The plug-in hybrid remains a strange automotive safety blanket. It tries to combine the virtues of both electric and internal-combustion propulsion, but, like those who’d wear both belt and suspenders, it’s compromised by a fundamental lack of certainty. By the standards of the genre, the new Kia Optima plug-in hybrid is good; given the low price of gasoline, though, it feels like the answer to a question that few actually ask.
Although the Optima PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) is Kia’s first plug-in, it shares mechanical components with the existing Hyundai Sonata plug-in. (Kia also will continue to sell a plug-free Optima hybrid alongside the standard Optima sedan.) The PHEV’s 154-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine works in conjunction with a 67-hp electric motor/generator to deliver a peak system output of 202 horsepower. A six-speed automatic with the electric motor replacing the torque converter drives the front wheels. The transmission is equipped with an electric oil pump in the interest of efficiency.
The big difference from the regular Optima hybrid lurks under the rear seats and trunk floor: a 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that, Kia claims, allows the PHEV to go up to 29 miles in electric-only mode and to operate at speeds of up to 75 mph without firing up the gasoline engine. (Kia had predicted only 27 miles of EV range when it revealed the car at the Chicago auto show in February.) Twenty-nine miles is one of the longer EV ranges in the plug-in segment, well short of the Chevrolet Volt’s 53 miles but 50 percent beyond the Toyota Prius Prime’s 22. It takes about nine hours to recharge using a 120-volt supply but only three hours if you have access to a Level 2 240-volt connection.
Cosmetically, the PHEV is distinguished by its automatic active grille shutters, which, according to Kia, reduce the car’s drag coefficient to just 0.25 when its louvers are closed. It also has its own lower-drag front and rear bumpers and a subtle but noticeable blue tint to both the headlights and the exterior chrome brightwork to set it apart from less eco-minded Optimas. Equipment includes the usual battery of energy-monitor displays and the Economy Driver Assistance system (ECO-DAS), which gives visual and audible advice on when to let the car coast. We quickly confirmed that the system’s admonitory chimes can be switched off. Complete review on www.caranddriver.com, by Manufacturer