£33,995 Price range
The old saying ‘you wait ages for a bus then two come along’ applies perfectly to the Kia Optima, because after soldiering on for years as a saloon only now is it being produced in estate and plug-in-hybrid (PHEV) forms.
It’s the latter we’ll look at here and, although Kia admits it’ll be a low-seller, it’s an interesting car nevertheless. You see, Kia has taken a different approach to its hybrid than, say, Toyota did with the Prius Plug-in – a car that shouts about its hybrid technology with edgy styling and a space-age interior. Kia’s PHEV, meanwhile, has blue badges and a grille that closes at speed to aid aerodynamics but, other than that, looks much the same as the normal car.
That’s true behind the wheel, too. Aside from a display that tells you exactly what the clever powertrain is doing, there’s little to separate the PHEV’s interior from the conventional car’s.
That was always the plan – in fact, Kia bought a Prius specifically to help it build a car that, unlike the Toyota, feels completely conventional to drive. That means the Optima PHEV uses the electric motor as much as possible, so you can keep pace with traffic up to 75mph using electricity alone. Mercifully, it also means there’s no droning CVT gearbox to tolerate – you get a conventional six-speed auto instead.
Although Toyota will tell you its CVT is crucial to returning strong fuel economy, the Kia does just fine without it – it can run for 33 miles on electricity alone, Low CO2 emissions mean road tax is free and fuel economy sits at a heady 177mpg.
Yet despite these figures, the PHEV is actually the fastest model in the Optima range – its 202hp petrol-electric powertrain gets you from 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds – seven-tenths quicker than the diesel Optima, the only other engine available.
Sitting at the top-of-range, equipment levels are high, so you get an around-view camera display, a high-end Harman Kardon stereo, front and rear parking sensors, and a faux leather interior.
There is one problem, though, and that’s the price – at £31,500, the PHEV is £1,000 more than a top-spec conventional model. As a result, the diesel remains the better choice for most but, if you cover a low annual mileage and have somewhere to charge it, a PHEV makes perfect sense and the Optima is one of the best currently on offer.