2011 Kia Optima Hybrid

Kia has adopted the take-no-prisoners attitude during its year-long new product offensive, and it continues at the Los Angeles Auto Show with the revealing of the new Optima Hybrid..

The Optima's parallel hybrid powertrain uses a modified Theta II: The base, normally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four forgoes direct injection and runs on the Atkinson cycle and a 13.0:1 cylinder compression ratio. The revisions sacrifice torque and horsepower (final output: 166 hp, 154 pound-feet) in the name of efficiency (namely, a 10-percent gain in the engine's fuel economy) but a 40-hp electric motor mounted directly between the four-cylinder and six-speed automatic supplement the oomph of this uniquely styled car.

After tuning, the combined power rating is 206 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, a two-pound-foot gain over earlier figures established by the sister Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. A 96-pound, 1.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-polymer battery serves electrical charge for zero-emissions driving up to 62 mph, with 151 lb-ft of starting twist available up to 1400 rpm from the electric motor.

Other key efficiency-related pieces include a Hybrid-Starter-Generator that helps manage hybrid operation, four-disc regenerative braking, electric steering, and an electrically driven air-conditioning compressor. The transmission oil pump is electrically assisted as well, and a hybrid-specific gauge cluster takes over the driver's view.

Dimension-wise, the Kia is slightly longer, narrower, and shorter than the Sonata, but contains the same 110-inch wheelbase. The Optima Hybrid's front end and underbody is altered to increase aerodynamic efficiency but doesn't embrace the radical front makeover strategy employed by the Sonata Hybrid. The headlights and foglights are very mildly retouched.

More importantly, an active, speed-sensitive air flap system has been installed behind the front grille to combat turbulence. The flaps are simple in theory: They shutter at high speeds (from 30 mph and up according to Kia staff) but their operation ultimately depends on engine operating and ambient temperatures. Larger engine loads at any given speed would presumably leave the flaps open for cooling purposes. In engineering metrics, a 0.26 drag coefficient is the final result, only 0.01 off the Hyundai.

An early curb weight estimate lists the Kia at 3490 pounds. Smoothly sculpted 16-inch alloy wheels come wrapped with low-rolling resistance rubber while chrome accents adorn the side sills and front and rear fascias. LED taillights and a trunk lip spoiler ensure pedestrian have something to look at from behind.

Speaking of the passerby populace, the Optima Hybrid comes standard with the Virtual Engine Sound System, which plays a pre-recorded engine sound when the car is running solely on battery and motor. A Premium Technology Package adds heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, HID headlights, a panoramic sunroof, and 17-inch alloys (as seen on show car), for a fee of course. Most critically, Kia expects fuel economy to be 36 city/40 highway mpg.

The Optima Hybrid is due early 2011. With two new Korean hybrids on the market, the impending midsize sedan comparison can almost write itself.

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