Kia Optima Hybrid Premium Scores High-brid on Style Points

I have often been impressed driving these hybrids and electrics and other zippy rides, but the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid Premium was the first vehicle tested for this space that I held onto as the pick-up driver pulled out my driveway, digging my feet across the street like parallel ski trails.

It's loaded—I'm taking Toyota Prius loaded—but I actually find the Kia Optima Hybrid Premium more stylish looking at around the same price as the top-of-the-line Priuses (mine was listed at $32,500, and it'd be $5,000 less without the "premium" upgrades).

It's small wonder it looks so spiffy. The, uh, un-hybrid Kia Optima was named's 2012 "Sedan of the Year," an honor that came with many positive descriptions of its looks. Instead of re-inventing the you-know-what, Kia simply applied the same forward-looking design logic to its first-ever Optima hybrid.

Feast your eyes on this:

Kia Optima Hybrid Premium Scores High-brid on Style Points

I should have shot one overhead looking down so you could see the panoramic sunroof effect. Meanwhile, the pearly snow white paint job, the ripping alloy wheel covers, heck, the entire shape of the thing does not scream "OK . . . for a hybrid, snort-snort" but "Say, that's a smart-looking sedan no matter how its powered."

You won't have to worry about getting approving glances only while in the slow lane, because the 2.4-liter Inline 4 Atkinson cycle gas engine produces 166 horsepower, and a state-of-the-art 270V lithium-polymer (Li-PB) battery sparks the electric motor. The hybrid runs on a six-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission.

And yet, it gets an EPA-estimated 35/40 miles per gallon city/highway. You can monkey with that range thanks to an Eco mode which, in all honesty, I didn't really get to know that much because that kindly deliveryman dropped the Optima off with a full tank of gas, and despite driving the beejesus out of it there was still enough petrol left to get him back to the lot with fumes (and battery power) to spare.

No, I was more preoccupied with the goodies inside, like the Sirius radio (HOWARD! HOWARD!) accessed via an infotainment system that incorporates audio, Bluetooth and the back-up camera. The Premium Technology Package, at $5,350, includes that sunroof, those 17-inch alloy wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires, a four-way power adjustable front passenger seat and driver's seat memory, heated seats and steering wheel, HID head lights with automatic leveling, leatherette-wrapped center fascia, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink and compass, a navigation system with back-up camera and SiriusXM Traffic. The 12-speaker, Infinity audio system that's standard is also upgraded in the premium package.

Here's the dash, with the entertainment/navigation screen in the upper center:

Kia Optima Hybrid Premium Scores High-brid on Style Points

As a middling-sized sedan, it's plenty roomy inside. Indeed, there's nothing really about it that makes you feel any different for being in a hybrid. Can't wait until it comes as a plug-in.

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