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Executive wheels: Buy this car!

Jeff Rundles //November 5, 2012//

Executive wheels: Buy this car!

Jeff Rundles //November 5, 2012//


If you’re in the market for a sedan, you’d like to save some money and you want the very best car available, then I have a tip for you: the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid. I am almost certain that if you look and test-drive this car, you will buy one.

In the world of mid-sized sedans, the Kia Optima stands out.

If you look at the price competition – Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Buick Verano, Chevy Impala/Malibu, Chrysler 200, Nissan Altima – there is no competition; Kia wins the looks/styling category hands down. If you look at luxury competition – BMW 3, Mercedes C, Audi 4, Lexus ES – the Kia Optima holds its own.

If you took the badging off, my guess is that 90 people out of 100 would think this Kia Optima is a Lexus, it’s that nice.

The difference? The Kia Optima Hybrid carries a base price of $26,700, while the Lexus ES Hybrid (300h) starts at $38,850. I think they stack up head-to-head very well, so for my money, I’d take the $12,000 price difference. For the record, the size and luxury  are comparable, but the Lexus has slightly more horsepower.

I liked the Kia Optima the second I saw it, and getting inside and driving only added to my love affair. The car is roomy, handsome and quiet. It  feels like a high-end luxury car:  The controls are beautiful and easy to use, and the dash is classic class. I have been in many cars costing much more that I liked much less.

Before we get to the whole Hybrid thing and performance, I should mention the handling. This Kia Optima drives beautifully, corners like a dream and maneuvers through city streets like a race car.

This is a driver’s drive: it has great feel; not too mushy, not too stiff, and such good reaction in the steering that you really feel in control.  I will also give a shout out here to excellent brakes – better than I have experienced in many other cars. These ABS brakes had great feel; they acted just like I wanted them to in each and every case, normal and quick-stop, and added confidence to my driving.

On the performance side, I was, again, pleasantly surprised. Many people asked me during the course of the test drive week – and trust me, many, many people commented on the car and asked about it – if it was underpowered because it was a hybrid.

If I’ve said this once I’ve said it a thousand times: Hybrids actually feel more powerful than gas engines alone, especially in city driving, because the electric portion of the powerplant puts out more torque for get-up-and-go. You’d never know this car was a hybrid, except for the power gauges on the dash. This car is quick, powerful, smooth, in the city and on the highway.

The engine is a 2.4-liter I4 rated at 166 hp, which actually felt as if it had more. The whole transfer between all-electric to gas and electric was quite seamless. This is unlike many other hybrids I have driven. In the Optima, you have to open the windows to see how quiet it is in electric mode because the inside is so quiet that you’d never know what engines are running. In many other hybrids, you can feel the gas engine kick in, but here I never noticed.

Except for gas mileage. Now, Kia is great at gas mileage throughout its lineup. The gas models of the Optima feature a 2.4-liter I4 with 200 hp, rated at 24 city/35 highway, and a 2.0-liter I4 with 274 hp rated at 22/34. Those are good numbers. The Hybrid edition comes in at 35/40 – which is quite impressive; I went to great lengths to drain the gas tank, to little avail.

Most hybrids have a better city mileage number than a highway one, owing to the more frequent use of the electric motor in the city. But the Optima Hybrid is like the Lexus and some of the other high-end hybrids where the hybrid system itself is used to boost power at the same time it extends gas mileage and range. Just another example that proves that the Kia Optima should be thought of in the BMW/Mercedes/Audi/Lexus competitive category rather than in the one defined by price.

Also, to accommodate the hybrid battery pack, the ample trunk is a little compromised from the standard model, but I still go two golf bags in there.

Okay, so the base price on the Optima Hybrid is $26,700. The regular Optimas – the LX, EX and SX – go for a base price of $21,200, $23,500, and $26,800, respectively (these are 2013 model prices, but I checked: the 2013s are the same car [a holdover] and the prices are up only slightly, like $200.) There is, as yet, no Hybrid in the Optima 2013 line, but I anticipate one to be out soon.

My test drive model had all the luxuries you’d expect on a much more expensive car and a great 10-year powertrain and 5-year/60,000 mile warranties. Standard was the LCD screen, Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, a wonderful sound system, push-button start, leather steering wheel and more. For add-on they charged $700 for the Hybrid Convenience Package, including an Infotainment System, power driver’s seat and rear camera, $6,380 for the Premium technology package – Infinity audio, panoramic sunroof (wonderful), power folding outside mirrors (that fold in to indicate the car is locked rather than an annoying honk), an upgrade from 16” wheels to 17”, leather seating, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and HID headlamps with automatic leveling. They also go $70 for a rear bumper applique, and $50 for a cargo net. Add in the $750 destination charge and the bottom line is $32,620.   

When I choose my cars of the year, the Kia Optima Hybrid will be among the leaders. This is a great car, and even though the options are a little pricey, it is still everything a Lexus ES is at a much lower price.

I would buy this car. It’s that good.