No benchmark, but comfortable and well-judged. Hybrid powertrain best left in the US

What is it?

A US-spec version of the Kia Optima, which we will see in UK showrooms in January next year featuring a 1.7-litre CRDi motor rather than the 2.4-litre petrol-electric hybrid in this car.

Kia hasn’t historically done very well in the Mondeo market. In fact, they sold one example of the archaic and best-forgotten Magentis last year, so it’s about time that the Korean giant brought out a rather more competitive model, and this is it.

What’s it like?

Initial impressions prove promising, though frankly it’s a good choice on Kia’s part to leave the hybrid powertrain in the US. With the 2.4-litre petrol motor tested here the maximum power combined reaches 205bhp and 195lb ft, which is sent through a six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels.

But it simply doesn’t feel like it delivers that level of power, responding quickly enough at lower speeds but certainly not with the sort of energy you might expect. To add to this, the auto ‘box works effectively enough when just cruising but is never as intuitive or seamless as the best automatics currently available. Emissions and economy are also unimpressive.

What is more likeable is the Optima itself. It’s a comfortable place to cover miles, aided by decent space and visibility levels, and reasonably effective damping that soaks up the worst of the road’s imperfections. Equally, all the major controls are well weighted and intuitive. Step-off is gradual and easy to judge, the steering is as responsive as you want it to be, and whilst the brakes can take a little familiarisation they’re effective and offer just about enough feel.

Essentially, the Optima does not have the same level of comprehensive ability and appeal that some of Kia’s recent and finest cars have achieved, nor the all-round brilliance that the best rivals offer. It will need a price incentive to make sense – particularly in the fleet market that is expected to account for 80 per cent of the sales. Given that the diesel-only UK range is likely to start at just under £20k it seems that Kia came to the same conclusion.

Should I buy one?

It’s impossible to make a definitive verdict given how different this American car is from the diesel-only UK model. Suffice to say the world of family saloons is not about to be dramatically changed by the Optima, but it is a sleek-looking thing with healthy amounts of usability and comfort. For many buyers, that will be enough.

Kia Optima Hybrid

Price: NA; Top speed: 120mph (est); 0-62mph 8.5sec (est); Economy 48.7mpg; Co2 136g/km; Kerb weight 1583kg; Engine type 2359cc, 4cyl, petrol plus electric motor; Power 205bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 195lb ft at 4250rpm; Gearbox 6-speed auto

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michael knight 22 September 2011

Re: Kia Optima 2.4 Hybrid

I'm not sure why Kia decided to not bring the turbo petrol over here. Possibly no volume, but i love the look of it and it's usefully quick. Seems like they need to hire some decent chassis engineers - they seem to shy away from making quick cars that handle.

supermanuel 20 September 2011

Re: Kia Optima 2.4 Hybrid

Having problems with your 'post' button there Fidji?

gazza5 20 September 2011

Re: Kia Optima 2.4 Hybrid

stick a petrol in it or larger diesel and i would buy - but i don't fancy a 1.7 derv.

Drove a kia forte when we hired one in usa and tbh I was impressed - very comfortable for the 2600 miles we did in two weeks. Yes dash wasn't the best not the most sexy thing to look at either - but it was perfect for our trip. Handling was fine in the mountain roads of yosemite.

Only problem was the 2.4 engine we had was approx 180 bhp - so wasn't quick and did struggle a bit but I guess the added weight in this one makes this car similar in speed.