For the second time this year, we find ourselves behind the wheel of a Kia Optima. This time our tester is the brand-new Optima Hybrid, which shares top-of-the-line status with the Optima Turbo.
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Under the hood is a 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine that has been augmented with the addition of an electric motor/generator.
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The electric motor gets its energy from a 1.5-kWh lithium polymer battery pack in the trunk. You can see the duffle-bag-size battery hump near the front of the trunk. What you can't see is that the Optima's rear seat preserves a small pass-through for long items, like skis.
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Torque from the gasoline and electric engines is transmitted through a six-speed automatic transmission via a wet clutch, rather than a torque converter.
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The EPA estimates the Optima's fuel economy at 35 city and 40 highway mpg.
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However, we had a hard time getting the hybrid sedan to reach 32 mpg combined.
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Kia provides a variety of tools to help drivers maximize their miles per gallon, starting with the instrument cluster and its Eco Guide gauge where the tachometer would normally sit.
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Between the gauges is a small color LCD that displays trip information or an Eco score that increases as you drive more greenly.
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This screen can also display hybrid system info about the engine and battery.
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A similar hybrid information display can be shown on the large touch screen at the center of the dashboard.
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The dashboard display has a pair of Eco score displays of its own, including this Earth health graphic. As you drive efficiently, you can watch forests grow. Go heavy on the accelerator pedal and watch pollution spread across the globe.
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The most useful display is this fuel economy history graph, which displays your fuel economy over the last 30 minutes in 2.5-minute intervals.
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The final Eco score display illustrates your driving efficiency in terms of the volume of leaves blowing in the wake of this digital representation of the Optima Hybrid.
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The Hybrid model has an array of unique features that help it to cut through the air more smoothly than the other Optima models.
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For example, just behind the front grille is an active shutter that closes at speeds above about 35 mph to reduce drag from air entering the radiator.
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The Optima's cabin is quite comfortable inside and features a variety of materials and textures. Optionally, you can get heated seats at all four seating positions--the driver and front passenger also get cooled seating surfaces--as well as a heated steering wheel.
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The Infinity audio system is a great value offering good sound with solid bass response and staging.
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The Optima's steering wheel features controls for cruise, audio source, and hands-free calling. Additionally, there are buttons for activating the Eco driving mode and toggling the trip computer's screens.
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The Optima Hybrid's technology package is otherwise identical to that of the EX trim level that we previously tested. Check out the full review of the 2011 Kia Optima EX for more details and photos of this infotainment system.
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