This might seem like a weird comparison at first, but hear me out. These are two medium priced, mid-sized sedans that are aimed at very much the same buyers. Similarly optioned, they carry similar price tags. They also sound like they have pretty similar power units, in the sense that both offer a small, practical four-cylinder engine fitted with a modern power-adder. That power adder, then, is the key difference. In the Kia Optima, it’s a turbo. In the Toyota Camry, it’s an electric motor. In both cases, the power added is marketed as the “green” option.
So, which one’s better? Keep reading.
Turbo v. Hybrid | the MPG Question
Many people have argued over the relative merits of adding expensive, rare-earth element batteries to a car and whether or not the carbon spent making hybrids outweighs their actual “green” advantage. Regardless, it’s hard to argue with a real-world fuel economy advantage like this: the Toyota Camry Hybrid gave back 40 MPG, while the Kia gave back 34.
Those numbers give the Camry a 15% advantage over the turbocharged Kia, but that’s only part of the story. To get the Kia to report an average above 30 MPG, I had to really baby the thing. Drive slow, don’t pass, merge deliberately, that sort of thing. Getting into the throttle pedal- and into the turbo’s power curve- drastically cut the car’s reported MPG, and it was a constant, conscious effort to make mileage.
In contrast, the Camry- like the Corolla– was surprisingly easy to “hyper mile”. If I wanted to pass, a slight depression of the throttle pedal would kick on the electric motors and the car would smoothly pull ahead. In traffic or around town, the Camry put itself into EV mode as often as not. Driving “naturally”, in other words, gave back excellent results in the Camry.
Turbo v. Hybrid | the Fun Question
With its 1.6 liter turbo engine mated to the same slick, 7-speed transmission as the (also excellent) Hyundai Sonata Eco, the Kia can be a fine long-distance hauler that- by virtue of its transmission and the engine’s willingness to build power as the revs climb- can be fun, too. The thing is, driving aggressively in the Camry isn’t much less rewarding … and, at anything less than wide-open throttle, the Camry feels much more responsive.
The short version, I think, is this: the Kia Optima delivers a more rewarding drive, but you need to have a heavy foot and a willingness to shift it yourself. Otherwise, it’s not much better than the Toyota.
Turbo v. Hybrid | Final Thoughts
Despite the more aggressive redesign of the Camry last year, the Kia is still the better-looking car. Good-looking as it is, I’m not convinced of the Kia Optima’s longevity compared to the Toyota Camry, even taking into account the relatively unknown lifespan of the Camry’s hybrid battery pack. Take the Camry’s reputation for quality and combine it with a better driving experience and significantly better real-world MPG than the Kia, though, and you end up with a clear winner.
We’re calling this rare Gas 2 comparison test, then, in favor of the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid- just, you know, pick up some all-season tires when you buy it.
What do you guys think, though? Did we get it right? Did we get it wrong? Are they so different that it doesn’t matter? Let us know your take on how these high-MPG family sedans compare in the comments, below … and get ready to hear from the Tesla hysterics about how ICEs are evile anything that’s not a pure electric is a baby-killing dinosaur. Enjoy!
Original content from Gas 2.