2016 Kia Optima Hybrid EX is a Snappy Surprise

One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.

A recent “Ride Me” shared that the 2016 Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid reminds me of a luxury car.

The 2016 Kia Optima hybrid looks a lot like the Sonata from the driver’s seat, but the exterior and way it drives reminds me more of a higher priced sporty sedan.

The two models’ similarities make sense considering Hyundai, South Korea’s No. 1 automaker, owns 33 percent of No. 2 Kia. There’s also the fact that the 2016 Kia Optima hybrid shares the platform of the 2015 Hyundai Sonata hybrid. The infotainment system in the middle of the dash looks identical through my eyes to the Sonata’s, so since I’d recently driven the Hyundai I already knew which buttons did what. (My Kia Optima hybrid EX test model came with a screen displaying information for the satellite radio, Bluetooth, navigation, terrestrial radio and the much appreciated rear-view camera.)

Despite the Kia-Hyundai inbreeding, side by side, I personally like the Optima hybrid better. It’s a little more fun to drive and slides more comfortably into the Southern California auto lifestyle.

I discovered the joys of driving it through Orange County canyons, where the handling was incredible due to the EX’s road grabbing 215/55VR17.0 BSW tires and speed sensing power steering.

The EX is definitely a charmer with its sporty alloy rims, “tiger nose” grille, interior stitching along the dash and doors and leather seats that evoke a European rally car.

The trippiest feature is the beeping noise and flashing car graphics that activate when another vehicle gets too close. In my normal ride, I would not have noticed anything awry when a car cut me off; just another day on the 405. The Kia’s cross-traffic alert turns you into a more alert driver. But it isn’t a chore because, like I said up top, it’s really fun driving the thing.

EPA fuel economy is 35 mpg city and 39 mpg highway for the EX, compared to 36 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined for the base model. To be honest, the fuel tank indicator barely moved over the week I drove the Kia. The gubment says you’ll save more than $1,700 over five years driving this hybrid compared to the average new car. It also gets five-star safety ratings across the board.

The starting MSRP is $25,995 for the base model and $32,195 for the EX. The powertrain for both: 154 pounds of torque per foot at 4,500 RPM, variable valve control, regenerative brakes, 17.2-gallon fuel tank, front-wheel drive, 16 valves, regular unleaded gas, sequential sport shift, 2.4 liter, four cylinder engine, six-speed, mode-select transmission and 159 horsepower at 5,500 RPM.

Both models have four doors, a maximum of five seats and these standard features: power door mirrors, heated door windows, turn signal indicator mirrors, A/C, automatic temperature control, power front windows, remote key-less entry, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, front and rear beverage holders, AM/FM/CD, steering wheel mounted audio controls, MP3 decoder, speakers (six for the base, eight for the EX), delay off headlights, front fog lights, variably intermittent wipers, rear window defroster, tachometer, traction battery level, power/regen, outside temperature display, low tire pressure warning, trip computer, electronic instrumentation, brake assist, dual front and front side impact airbags, overhead airbag, occupant sensing airbag, ABS brakes, immobilizer, security system, electronic stability, traction control, panic alarm, leather steering wheel, leather shift knob, rear seat center armrest, rear bench seats, front center armrest, front bucket seats, four wheel independent suspension, alloy wheels, speed-sensing steering and power steering.

Here is what makes the EX cost more: memory driver seat, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rear view mirror (that you can get for $350 on the base model), integrated navigation system, high intensity discharge headlights, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, power driver seat (for $1,460 more on the base), power passenger seat, heated front seats and reverse sensing system: rear.  

The EX I drove had a power moon roof that is a $2,380 extra. But that makes the view of the stars standard.

For more on Kia: www.kia.com.

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