2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Introduction
Historically speaking, hybrids are not attractive vehicles. In the pursuit of maximum aerodynamic efficiency, hybrid design typically satisfies the wind tunnel first, and potential customers’ eyes second. The Toyota Prius springs to mind as one example. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is another.
The 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid, however, does not bow at the altar of the drag coefficient. Instead, it gets a set of flush-design lightweight aluminum wheels that manage not to resemble Frisbees, a subtle rear lip spoiler, and a few “Hybrid” badges. That’s it, in terms of visual cues, anyway. In all other aspects, the Optima Hybrid retains the handsome good looks that have made the current generation of the Optima a midsize sedan sales sensation. Under the sheetmetal, however, additional modifications include a lower ride height, a full aerodynamic belly pan, and aluminum suspension components to help offset the weight of the battery pack.
For 2013, in order to help the Optima Hybrid remain appealing against new entrants like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and to help the car remain a viable alternative to clean diesel models from Volkswagen, Kia has made a few changes to its attractive midsize hybrid sedan. In addition to a more responsive and fuel-efficient gas-electric powertrain, the 2013 Optima Hybrid is offered in new base LX and uplevel EX trim levels, each equipped with a larger trunk than last year.
Given the updates, and in part because Kia launched an owner reimbursement program after it was recently asked to re-state fuel economy estimates across its model range when it became obvious that the numbers on the window stickers didn’t match the reality experienced by owners, I decided to spend some quality time with the updated 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid. My goal? To see if what looks terrific on paper and in photos is just as appealing after a hands-on test drive.
In most respects, I was not disappointed.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: About Our Test Car
This year, two versions of the 2013 Optima Hybrid are on sale: the LX priced from $26,700 and the EX priced from $32,750. The LX model is not as well equipped, and because it weighs less, it gets slightly better fuel economy.
Both trim levels have a standard 2.4-liter gasoline 4-cylinder engine and an electric assist motor powered by rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery pack. Together, these components make 199 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque, compared to the Optima’s standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, which makes 200 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque.
Optima Hybrid owners don’t need to plug this car in. Instead, a regenerative braking system converts energy that would otherwise be lost during coasting and braking into electricity to recharge the battery. And this Kia’s Electric Vehicle (EV) Mode operates at freeways speeds, kicking in when the car is coasting or heading down a hill to help conserve as much fuel as possible.
My test car is the Optima Hybrid EX, which adds plenty of standard features over the LX model in exchange for a $6,050 premium. On the outside, the EX gets larger 17-inch aluminum wheels, high-intensity discharge headlights, power folding side mirrors, and a panoramic glass sunroof. Inside, the EX model is equipped with leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a premium audio system, and UVO smartphone connectivity. This model also comes standard with a navigation system, a reversing camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, illuminated doorsill plates, and leatherette dashboard trim. The driver enjoys an 8-way power driver’s seat with memory settings, while the front passenger gets a 4-way power front passenger’s seat.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Design and Quality
Unlike some hybrid cars, the Optima Hybrid looks pretty much just like the standard Optima upon which it is based. Differences include the flush aluminum wheel designs, the rear lip spoiler, and the Hybrid badge on the back. Note however, that the Optima Hybrid is offered only in white, black, and this Satin Metal color. I’m not crazy about tan paint, but I must admit this color sure hides dirt.
Inside, the Optima Hybrid EX looks upscale thanks to its perforated leather, brushed black metallic accents, and 2-tone black-over-tan color scheme. The leather feels good enough to the fingertips, the headliner looks and feels plush, and the EX model includes leatherette inserts for the door panels and around the instrument panel. Textures, grains, and tones are convincing in terms of quality, helping to make the Optima’s cabin is a pleasing place to spend time.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Comfort and Cargo
Thanks to the Optima Hybrid EX model’s 8-way power driver’s seat, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and controls that are arrayed around the driver, the Optima Hybrid is quite comfortable. My EX test car even had heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 4-way power front passenger’s seat. Multiple people complained about how close the seat is to the floor, all of them wishing for a way to raise the seat for better outward visibility. Even a manual seat height adjuster would be better than none.
Putting full-size adults into the Optima Hybrid’s rear seat is an easy task. There’s plenty of legroom, and the bottom cushion is positioned to deliver decent thigh support. I carried a couple of pre-schoolers around for a week, with no trouble at all.
For 2013, Kia has enlarged the Optima Hybrid’s trunk to 10.8 cu.-ft. That’s still smaller than a standard Optima, which measures 15.4 cu.-ft., because the Optima Hybrid’s battery is stacked behind the rear seat. Still, I loaded a compact folding stroller, a full-size suitcase, and a large camera bag with no trouble at all. But make no mistake, this isn’t the right car to take on a cross-country family road trip.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Features and Controls
The Optima Hybrid’s interior layout is simple and straightforward, stylishly arrayed around the driver for a cockpit look and feel. Everything is located where the driver expects to find it, is clearly labeled in English or with self-explanatory graphics, and is easy to use.
This car uses Kia’s first-generation version of UVO connectivity, the graphics for which I prefer over the new UVO eServices display. Kia’s color touchscreen isn’t the largest in the industry, but it does a good job of resisting glare most of the time, and is responsive to commands.
Though priced at less than $33,000, the Optima Hybrid EX is equipped with heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and ventilated front seats. Add the navigation system, the panoramic glass sunroof, and the premium audio system, and this Kia represents genuine value.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Safety Matters
Where I think Kia needs to improve is with regard to the safety technology offered for the Optima Hybrid. Aside from a reversing camera, this car provides nothing in the way of safety-related upgrades. Good thing, then, that it gets top-notch crash-test scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Optima a 5-star overall rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the Optima is a “Top Safety Pick Plus.”
This latter rating is important to note, as it reflects the three-year-old Optima’s favorable performance in the tough new small overlap frontal-impact crash test. This new test is designed to measure a car’s ability to protect passengers in the event that it strikes a tree, pole, or oncoming traffic on the left front corner of the vehicle. In this test, the Optima received an “Acceptable” rating.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Driving Impressions
The point of paying extra for a hybrid, which comes with inherent cargo restrictions coupled with less appealing driving dynamics, is to receive superior fuel economy. The Optima Hybrid delivers, even if it misses its EPA fuel economy ratings by a significant margin.
My Optima Hybrid EX is expected to get 37 mpg in combined driving, according to the EPA. I averaged 32.7 mpg, covering more than 400 miles primarily with its Eco Mode engaged. For comparison, a standard Optima is rated to get 28 mpg in combined driving, but given Kia’s history of overstating fuel economy, one could conclude that figure to be optimistic as well. Still, it is important to keep perspective, Without effort, this roomy sedan returned much better mileage than a Honda Fit I drove a few weeks ago.
Plus, the Optima Hybrid is unexpectedly entertaining to drive, once you acclimate to its extra 400 pounds of weight, heavy steering, grabby regenerative brakes, and uneven power delivery. This year’s additional torque output is actually noticeable, and makes the car more responsive off of the line and when passing. Out on a twisty road, the Optima Hybrid can even cause its driver to crack a smile. In fact, I think this Kia is one of the more fun-to-drive hybrids on the market.
However, the Optima Hybrid does exhibit all of the hallmarks of the breed: uneven acceleration as the electric assist motor transitions to the gas engine, poor brake pedal feel and inconsistent response due to the regenerative braking system, and added weight that makes the car feel heavy, like its already loaded with passengers even though just the driver is aboard.
To distract the driver from these seemingly inherent dynamic faults, Kia offers a number of ways to track how economically the car is being driven. There’s an Eco Score display, a green leaves display, screens that depict power flow and how the car is contributing to a healthier planet, and more.
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid Quick Spin Review
Should you consider a Kia Optima Hybrid? Yes. This is the rare hybrid that is actually good looking, and it comes with excellent crash-test ratings, an outstanding warranty, and is a family sedan that can effortlessly achieve the same fuel economy as a subcompact car. Just keep in mind that there are alternatives to this vehicle that might prove even more fuel efficient, like the Ford Fusion Hybrid, or practical, like Volkswagen Passat TDI.
Kia provided the 2013 Optima Hybrid EX for this review
2013 Kia Optima Hybrid EX photos by Christian Wardlaw