Quick Take: 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid

2014-Kia-Optima_63

If you were to ask me what I thought of Kia, I’d have said that Kias were the “Target” versions of Audis and BMWs. I’d have said that the Kia Stinger concept is a Target-brand version of the Audi Sport Quattro concept from the year before, for example, and that the brand aspired to be little more than a cheaper, more obtainable alternative to those “aspirational” German offerings. After a week behind the wheel of a 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid, however, I came away with a new-found respect for the brand- and a real appreciation for what the Kia Optima Hybrid is, rather than what it wants to be.

Which is good, because this car desperately wants to be an Audi or BMW, and has fallen well short of those marks in the ways that stereotypical gear head/auto journalists think matters. The thing is, though, that the 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid has, arguably, done a much better job than either Audi or BMW in ways that matter to, you know, ACTUAL car buyers. That’s my story, anyway – follow along, below, and see if you agree.

 

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid | Outside


“Does it go as good as it looks?” asked my next-door neighbor, Frank, as I parked the Kia next to his van.

“Too soon to tell,” I answered. The car had only just been delivered a few minutes earlier, and I’d driven it around the block to adjust seats, mirrors, and (because it’s 2014) pair my phone and try out the sound system. “But, maybe.”

That would be a big ask, because this car is really, really good-looking- especially in the metallic, shimmery “Aluminum Silver” color that my tester came in. In a bid to “go as good as it looks”, Kia gave its latest Optima Hybrid 199 (combined) HP and some 235 lb-ft of torque. More than enough power, in other words, to get out of its own way while easily delivering on its 36/40 MPG EPA ratings, thanks to an EV mode that’s all you need in downtown Chicago traffic.

All the same, the Kia Optima Hybrid could have an extra 100 HP and 2 or 3 MPG thrown into the mix and the driving experience still might not equal the car’s looks. To give you an example of what I mean, all the photos you see here were taken in the late afternoon in a CarMax parking lot alongside I-290 with an older iPhone, and the car still looks fantastic.

 

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid | Inside


The interior styling of the new Kia Optima is where you can really see the brand’s sporting ambitions. The two-tone interior looks like a million bucks, and- on looks- could easily be installed in a sporty luxo-go-fast coupe without raising any eyebrows. The car’s stylists did an excellent job, here, and everything worked. Controls were well-placed, functioned intuitively, and felt decent enough to operate. There is, though, the small matter of the material choices.

“This car is giving me cancer,” said my wife. “If I get cancer later in life, it’s because I sat in this car.”

What Dr. Maggie was referring to in that hyperbolic (?) diatribe was the fact that whatever chemical cocktail of fish oil, formaldehyde, and ArmorAll worked to keep the Kia Optima’s leather, vinyl, and rubber interior bits from cracking and drying out had a distinct odor to it. A “stink”, if you will, that drew attention to the fact that the “piano black” plastics were really just cheap and shiny. To me, the stink was forgivable (it will dissipate over the course of the car’s ownership, surely), especially considering that the Optima Hybrid’s tech-heavy interior looked a step above the BMW 328 I also drove that week … and the BMW’s price tag was some $20,000 higher than the fully-loaded Kia’s.

 

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid | Final Thoughts


Earlier in this post, I mentioned that Kia had ticked all the boxes that mattered to people who buy new cars? I feel like, with the Optima’s low-ish price, solid performance, outstanding fuel economy, and 10 year, 100,000 warranty, it would be hard to call it anything but a solid buy. Besides that, it looks like a million bucks, and no one I shared the car’s $35,000 price tag with balked (although, it must be said, that the most common response was, “What do you think it leases for?”).

Still that reasonable price comes with a few drawbacks, in addition to the stink, that may not be so reasonable. The trunk, for one example, displays some of the old “afterthought” engineering that early hybrids displayed. It was forgivable, maybe, in my 2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid, but in 2014 it probably shouldn’t be. For another example, the Kia’s key fob kept falling off the key – something that happened enough times over the course of the week that, by the end, I’d begun to check my pockets in a panicked state several times an hour.

That’s not good.

All that said, though, I’d definitely recommend a car like the Kia Optima Hybrid to anyone looking for a sharp-looking commuter car. It is, maybe, ever so slightly putting style over substance in a lot of ways, but I know a more than a few people that do that every day, and I get the sense that the Kia Optima Hybrid would suit them quite well.

 

Original content from Gas 2.

 

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.