2018 Kia Optima Hybrid Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2018 Kia Optima Hybrid was new.


Performance: 7.7

The 2018 Kia Optima Hybrid provides a smooth, comfortable ride. It gets worse fuel economy than some midsize hybrid sedans, but it's very efficient compared to the class as a whole. It also offers a traditional six-speed automatic transmission in a segment that relies more on continuously variable automatic transmissions, which tend to drone noisily at higher speeds.

  • "While most other hybrid systems use continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs), the Kia matches its 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a conventional six-speed automatic, with the electric motor and a clutch replacing the torque converter. This slightly unconventional setup pays off in terms of refinement, as it avoids the droning sensation present in many other hybrids when the powertrain is tasked with urgent acceleration." -- Car and Driver (2017)

Acceleration and Power

The Optima Hybrid packs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine and a 38-kilowatt electric motor that combine to produce 192 horsepower. This car isn’t the fastest on the road, but power is there when you need it, so you’re never struggling to keep up with traffic.

A six-speed automatic transmission comes standard. That’s unusual in a segment that favors continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) for the better fuel economy they typically enable. Using a traditional automatic helps smooth the transition between electric and gas power.

There’s also an Optima plug-in hybrid. It, too, features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor, and they combine to put out 202 horsepower. They're also mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The plug-in hybrid has an all-electric range of 29 miles. The battery recharges in less than nine hours with a standard household outlet and less than three hours with a 240-volt outlet.

The Optima Hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 39 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway. Those are good numbers for the class, but they’re a bit low for a hybrid. The plug-in hybrid gets an estimated 40 mpg combined city/highway under gasoline power and 103 mpg-equivalent under electric power.

  • "With 192 total horsepower lugging a bit more weight than in the standard model, the Optima hybrid doesn't feel appreciably quicker than the regular four-cylinder, although the instantaneous torque from the electric motor does help make it more responsive when merging or passing." -- Car and Driver (2017)
  • "Lift off the throttle and the four-cylinder engine shuts down and lets the 50-hp electric motor handle light, constant-throttle cruising below 62 miles per hour. Dig deeper into the gas, and the [gas] powerplant quickly restarts and delivers the bulk of the Optima's power for heavy acceleration and higher-speed conditions. The Optima's back and forth is rarely disjointed – Kia's hybrid feels a lot like its conventionally powered model in normal driving." -- Autoblog (2017)

Handling and Braking

The front-wheel-drive Kia Optima Hybrid offers a smooth, comfortable ride around town and on the highway, yet it still demonstrates some ability to take you through twisting roads without issue. The Kia Optima Hybrid uses regenerative brakes, which capture energy to recharge the hybrid batteries. Traditional brakes work in conjunction with the regenerative brakes. Sometimes the combination can feel grabby or spongy, so they take some getting used to.

  • "The car's dynamics are mostly unchanged from the standard Optima, with accurate steering, well-controlled body motions, and a quiet cabin. The only giveaway that you're piloting a hybrid is the spongy and vague brake-pedal feel, a common sore spot in hybrids because of the difficulty of blending regenerative and friction braking systems." -- Car and Driver (2017)
  • "No sports car, the midsize hybrid performed confidently in curves and handled well during normal cruising." -- New York Daily News (2017)
  • "Powertrain tweaks aside, the Optima Hybrid rides and handles largely like its gas-only counterpart. That's to say the steering is light and pleasant, but doesn't do a great job transmitting finer road detail to the driver's hands. The ride is heavily biased towards comfort – a Mazda6 this isn't – but it feels perfectly average in a turn, with predictable levels of body roll, squat, and dive." -- Autoblog (2017)

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