New Car Review: 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of white 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid
The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid.

As impressed as we were with the 2011 Kia Optima just a month ago, nothing could have prepared us for the Kia Optima Hybrid.

Here's the recipe: Take everything that makes the Optima a winner, and add a hybrid powerplant. But make it a hybrid powerplant that delivers the mileage. 24 mpg city/34 highway in the gasoline Optima becomes 35 city/40 highway in the Optima Hybrid...good enough to vault into 7th place on TireKicker's Top 10 Fuel Savers, ahead of smaller, lesser-performing cars like the Honda CR-Z and Lexus HS 250h.

Rear 3/4 view of white 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid
The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid rear view.

Best part of it all? The price spread between gasoline and hybrid is small as such things go...$4,005.  Now, admittedly, that's the difference between $22,495 and $26,500. But if your priorities include using less gasoline and putting fewer pollutants into the air, there are higher prices to pay.

Much like the gasoline version from a month ago, this Optima Hybrid was loaded. You might remember the $22,495 wound up being $27,440. Well, in this case, a single option, the $5,000 Premium Technology Package (Nav system with backup camera, Sirius Traffic, an Infinity audio system, panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink and compass, upgraded 17-inch tires with alloy wheels, auto-leveling HID headlamps, leather seat trim, driver's seat memory, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats, a heated steering wheel and power front passenger's seat) ran the price with $750 freight and handling to $32,250.

Yeah, that's a pricey Kia. But again, it's less than five grand above the loaded gasoline version.

The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid gauge cluster.

So...the big question: How's the mileage? Well, we did 225 miles of purely city street driving over the course of a week, and got 31.0 miles per gallon. Yes, the EPA estimate is 35 city, but the small print under that number says "expected range for most drivers 29 to 41 mpg". So we're in the ballpark. As always, your mileage may vary. I'd bet on having hit 35 had we done our usual amount of freeway driving...and on a roadtrip, 40's probably realistic.

Bottom line: Kia's on a roll, and the Optima is a contender not just among family sedans, but among alternative-energy vehicles as well.

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid

Base price: $26,500

As tested: $32,250

Likes: Styling, smooth power, impressive mileage for its size.

Dislikes: Overly sensitive tire pressure monitoring system.

EPA estimates: 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway.