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Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) - first drive and details

On sale in autumn 2016, Kia's first plug-in hybrid vehicle is a rival to the VW Passat GTE and Audi A3 e-tron

Words ByJim Holder

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The Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is notable because it is the firm’s first car to combine an engine with an electric motor and battery that can be charged from the mains, giving it a short all-electric range plus electrical boost at other times in order to save fuel and lower emissions.

With all manufacturers facing tough legislation to lower their average emissions, they are all investigating selling hybrid, plug-in-hybrid, electric and even hydrogen fuel cell cars – and this is Kia’s answer to the plug-in hybrid question.

The best-selling example of a plug-in hybrid (or any electrified car) in Britain is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. While the Optima plug-in hybrid is a saloon and the Mitsubishi an SUV, the concept behind the hybrid powertrain is very similar, and Kia will be hoping that it can enjoy some of its rival’s sales success when the car goes on sale in the UK in the autumn of 2016. Other rivals that are closer in conception to the Optima PHEV include the VW Passat GTE and Audi A3 e-tron.

What is it?

In standard form the Kia Optima is a fairly conventional Ford Mondeo or VW Passat rival. An all-new model was launched earlier this year, with the goal of overcoming the shortcomings evident on the outgoing car, not least the inconsistent ways in which it rode and handled, plus the lower than average cabin quality, while maintaining the positives of delivering lots of space and practicality at a decent price.

The plug-in hybrid version is based on the same car but combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to produce a combined 202bhp. When the car is running in standard mode, with the electric motor providing assistance to the engine, Kia claims it will deliver an average of around 50mpg. It can also travel up to 27 miles on electric power alone.

Other changes over the standard Optima are minor visual tweaks, including the charging port integrated into the front bumper, chrome sill mouldings, new wheel designs and a discreet badge declaring the car to be an β€˜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.

What engines does it come with?

The Kia Optima PHEV is only available with a two-litre petrol engine linked to an electric motor. This powertrain is greatly improved over the one in the outgoing Kia Optima Hybrid, with the lithium ion battery pack having six times more power and the electric motor being 42% more powerful.

A full charge of the battery from the mains takes less than three hours, and the quirks of the European fuel-test cycle mean that it will officially get eye-watering economy and CO2 figures that will leave the taxman poorer but be unachievable in the real world.

What’s it like to drive?

We have had an early drive in a Kia Optima PHEV prototype on the public roads in Korea. While such a test can offer few definitive verdicts, it is clear the car will be capable.

Running on electric power alone, the Optima PHEV makes smooth and silent progress. The engine and electric motor combination worked smoothly, too, with the six-speed automatic gearbox shifting smoothly and at the right times. Refinement was good, and the car rode and handled predictably, without ever being in any way exciting.

The cabin looked smart where we could see it, and space in the front, back and boot was decent. Sadly, the instrumentation isn’t as eye-catching as that found in the Soul EV, but the interior is smart and spacious nevertheless.

The price and final emissions figures will be crucial to would-be buyers, however, as will a definitive UK drive of the production model.

What equipment does it come with?

There is no spec information on the Kia Optima PHEV at present, although Kia customarily launches cars with a high level of standard kit.

How much does it cost?

There is no confirmation of pricing for the Kia Optima PHEV yet.

Can I get a discount?

Kia is predicting small but decent sales for the car, because it says it will price it attractively for the business users who are most likely to reap the rewards of its low tax band. That means discounts may be hard to come by at first, but they are likely to exceed 10% within a year of the car going on sale in the autumn of 2016.

What are its rivals like?

The most obvious rival are the VW Passat GTE and Audi A3 e-tron, both of which are considerably more stylish and appealing. They are, however, also likely to be considerably more expensive at around Β£35,000, with the Optima unlikely to be priced against them.