First Drive: Kia Optima Hybrid

While the world's motoring press was busy soaking up the second day of the Frankfurt Motor Show, Autoblog sneaked out the back door for an early drive in a very special Kia.

I was given the keys to a model from the Korean firm which points the way for future models from the manufacturer – the US-spec Kia Optima Hybrid.
Although we won't see it in the UK, the impressive petrol and electric powered car shows just how advanced the green technology is for Kia and gives an early glimpse of what we can expect to see in the Cee'd when it gets a hybrid set up.

But firstly, why won't we be getting this Optima powertrain? That's mostly because it's just not eco-friendly enough for the UK market. Billed by the manufacturer as a "performance hybrid", the combination of a 2.4-litre petrol powerplant and electric battery pack means it produces 136g/km of Co2 - too much to see it fall under the magic 99g/km mark which would enable it to claim free road tax in the UK.

However, in the States where this Optima is sold, the improvement in fuel economy is far more beneficial. The hybrid set up returns 40mpg.

Our drive took in the suburbs of Frankfurt and here the powertrain was certainly impressive. In town the electric unit powers the front wheels and only when speeds pick up does it require the back up of the engine.

It was wonderfully refined and quiet in town – the loudest thing most of the time was the whir of the air conditioning. The ride quality was also impressive, dealing with the rutted roads extremely well. But to ensure it continued on electric power we were forced to drive particularly carefully – more so than we would in a similar offering from Lexus, for example.

I wasn't so keen on the sound of the petrol powerplant when it was forced to kick in either – it was unrefined and tinny, sounding more like a one-litre than a 2.4.

I also found the steering slow and the gearbox a little too eager to kick down for my liking. My test car was generously specified, though, boasting sat nav, 12-speaker stereo system and even heated and cooling leather seats. It was also very comfortable with a stylish, futuristic interior.

But if we're not getting it in the UK, why should you care? Well, that's mostly because it shows exactly what Kia is capable of. Hybrids are desperately desired by Kia dealers across Europe so it's likely it will only be a matter of time before we get one – even if that isn't in an Optima.

"In 2014 we'll get an electric car in right hand drive form," explained a Kia spokesman. "Hybrid will likely be first in the Cee'd, but we're more keen on a diesel hybrid set-up which our R&D department is already working on.

"This Optima shows we have got hybrid technology ready. This car might not be right for our market, but it shows what we can do now and leads the way for the future."

Kia Optima Hybrid
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First Drive: Kia Optima Hybrid
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