2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid Review – Electric Personality with Carefree Driving Range

By Steve & Tamami Laser

What’s the first thing you think of when someone says, “Kia”? Are you getting a vision of those cute little hamsters that keep turning up as mini brand ambassadors in the automaker’s commercials? If a vehicle pops into your head (before the hamsters) do you think of Kia’s popular Optima midsize sedan, the Sorento crossover or maybe the funky Soul (that now offers a turbocharged engine)?

The last time we tested a Kia, we selected the impressive flagship K900 luxury sedan. This time we decided to check out a new version of the Optima called the Plug-In Hybrid. Kia has been selling lots of Optimas in a variety of models with normally aspirated and turbo 4-cylinder engines. There’s also a regular gas-electric Hybrid model (not the plug-in) that’s been upgraded for 2017. Yet the new Plug-In takes the Hybrid to the next level with greater range available on pure electric power.

In our Optima Plug-In Hybrid test-drive video (above), we highlight the new model from the best seat in the house, the driver’s seat. (video © CarNichiWa.com)

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid carries an EPA estimated 103 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent) rating, an All Electric Range (AER) of 29 miles, a gasoline-only estimate of 38 city/43 highway and 40 combined MPG, and an estimated total driving range of 610 miles. Those are impressive numbers for a roomy five-passenger sedan with a curb weight of 3,788 pounds. The Plug-In also cures “range anxiety” for those who might be concerned about limited driving range with pure EVs (battery only vehicles).

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gas engine with direct injection that’s rated at 154 horsepower. It teams with a delightful 6-speed automatic transmission with H-mode that lets the driver shift manually when desired. The hybrid system provides a nearly seamless transition between the gas engine and a transmission-mounted 50 kW electric motor.

Hidden behind the rear seat is a 9.8 kW lithium-ion battery pack that Kia says produces 60 percent more energy output than the battery in the previous Optima’s hybrid system. That gives it the ability to go farther on pure EV power alone.

We used the standard 8-inch in-dash touchscreen and its embedded navigation system to locate the closest pubic charging station. Optima Plug-In can be charged with the cable stored in the trunk connected to a typical 120V (Level 1) home power outlet. A full charge is estimated at less than nine hours.

We like to use ChargePoint’s network of 240V (Level 2) chargers when we test an EV or PHEV. For the Optima, a full charge takes less than three hours. As we show in our Walkaround video, the process is simple. We scan the barcode on our ChargePoint membership card to unlock the charging paddle and simply plug it into the car.

Optima’s charging port is located in the left front fender for easy access. While the car was charging, we went for a walk around nearby ocean trails, then ordered a latte at the hotel’s cafe. Returning to the car, we disconnected the paddle, returned it to the charging station and we were good to go.

Our Walkaround video (above) takes a closer look at key Optima Plug-In Hybrid features and also shows how we charged the car at a public charging station. (video © CarNichiWa.com)

With a full charge, we decided to see how far we could travel on pure EV power. Pressing the HEV button on the center console and selecting EV electric mode, we drove on city streets for 32 miles before the engine kicked in. That trip exceeded the EPA’s estimated 29 AER rating by a few miles. (We didn’t use air conditioning and avoided the steep hills in our neighborhood.) If one lived close to work, school or shopping, in theory it may be possible to use EV power exclusively if the car is charged frequently.

Our tester’s spacious cabin was fitted with standard power heated leather-trimmed front seats with memory on the driver’s side. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is also heated. Among the many features included with the optional Technology Package are ventilated front seats and a twin-panel panoramic sunroof.

The package also adds a long list of safety features including Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Rear Parking Assist.

The rear seat offers ample space to stretch out in comfort. The outboard seats are heated for added cool-weather comfort thanks to the Tech Package. While the center armrest folds down, the setbacks are fixed in place due to the battery pack mounted behind them.

With the standard Smart Trunk feature, the trunk lid will automatically pop open when the user stands nearby for a few seconds. The Smart Key can stay in a pocket or purse when hands are full. Or the truck can be opened by pressing a button on the keyfob. There’s room to store grocery bags or sports gear. The Plug-In’s smaller trunk with 9.89 cubic feet of cargo space compares to 13.42 cu. ft. for the traditional (not plug-in) Hybrid and 15.9 cu. ft. for the regular gas-only Optima.

The Optima’s well-designed high-tech dash and instrument cluster has the look and feel of a more expensive car. We liked the sound quality of the Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic™ premium audio system with 10 speakers, Clari-Fi™ technology and a 630-watt digital amplifier. Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay™ connectivity for compatible smart phones is also included.

The Supervision instrument cluster features a 4.3-inch TFT display that lets the driver toggle through and customize the operation of various features using buttons on the steering wheel.

Optima Plug-In features Kia’s advanced UVO telematics with more than 30 features such as UVO EV Services with LTE wireless connectivity that allows direct communication with the vehicle for remote start/stop, remote pre-conditioning of cabin temperature and remote lock/unlock using the UVO app.

A wealth of information is available on the 8-inch touchscreen that also can be accessed by voice command. The above display shows driver-selectable ECO Driving and Energy Information screens and the ability to tap separate EV Range, Charging Station and Gas Station locations and even Set Charging Times.

We used the Energy Flow screen (above) to monitor our progress during our lengthy drive in pure EV mode. The realtime display shows energy transferred from the battery to the electric motor and then to the front drive wheels. In addition to the EV mode, the driver can also select the Hybrid Mode for highway driving, and Charging Mode which increases energy flow to the battery while driving at higher speeds.

Following our drive with pure EV power, we were rewarded with a nice green tree (above) and Eco Level 7, which is the highest rating we achieved during our week-long test drive. We also should mention the new Eco-DAS (Driver Assistance System) with Kia’s first Coasting Guide. This is designed to maximize fuel economy by coaching the driver on the best times to coast and brake via a blinking icon in the gauge cluster and an audible alert.

For 2017, Optima Plug-In Hybrid is offered in the well-equipped EX model with a base MSRP of $35,210. Adding the Technology Package, a cargo net and destination brought the bottom line to $41,405

With prices starting at $22,500 for the non-hybrid LX gas, Kia offers Optima models to meet the needs of a wide range of shoppers. The new Optima Plug-In Hybrid is a great way to get accustomed to living with a plug-in vehicle without having to worry about driving range.

Optima Plug-In Hybrid press fleet vehicle provided by Kia Motors America, Inc. Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All product information including prices, features and specifications, along with tax credits, is subject to change without notice.

Story, photos and videos © 2017 CarNichiWa.com