If you like what the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and PHEV can do but prefer the system to work inside Kia’s midsize sedan, you’re going to love the electrified options newly available for the 2017 Optima. The automaker debuted both a standard hybrid that will top the previous generation in efficiency and a plug-in model capable of 27 miles in electric mode at the Chicago Auto Show. They go on sale to the public late in 2016.
Though the a hybrid model existed alongside the standard edition in the previous (third) generation, the fourth-gen Kia Optima introduces a plug-in hybrid for the first time. It boasts a 2.0-liter GDI four-cylinder engine (154 horsepower) and 50 kW electric motor to power the vehicle via the front wheels. A 9.8 kWh battery pack provides the juice for just under 30 miles in EV mode. Now with a coefficient of drag at 0.24 drag, Optima PHEV ties the Tesla Model S for lowest in the plug-in segment, according to Kia.
For its part, the standard 2017 Optima Hybrid now packs the efficient combo found inside the latest Sonata Hybrid: 2.0-liter GDI with 38 kW electric motor for a total output of 193 horsepower. This new system aims to beat the outgoing hybrid’s economy by 10%, Kia said, while the 1.62 kWh battery pack represents a 13% increase in capacity. Trunk space is maximized in the new design as well.
At a time when hybrid sales are down, Kia is pushing forward with its initiative to increase fuel economy 25% across its product line by 2020, the automaker said. Along with the new Niro, a crossover capable of 50 miles per gallon, Kia went into Chicago with a full green car offensive.
The hybrids and PHEVs from Hyundai and Kia mark a new direction for the Korean automaker, which prior to the Kia Soul EV had just one electrified model under its collective banner. Following the Korean debut of the Ioniq, an EV triple-threat, and the two electric Optima trims, there will be a eight different models that incorporate electricity in their powertrains available to U.S. consumers. That number matters both for tightening regulations and for the overall brand image.
According to company statement, these Chicago Auto Show debuts are considered part of a sub-brand dubbed Kia Motors EcoDynamics that emphasizes eco-friendly operation. To date, the brand’s only pure electric car, Soul EV, has failed to gain traction due to limited inventory in its U.S. markets. Capable of 93 miles of electric range, it remains third in EV distance potential behind Tesla and the Nissan Leaf SV.
Early returns on the Sonata PHEV have been encouraging, and the 27 miles of range remains the best in a limited midsize sedan PHEV class. With Ford Fusion Energi drivers covering about half their trips in electric mode with 19 miles of range, Optima PHEV drivers would do considerably better. We’ll have to see where it is prices, but we’re guessing the Sonata PHEV ($34,600) suggests a safe-enough bet.