What is it?
Like the idea or loathe it, you’d better get used to the notion of driving a car that is electrified in some form. Setting aside the arguments over how fit for purpose they are, the emissions regulations demand it.
Read our full review of the Kia Optima PHEV here
So it is that the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is the firm’s first foray into the plug-in market. This car will be sold in the UK from the late summer of 2016 (notably, however, the standard Optima hybrid won’t be sold over here because the firm doesn’t think there are enough customers for it).
In body style and technology, the Optima PHEV is a direct rival to the VW Passat GTE and Audi A3 e-tron, although it will also have the best-selling Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV in its sights, not least because it is likely to be priced closer to its high £20,000 price bracket than the other car’s mid-£30,000 price tags.
What's it like?
The Optima PHEV is based on the standard car - which has been overhauled for 2015 - but combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with a 50kW electric motor to produce a combined 199bhp at 6000rpm. We drove it on unfamiliar roads in Korea, so a definitive conclusion is hard to draw.
On its own, the petrol engine produces 154bhp and 139lb ft, but when combined with the extra electrical shove that rises to 202bhp, which is enough to mean it moves along with traffic at a more than adequate pace. The standard six-speed automatic gearbox also works reasonably unobtrusively, making for a nicely refined drive.
Underlining the progress of hybrid technology, the lithium ion battery pack has six times more power than that found in the old Optima Hybrid and the electric motor is 42% more powerful. No figures have been released, but Kia engineers reckon an official 50mpg should be achievable when the car is running in standard hybrid mode.
That said, there is nothing remotely engaging about the Optima PHEV, beyond the instant torque available in pure electric running, which the car is capable of for up to 27 miles. Although official performance figures have yet to be released, the 0-60mph sprint feels adequate rather than startling, while the car’s inert steering and additional weight mean that driver engagement is in short supply - not that motorway-minded business drivers are likely to be overly concerned.
Inside, the Optima PHEV is spacious in the front, rear and boot, and the materials and fit and finish of our test car were impressive. The driving position is good, and the range of adjustments enough to allow any shape or size of driver to get comfortable. That said, both the Passat GTE and A3 e-tron are considerably more polished inside.
Visually, changes from the standard Optima are minor, but include a charging port integrated into the front bumper, chrome sill mouldings, new wheel designs and a discreet badge declaring the car to be an ‘EcoPlug-In’ model. Inside, the only difference is a display that outlines the car’s electrical functions and powertrain status, plus how much battery charge is left.
Should I buy one?
It’s impossible to recommend a plug-in hybrid until you know its price, although Kia must know that the car’s success depends on it offering a financial benefit beyond the company tax and fuel savings to owners who choose to run it.
With the Volkswagen Group’s competition so strong, that must surely mean the Optima will go face to face with the Outlander PHEV, although even then buyers will be making a choice between the Mitsubishi’s fashionable SUV shape over the Optima’s old-school large saloon profile.
Priced accordingly, the Optima PHEV deserves to sell in reasonable numbers. It is a highly capable and significant - if largely unexciting - entry into the market.
Kia Optima PHEV
Tested: Korea; Price na; 0-62mph na; Top speed na; Economy 50mpg (combined, est); CO2 na; Kerb weight na; Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, petrol, plus 50kW electric motor; Power 202bhp (total output); Torque 139lb ft (petrol engine only); Gearbox 6-spd automatic.