Kia promises as many as 11 environmentally-conscious cars by 2020. They will feature not only electric, but also fuel cell vehicles, though their green fleet will be, first and foremost, represented by hybrids and plug-in hybrids. The first in line will be a hybrid and plug-in hybrid Optima.
When Kia came out with their plans for eco-friendly car production, they also pledged to lower the CO2 emission by more than 30% by 2050. This is also because, in the years to come, they anticipate that hybrids and plug-in hybrids will prevail as the most eco-friendly cars in the world. Available at an ever more accessible price, they also feature an infrastructure that is relatively straightforward. If in 2013 approximatenly 1.78 million green cars (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell cars) were driven across the globe, and just short of 2 million last year, then we can expect the number to cross 6 million by 2020.
Kia wants to get their share of the pie. Niro, their entirely new hybrid (featured in this issue of Plugin Magazine) aside, the car in the limelight this year will be the revised Kia Optima, which we took for a short spin during our recent visit at the main Kia vehicle assembly plant in Korea. We tested both, the hybrid and plug-in hybrid.
Optima Hybrid is expected to arrive in selected showrooms as early as the beginning of this year, whereas the Plug-in Hybrid will arrive at the year's end. Although at the time of our visit Kia hadn't yet revealed all the details, they confided that they aimed for their classic hybrid to have 10% less gas consumption than the gas-powered Optima, while the plug-in hybrid (which is, by the way, the first plug-in hybrid made by Kia, ever) is supposed to boast one of the longest electric ranges in its class.
That would not be the case, if it were not for the 9.8 kWh li-ion batteries, which beat the current Optima Hybrid battery capacity by six-fold. The plug-in hybrid Optima features an electric motor with about 68 hp, and an electric range of over 40 km. For longer rides (and events that require full vehicle power) you can count on the revised 2.0 liter petrol engine, with 56 horsepower (115 kW) and a seemingly low 189 Nm of torque. But one of the hybrid hallmarks is also its ability to mask the low torque in classic gas engines with high torque in their electric counterparts. The system output adds up to 205 hp, and it will take you about three hours to charge the batteries, depending on how powerful the outlets or charging stations.
The same gas engine will be seen in the new Optima Hybrid. But, somewhat weaker at 38 kW (52 hp), the electric motor will reduce its system output to 195 hp. Like in the plug-in hybrid version, shifting will be handled by the six-speed automatic transmission and, in both cases, the electric motor will be installed where the torque converter is located in the classic automatic transmission of the non-hybrid Optima models.
The li-ion batteries can store 1.62 kWh of electric energy, which is 13% more than the Optima Hybrid of the previous generation. In practice, or rather while driving, the difference between the two (when driving the plug-in hybrid model as you would a traditional hybrid) is negligible. You feel a bit more power with the plug-in hybrid, because the electric assistance is greater, thanks to the more powerful batteries. But of course there's a world of difference when driving on electricity alone. While the new Optima Hybrid employs the gas engine as soon as it first starts moving, the plug-in hybrid handles the city speeds with decent acceleration and no emissions. Miracles are less likely to happen, if the driver slams down the gas pedal or spikes up the speed.
The automatic transmission deserves praise. Thanks to it, the drive is much calmer than it would be with a continuously variable transmission. This sense of calm is the main feature of the Optima. You won't find a sporty underside or a sensitive steering system here. The Optima is more about cozy, moderate and clean cruising, to which the fuel consumption numbers bear witness: by American standards (which are stricter than those in Europe) around 2.4 liters of gas per 100 km for the plug-in hybrid.