Our Week In The Future {Kia Optima Hybrid Review}

by Tyler, editor and reviewer

Last week I was spoiled by STI – The Drive Experience Company.  While I am currently driving the newest car I have ever owned {a spry 18 years old} I really don’t spend a lot of time in newer cars.  But, this last week I was lucky enough to drive around some of the latest and greatest technology in the form of the Kia Optima Hybrid, aka The Road Trip-Mobile. 

Kia Optima Hybrid
Even though I have always had older cars myself, I’m actually quite obsessed with keeping up with newer models.  But since most of my knowledge comes from reading magazines or articles online, as well as spending time at car shows and dealerships, I was really excited to get some real world time in something so new.

When it arrived at our house, the trip computer in the Optima informed us that we had 500 miles until empty, which we accepted as our challenge to complete in our week with the car.  Since we had to fit all that driving in while maintaining our normal work schedule and prior commitments, it was definitely going to be tough. 

Here’s what we learned from our week in the future.

Mama Likes:
•    Panoramic sun roof – We decided a long time ago that any car we own will have a sun roof, it just makes it feel so much bigger inside and you can’t beat it on summer days.  The Optima takes it one step further by giving you two sun roofs, so basically the whole roof is glass.  The front panel of which opens up to let in that summer air.  While this does take away some headroom and may be a problem for taller folks, it would definitely be something we would compromise on for the open air feel.
•    Keyless entry and ignition – Ever tried getting two kids in the car by yourself? Then this one’s for you.  If you have the Optima’s key on you {in your pocket, purse, jacket etc.} you can unlock the doors by pushing the small buttons on the exterior door handles of the car.  Once inside the car, simply put your foot on the brake, push the start button and you’re off, never having to fish that key out while wrangling your kids and all the stuff that comes along with them.
•    Heated and cooled seats – Heated seats are great; they warm you up quick without the stuffy heat you sometimes get from blasting the car’s heater.  Add cooling to those seats and you’re in heaven.  One of our favorite things to do in the Optima was what we dubbed “comfort by opposing forces” in which we would turn on the cooling through the seats while the car heater blasted {or vice versa} and it somehow made us both as happy as could be.  I’m sure the fact that both front passengers have their own temperature controls didn’t hurt either.
•    Great gas mileage – It’s a hybrid, that’s what it’s built for, but it really does work well.  It’s great to be in a car that fits the whole family comfortably while getting the equivalent mileage of a tiny econobox.
•    Room for both car seats – Having two kids in car seats will make any car feel a lot smaller instantly.  Looking at the Optima from the outside I thought for sure it was going to be a tight squeeze to fit our seats in, but I was surprised at the space available once we opened the doors.  Even our son’s massive rear facing seat fit behind me, which usually doesn’t work out too well since I’m 6’3” and don’t like to be squished.
•    Dashboard control screen – The dash is comprised of a mix of dedicated buttons and knobs as well as a good sized touch screen that changes along with whatever function you are controlling at the time. The whole system worked really well and made it really easy for us to just jump in the car and try out everything from the Navigation system to the satellite radio, heater controls and eco functions.
Two sunroofs

Kiddos Like
•    Cup holders in armrest and door – No road trip is complete without food and drinks, but when you’ve got little ones who are prone to dropping things, then cup holders are a must.  Whether they are for drinks or snacks, having cubbies that kiddos can reach will make your life much easier.  Our daughter loved the fold down armrest in the middle of the back seat that included two cup holders that she could reach easily from her booster seat, so much so that she is still telling me how much she misses them.  But there is also a cubby with cup holder in each rear door should you have a third passenger with you in the back.
•    Good visibility – What fun is driving around if you can’t see anything?  Both kiddos agreed that the visibility out of the rear seats was great, even with the sloped roofline of the Optima.
•    Rear HVAC vents – This is something I really wonder why more cars don’t have.  It seems so simple to have vents for the rear passengers to get direct heating or cooling but most cars don’t have them.  Best of all, if your kids are like my daughter they will ask you to “turn on the wind” making you feel both accommodating and powerful with your control over the universe. 
•    Rear heated seats – Again, rear seat occupants deserve comfort too.  While our kiddos are still in car seats so they didn’t get to try these out too much, they were a big hit in the driveway before our first test drive, and I’m sure would be the best thing you could give your kids in the cold of winter.
•    Room to move in the back seats – Our daughter loves to unbuckle herself when we get to our destination.  In the Optima, she had the space to hop out of her booster seat and actually move around the car, helping us gat
her up toys and coats and things we needed… or more importantly, to climb into the front seat and pretend to drive.

•    Sun roof – Did I mention that the sun roof goes all the way to the back seat? When we first hopped into the Optima, the interior cover on the sun roof was closed, seeing our kiddos’ faces as the fabric panels folded into each other in the center of the roof was priceless. From there it only got better as they called out to us every airplane, bird, and funny looking tree they saw along the way.
Ignition button

Daddy-O Likes
•    Looks good – I really like the direction Kia has gone with the styling of their cars lately, and I especially like that the Optima Hybrid is a Hybrid that still looks like a normal car. 
•    Good performance – A lot of cars that give you good mileage have the giant trade-off of being slow.  The Optima Hybrid still feels sporty, both in acceleration and handling, which means it is still fun to drive and can get you up to speed to pass or maneuver around obstacles with ease.
•    Heated steering wheel – Honestly, I liked this way more than I thought I would.  I think it was about day three when I found the button for this, and I didn’t turn it off the rest of the week even though it was pretty warm most of those days.  I know this would feel great after scraping your windows free of ice, but even on the hottest days I loved the tactile feel of the heat coming through the wheel.
•    Bluetooth integration – I’ve tried to pair my phone in a few cars, and the Kia was by far the easiest.  But best of all, besides working for phone calls, the Optima also allowed music to be played over the stereo via the Bluetooth connection.
•    Wheels turned indicator – I don’t think I’ve seen this on any other car before, but on the Optima when you first start the car and your wheels are turned, it has a little warning that pops up in the display.  It’s a pretty cool little reminder, especially if you’ve been away from the car for a while.
•    ECO Indicators – There are a multitude of ways to see how efficient your driving is, from real time MPG indicators, to an ECO score, as well as screens to show you where the power is going to or coming from.  These all work together to get you to drive more efficiently when you want to, or if not, then you just switch the screen over to the radio controls and go about your drive.
•    Back up camera – This is another feature that was surprisingly nice to have.  I’ve always prided myself on knowing my car well enough to park easily, but hopping into a new car you have to start fresh and relearn the size of it.  I didn’t know the Optima had a back up camera so it was quite a surprise when the first time I went to back up and the big screen on the dash turned into the back up camera, making it as if I’d been parking the Optima for years.

As a whole, I’d say we walked away from the Optima Hybrid quite impressed. Watching the screen show as the engine turned itself off and on, switching from battery power to the motor and back and forth was awesome, and most of the time we couldn’t even feel the transitions. The times we could were under harder acceleration where it was more of a downshift happening at the same time and still really wasn’t that noticeable. 

There are some other ways it feels different driving a hybrid, from the absolute quiet when the gas motor is off, to the feel of the brakes as they regenerate that force into battery power.  But most noticeably you find that you want to challenge yourself to drive a little more efficiently, seeing how far you can keep the car in electric only mode, or seeing how high up you can get your real time mileage, both of which are a good, economical game to play.
Back of car
The only things we found we didn’t like were just little details here and there that could be attributed to preferences, such as when you put the window locks on, the only window that works is the driver’s, even from the driver’s seat. This brought up name calling of “Papa power trip” from the passenger seat, as well as sour looks from the back seat.

A more understandable compromise is that the Hybrid functionality takes away some trunk space, since the battery pack has to go somewhere.  Trunk space drops from 15.43 cubic feet in the regular Optima, down to 9.89 cubic feet for the Hybrid.  For us, this meant leaving our beloved double stroller at home and bringing an umbrella type instead.  For longer trips it may cut into the size or amount of luggage you can bring along, but for most day to day driving it shouldn’t be much of an issue as there is still plenty of room for groceries or gear.

Kia Optima Hybrid test
Most disappointing of all though, is that we were unable to go through a whole tank of gas in our week in the Optima.  Sadly, we gave it back with a quarter tank left after having traveled nearly 400 miles.  After a weekend full of driving and a whole tour of small towns in our area, followed by a week of running every errand and midnight adventure we could come up with, the Optima’s efficiency proved too much for us to overcome.

While most of the fea
tures we love on the Optima certainly aren’t exclusive to Kia, they are hard to come by at this price point.  The Optima might not have been on our list of vehicles we were considering before now, but a little over a week with it has definitely opened our eyes.  If our kids were just a little older and the trunk space wasn’t such an issue {or we also owned an SUV to take camping}, the Optima might actually be a great little car for us since we love to travel and explore as a family and we could reap some good savings on fuel costs alone.  

Interested in driving experiences?  Check out the STI Facebook page to keep up on all their events near you. 

TylerWhile we were given a test drive vehicle for a week through STI – The Drive Experience Company, this post was not compensated in any way and, as always, all opinions are 100% ours.

1 thought on “Our Week In The Future {Kia Optima Hybrid Review}”

  1. Personally I like the sporty and performance aspect of the Optima. It’s nice that companies are incorporating performance into their hybrids as well.


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