though and Kia needs to make them look better.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Is this damning with faint praise? Vestigial KIA hate? Maybe not. I don’t know. We’ve owned three KIAs and they’ve been great cars, every one. I have a Forte Koup SX. Ride and drive are superb.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Center console still too wide. Hurts my knee.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    If I were gunning for a Kia hybrid in the $26K range, the Optima is a no-brainer over the new Niro.

    I spotted my first example of a Niro on the road and it’s an ugly cheap-looking hatchback with its oddly flat & truncated rear, completely uninspired profile, and decade-old Hyundai Veracruz front fascia. They may have overstyled the Prius, but they forgot to style the Niro at all.

    • 0 avatar
      mshenzi

      Looks are in the eye of the beholder, but I test-drove the Niro and found a lot to like. But it and the Optima are aimed at different customers; Niro can be equipped to feel pretty premium inside, but it’s a lot smaller and has all the packaging advantages (and disadvantages) of being a slightly tall-ish hatchback. Also, the Niro’s power level and delivery are pretty Prius-like despite having a DCT. Optima seems more like a hybrid Camry competitor

  • avatar
    kinsha

    We have 2015 versions of these in our work fleet. Both Kia and Hyundai guise. Drivability is not good as mentined before. We also have same year malibus with the 4 cyl auto stop motor. These cannot come close to the same milage I obtain in those Chevys. Plus more room to boot. This is just real world use going the same roads and distance repeatedly – almost all highway.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I would chose the 1.6T model every time over the hybrid mainly because of the larger trunk, lower price, less complexity and potential issues down the road such as expensive battery replacement and real world highway mileage is not all that far off.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      How often are people replacing the batteries in their hybrids? Most never do. Needs or tastes change long before the battery becomes an issue. If you are the type to keep a car forever, hybrids have lower running costs than just about anything. I bet the battery will last longer than turbo attached to an overtaxed little engine. And someone will still want the hybrid when it’s time to sell.

      • 0 avatar
        Bimmer

        TMA1,

        You’re correct. No starter, no alternator. Brakes last over 100,000 km. Battery and other hybrid components are covered by 8 years / 100,000 miles warranty (10 years / 160,000 miles in CARB states). Replacement high voltage batteries are $500 – $1,200 Canadian from wreckers for 2011 Lincoln MkZephyr Hybrid. And I’m averaging about 6.5 l / 100 km in Canada on Nokian WR G3 year round.

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          “No starter, no alternator. Brakes last over 100,000 km. Battery and other hybrid components are covered by 8 years / 100,000 miles warranty …”

          Stop with these FACTS – you’re battling Hybrid Derangement Syndrome.

          You forgot to mention that the hybrid is 1 second quicker to 60mph than the 1.6T

          • 0 avatar
            HotPotato

            Yeppers. These days, with hybrid versions of excellent mainstream cars, you don’t really give up anything in exchange for the drivability, durability, and economy benefits of a hybrid. And for those who want to eke out that last MPG with a purpose-built hybrid instead, Toyota has given the new Prius a nifty wishbone suspension so it no longer handles like a banana.

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