Yesterday, Kia officially launched the all–new 2011 Optima midsize sedan—and revealed that a hybrid version will be offered next year. The Optima, a lower priced variant of the mid-size Hyundai Sonata, is earning rave reviews. Motor Trend said the Optima has “all the goods it needs to go toe-to-toe with segment leaders, and hot looks to boot.” A gas-electric version of the Optima will add high-mpg to the mix.
The Kia Optima Hybrid will join the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the company’s first gas-electric car which goes on sale in a few weeks. It only makes sense that Hyundai would utilize the Sonata hybrid system in the Optima. The approach is to combine a 2.4-liter engine with six-speed automatic transmission, and a 30kW electric motor and lightweight lithium polymer batteries to produce a full hybrid with impressive specs: 37 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway, and combined 209 horsepower. (Note that the mileage is better on the highway than the city, a strategy that Hyundai believes better suits American driving styles.)
The Hyundai hybrid numbers, for horsepower and mpg, beat those of the leading mid-size hybrid sedans, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid. Moreover, the Sonata is cheaper by a couple thousand dollars. The Optima, which is already being favorably compared to the Sonata in terms of styling and interior amenities, will probably take another thousand or so dollars off the price.
The Sonata and now the Optima still don’t come close to the Toyota Prius’s 50 mpg—but Hyundai is working on that as well. In April, we reported that Hyundai is planning a new unique hybrid nameplate to take on the Prius, just as the Sonata is competing against the Camry and Fusion Hybrids. The same strategy—better mileage, sharper styling, and a lower price tag—could send hybrid buyers to Hyundai and Kia dealerships for the first time. (We’ll get our first chance to drive the Hyundai Sonata next week.)
Time will tell if Hyundai can achieve its brave efficiency goals. The company plans to hit an average of 50 mpg for its lineup by 2025. At that time, it hopes to generate 20 percent of its annual sales from hybrids and 5 percent from electric drivetrain vehicles. (Yes, Hyundai electric cars and plug-in hybrids in the works.) The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid is one more sign that Hyundai is taking these goals seriously.
The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid will be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.