Kia Optima PHEV review

As ever with PHEVs, Kia's first venture into this sector of the market makes most sense for the company car driver who can recharge the car frequently, and ideally at work and at home. Under ideal conditions Kia reckons the Optima PHEV is capable of 33 miles with zero exhaust emissions running solely on electric power. Kia has built hybrids before but not for the UK market, and this is a very credible effort. Well priced compared to some rivals.

Review by Russell Bray


Despite a power output superior to the more popular 1.7 litre 154bhp Optima turbo diesel, the 201bhp petrol-electric plug-in hybrid - with a combined 276 lb ft of torque - though quick away from rest, is no rocket ship overall and not as fast as the output would suggest if compared to conventional single power unit cars. The 67bhp electric motor boosts you away from the lights but the car's extra 200kg of batteries, that motor and ancillaries, clobbers the power to weight ratio. The result is 0-60mph in 9.1 seconds in hybrid mode and a maximum speed of 121mph. Maximum power from the direct injection, four-cylinder 2.0 litre petrol engine is 154bhp at 6,000rpm. The big benefit in day to day driving is that the car's smoothness is not hampered by a CVT (continuously variable transmission) as with Toyota's Prius. Instead of the irritating whirring you have a normal automatic transmission with the torque converter replaced by the electric motor.


Safe and very competent rather than fun and involving, as you would expect of a car from a company with Kia's reputation for motoring white goods. The front pushes on in tighter corners and the low geared steering hasn't any true feel and doesn't encourage enthusiastic use. The whopping 200kg weight of the batteries, ancillaries and electric motor compared to the turbo diesel members of the Optima family is felt immediately you start to commit the car to a corner but most people are not driving enthusiasts and will enjoy the smooth, near limousine feel the car can deliver much of the time in urban traffic, especially when the battery pack is fully charged. Most PHEV users will be more interested in how much tax and fuel the Optima can save them than its cornering attitude. The brakes on the Optima PHEV are larger than on diesel engine models to cope with the extra weight of the batteries and electric motor and installations. The suspension has also been tuned for the extra weight. The ride is quite firm.


The Optima has plenty of presence from the front and a good degree of coherence with the rear unlike some cars which look designed by different people. Helping this are the vertical reflector housings at the car's corners which also increases a sporty look created by purposefully flared front and rear wheel arches. Additional aerodynamic tweaks and minor styling changes make the already handsome Optima PHEV saloon distinctive from other models in the range. The biggest streamlining improvement is an active air flap grille which closes automatically when less engine cooling is needed. The PHEV also follows the trend with hybrids for blue-tinted headlights and a metallic blue finish on the radiator grille, the lower front air grille and the side sills. Boot space has only dropped by 15 litres despite the battery pack but there is no room for a spare wheel, only a can of sealant. Length 4,855mm. Width 1,860mm.


Kia Optima PHEV interior

Initial impressions are that the cabin is pleasant enough, though some of the materials don't reflect the price being asked because of this car's hybrid status. The car is thousands cheaper than some rivals though - an amazing £6,000 compared to the Volkswagen Passat GTE based on list prices. But the cabin is spacious and we found the front seats fine with good, adjustable lumbar support on the driver's seat. Instrumentation is clear and switches pretty logically laid out, and yes, my pet hate the electronic handbrake is there too. As often with hybrids, the major left hand dial that would be a rev counter on conventional cars is replaced by an economy and power meter to alert the driver to how they are using the car's performance and indicate when the on-board battery pack is being charged. Drive Mode Select gives a choice of economy or normal settings according to the driver's needs. On the dashboard the 8-inch touch screen which provides satellite navigation maps has additional menus to help the driver make maximum use of the car's electric power driving range and shows energy use based on driving style, battery status, locations of nearby charging stations and predicted driving range. Cameras give a bird's eye view around the car when parking via the same screen.


On a test drive on smooth roads near Munich in a car which had already been driven by someone else the Optima PHEV showed only 28.7 MPG to 47.9 MPG according to its on-board computer and the figures could be majorly affected if the driver adopted an aggressive style. The battery was near three-quarters charged. The official test which allows hybrids to start with full batteries and deplete them completely produces a figure of 176.6 MPG. Carbon dioxide emissions of 37 g/km means no road tax or London congestion charge and for company car drivers only seven per cent benefit-in-kind tax in 2016-17. The Optima is backed by Kia's usual seven years or 100,000 mile guarantee subject to certain wear and tear conditions.


Under ideal conditions Kia claims the Optima is capable of 33 miles with zero exhaust emissions running solely on electric power. An active air flap grille reduces the Optima’s coefficient of drag as it pushes through the air to a low 0.25 (0.29 for other Optima models). To improve efficiency the car harvests energy which otherwise would be lost when braking and coasts when suitable. It also adjusts heating, air conditioning and ventilation to save fuel. Driving technique information is shown on the instrument panel to 'coach' drivers to be more economical. A heating and ventilation system developed from the Soul EV means the Optima only cools the driver's side of the car if it detects other seats are not occupied.


Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and headlights, remote control central locking, dual-zone air conditioning, satellite navigation, all-round electric windows, a ten-speaker 590 watt Harman Kardon stereo, front and rear reversing cameras, cruise control with speed limiter, a wireless phone charger and remote central locking. Seats are black cloth and faux leather with electric four-way lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat. The steering wheel and gear selector are leather trimmed.


Kia Optima PHEV rear

Model tested: Kia Optima PHEV
Body-style: Large four-door saloon
Engine: 201bhp combined - 154bhp 2.0 litre petrol engine and 50kW electric motor
CO2 emissions: 37 g/km
Trim grades: Only one

On-road price: From £31,495 (inc. Category 2 PiCG)
Warranty: Seven years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.5 Stars

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Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:31st Aug 2016

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