EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: I’ve said before that I think the Kia Optima is the best value, if not the best car, in its class. That said, the efforts to subdue the car’s styling with the most recent refresh are kind of a bummer. The Optima is still distinctive, still arguably the sharpest-looking car in its class, but it’s not that standout that it was -- though, I’m not sure if buyers in this segment are looking to stand out. I did appreciate that Kia didn’t feel the need to go nuts with a bunch of hybrid badging and tacky plastic addenda.
If the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX we recently tested is any indication, Optima interiors are still great. The materials aren’t uniformly fancy, but Kia did a really nice job choosing the right materials for certain applications. Rather than using the cheap leather everywhere, they applied some really nice leather where the occupants are likely to look at and touch it.
With a large four-cylinder and an electric motor, I expected this car to accelerate a little more quickly than it did. It’s not quite a slug and there is that nice electric-motor feeling on acceleration, but if you’re looking to have some fun behind the wheel, Kia offers a really nice 2.0-liter turbo four. The hybrid system isn’t at all intrusive -- you’ll notice when you’re running on electricity and you’ll notice when the gas engine kicks on, but I wonder if non-car-people would.
Given this car’s particular raison d’etre, fuel economy, I’d imagine that the lack of performance won’t be a deal-breaker for most potential buyers. The steering is a little wonky, but again, to a potential Kia Optima Hybrid buyer, I can’t see it being an issue.
The 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX is a really great value in its class.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: The best thing this Optima Hybrid EX has going for it is the interior. The seats are soft, comfortable, and heat up quickly. So does the steering wheel, which is a great option to have in the dead of winter in Detroit. Kia’s head unit is one of the best in the biz and most of the touchpoints felt solid. There’s no way this car feels cheap.
It is, however, kind of a slug. It always starts up in Eco mode, which I suppose is good if you’re always looking for mileage. It becomes a pain when you’re just trying to get someplace quickly, and the car won’t get up and go. Passing is a chore; you have to put your foot into the floorboards for this Optima to give you a downshift. God help you if you move into a faster lane.
The steering is weird in this car with basically no feeling. The wheel doesn’t take a lot of effort, but I did set it in a turn this morning and it stayed there. Sometimes it feels like it gets really loose, which gets a little hairy. A friend owned a non-hybrid version and had tons of problems with the steering and eventually sold the thing.
I don’t hate the look, but I don’t really love it, either. The front ends of these hybrids are always a little weird, this car included. There’s something ’80s about it, I think. It looks low, which I like, but those fan-blade wheels throw me off. The taillight treatment is different, too. I like the non-hybrid look better.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: For the most part, my sentiments fall in line with my learned colleagues above. I like the exterior and wanted to like the rest of the Kia Optima Hybrid experience, but it just felt like a stylish Prius. Ouch, that must've hurt someone down in Fountain Valley. But it has such way-wimpy power. There's a long delay from the time you step on the gas to the point when the rest of the car actually does anything. It's performance is way lacking. It's frustrating how slow it is. Drove me crazy. One day I had to get across town in a hurry and it lagged so much I wanted to get out and run because I thought that'd be faster. But, as Carroll said, most hybrid buyers of hybrids are not looking for performance.
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