Kia Optima PHEV

This page is dedicated to our long term review of the handsome Kia Optima PHEV. Updates include how we got on with the car, trips we accomplished, fuel consumption and more. Check back for regular weekly updates.

EV range at 100%

Fuel consumption (mpg)

Running Costs (£)

Miles Travelled

Wk10 & 11. Wales and driving sans plug

Wk10 & 11. Wales and driving sans plug

Another week goes by with the Optima PHEV and in many ways, testament to the car is the fact there’s precious little to report. The car just keeps on rewarding me with nothing exciting to say. Had this been any lesser car, there might have been mention of the odd gripe – and don’t get me wrong, the Optima PHEV isn’t perfect, but there’s next to nothing to report.

So, I felt that I should put the car out of its comfort zone, i.e. by running the battery completely flat and seeing what fuel consumption was like.

Setting the satnav for mid-west Wales, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), near Machynlleth, displayed 200-miles on the dash. Initially I used the car’s in-built mapping system, which works well but later I switched to Android Auto – for no real benefit other than one small thing. The steering wheel mounted ‘voice command’ button doesn’t work without Android Auto plugged in. It’s a minor annoyance, although I’ve been in other Kia that didn’t support Android Auto and the ‘voice command’ button worked very well.

Even disabling Android Auto from the ‘settings’ menu didn’t change anything. So, to talk to the car, either Android Auto or Apple Car Play should be used. The only real improvement being that you’re then able to call people using hands free or navigate to another destination without taking your eyes off the road. Unfortunately, Android Auto appears to be in the dark ages with respect to texting. Incoming texts were silent, although they did occasionally display on the Android Auto home screen, but to get them to play I’ve not yet worked out an automated or voice command way to achieve this. My old and apparently out-of-fashion Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana could do this in its sleep. So much for progress!

Kia Optima PHEV in Wales

The route to Wales was almost exactly 200-miles, or a 400-mile return trip. There was opportunity to charge the car at CAT, but it was occupied by a Nissan Leaf that would be plugged in for who-knows how long. So, the only charge the car had for the entire time in Wales was before we had left St Albans.

When setting off, the car’s overall average fuel economy since new was a healthy 96.4mpg, over the course of some 1,500 miles on the odometer. Following the 200-mile trip to Wales, some journeys around Machynlleth and Aberdovey, and then the return journey of another 200-miles, the fuel economy dipped to an overall average of 88.6mpg.


Wk9. Motorway EV driving

Wk9. Motorway EV driving

On a particularly cold summer evening, I decided to put the electric range of the Kia Optima PHEV (Optima Prime) to the test. It has always stated 31-miles on the display, although I’ve managed to eke 32-miles with relative ease after driving carefully and at town speeds up to 30mph.

In traffic or urban driving then, the 31-miles range has been accurate and, interestingly, so has the manufacturer stated range of 32-miles. However, that’s all well and good, but what about if you venture along motorways? Surely this would impact the range negatively and offer far less practical electric driving?

Setting off from St Albans with Sandy in Bedfordshire as my destination, a round trip of 70-miles depending on the route taken. The routs consists driving up the A1, a few hills and a couple of roundabouts. There’s are slower 60mph then 50mph sections after Biggleswade and toward Sandy, but otherwise 70mph is the legal limit. The car is capable of 75-80 mph in electric mode before the petrol engine takes over, so really not an issue in the UK.

Kia Optima PHEV

There’s really nothing to it. I decided not to pay attention to the range and to simply drive as I normally would. Accelerating along the slip road to reach motorway speed reduced the range by a couple of miles, which I didn’t think was a very good start. However, by the Hitchin junction, the range was approximately half and what I expected it to be. Traffic was light and smooth progress was easy. In some ways, this possibly hindered my range, as I was able to travel at 70mph the whole way unhindered.

Upon reaching Sandy, the range dropped to 0-miles and I feared I hadn’t made it. However, by the time I came to a stop in Sandy, I’d travelled 29-miles and reached my final destination just off the A1. What’s more, the battery still had 16% charge remaining, clearly demonstrating it was capable of more and I can only conclude it would have been easily able to cover an additional 3-miles to reach the predicted 31-miles. In theory, I’d have been able to travel another 4.6-miles on electric until the battery depleted to zero. And it’s worth mentioning that ‘zero’ on the dash is of course not zero at all, as there’s still some battery charge kept in reserve so as not to damage the battery.

Overall, it’s an impressive result. I had wrongly predicted the car’s electric range was only really good for urban environments and the car proved me wrong. EV range – in summer at least – proved roughly the same as could be expected around town. I believe this to be the result of the electric motor’s more efficient power delivery and maintaining a constant speed, rather than accelerating and stopping as is the norm in a town. Consequently, my average overall MPG has risen back to nearly 100mpg once again. It’s not taken too much effort either and despite numerous local journeys (no more than usual) I’ve also been to Norfolk and back on petrol. So, a real-world 99mpg is very much possible thanks to the plug-in power and it’s worth remembering most people are doing less than half that.

Wk8. 1,000 miles, 93.1mpg

Wk8. 1,000 miles, 93.1mpg

I have finally covered 1,000 miles in ‘Optima Prime’ (Kia Optima PHEV) and I’m impressed. Passing the milestone took a while to reach, partly because I have access to other cars and partly because my daily commute is only 12-miles. Coincidentally, the car had its first fuel fill since brand new too, which was an interesting experience in that up until now it’s been driven like an electric car.

The first tank of fuel was provided free of charge by Kia, included in the Optima PHEV’s asking price £31,495 including government Plug-in Car Grant (PICG). So, I’ve been plugging it in rather than filling it up, which is extremely convenient as I can do this at my own home with my Chargemaster 7kW wall socket (which cost me £99 back in 2014). No more trips to the petrol station or Fruit Pastels needlessly bought and instead just simple plug ‘n’ go recharging at home.

On the one petrol station excursion I have made, there’s a handy little arrow on the dash to indicate which side the filler is on (especially handy as I had never used it and forgotten where it was)… yet I still managed to drive to the wrong side thanks to a busy Sainsbury’s forecourt where I simply went to the first available pump – thank goodness for extra-long reach hoses. And the cost? £55 exactly to fill Optima Prime back up again, for 48.29 litres petrol.

Kia Optima PHEV £55 fill up

This has meant I’ve needed only ten recharges to cover 310-miles electrically and the remainder of the 1,000 miles has been on petrol/hybrid propulsion. This is slightly complex to work out, as even in the petrol-favouring HEV mode, the car still operates on electric power in traffic or when at certain speeds. Nonetheless, the overall works out as a car average of 93.1eMPG.

If we do some maths, that’s broken up as 63.8MPG from the petrol engine costing £55 plus £16 of electricity (100kW). In other words, it has cost just 5 pence per electric-mile and 12.5 pence per petrol-mile. Not bad for a large car like the Optima, with decent 2-litre performance and the running costs better than a Prius.

Anything to dislike? Well, the car has developed a bit of an annoying creak from the centre console for no apparent reason and some *censored* person has stabbed the car down one side with their shopping/jeans/trolley or other. There’s no excuse for this, especially as I’m ‘one of those’ who always purposely parks myself right at the back of a supermarket car park with typically no cars next to me, unless it can’t be helped. Accentuating the problem somewhat was an on-coming car that showed me no quarter at a passing space along a country road, meaning I – like a mug – had to dive into a hedge to avoid a head-on collision. The ensuing scratchy noises weren’t pleasant, but I would suggest they were better than the alternative crashing sounds. Unfortunately, the Kia’s paint job isn’t the most hard wearing and the thin lacquer over the black paint shows up every single mark. Hopefully a T-Cut or similar will fix this.

Wk6 & 7. Beyond electric range

Wk6 & 7. Beyond electric range

Since having Optima Prime on long term test, it’s purpose has been – quite simply – to replace my daily driver. And it has done this remarkably well. To date, I’ve not yet had to visit the petrol forecourt to fill her up, thanks to its highly usable 30-mile range. While other plug-in hybrids fib about their range, thanks to bizarre NEDC test results, I feel sorry for Kia who’s NEDC electric range for the Optima PHEV is uncannily accurate.

It’s a small wonder other manufacturers are able to get away with this, while Kia happily accepts what the NEDC verdict says and gets on with things.

Nonetheless, I’m keen to point out that my average weekly journeys may not be quite as ‘average’ as most, with a low mileage of just 12-miles per day.

Needless to say, some longer journeys are in order and – thankfully – I’m pleased to report that the Kia hasn’t disappointed in this regard either.

First of all, a 100-mile round trip up the M1 at motorway speed to Milton Keynes and back via Bedford and the A1 before heading along the old A1 through Hitchin and Codicote.

Starting off with the average fuel consumption reading a healthy 99.9mpg – still my pet hate that it doesn’t read higher than this – and leaving with only 23-miles electric range (not a full battery) I arrived in Milton Keynes having put the car into HEV mode when setting off. Having parked and turned the car off, a brief display appears on the dash to tell me the route summary, including fuel economy for that particular journey. The result? 46.7mpg – not too bad considering this is a large and heavy car with a 2.0-litre four-pot powering it along. The other upside of this, was the electric range that I set off with had been saved, rather than used up. Using it up would have been more fuel efficient, but you’d be surprised at how frequently the EV light on the dash flickers on, even when in HEV mode.

Kia Optima PHEV

Having finished my meeting, I headed home via the A1. Having returned home the scenic route, including some town driving through Hitchin and villages like Codicote, the readout this time read 100-miles and 51.9mpg. This was, of course, a total including the journey to Milton Keynes, not some strange 100-mile detour to get home.

So, 51.9mpg in HEV mode and it still have 67% battery remaining, as it hadn’t dipped into it much, if at all. Having watched the powertrain graphic like a hawk too, I suspect it could have been better, as the petrol engine was frequently used to top-up the battery to maintain its charge and, as we all know, paying petrol prices for electricity doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

My conclusion therefore, is that the Kia lacks any sort of e-Save mode that can be activated or deactivated. It would have improved my fuel consumption no end by introducing 23-electric miles (what I had available when I set off).

Likewise, saving the battery charge may also have hindered performance, as the car would have been lugging its dead weight about needlessly rather than making use of it on acceleration.

And, to prove the point, heading into London and around the North Circular to The National Archives at Kew, but this time using all the electric range before dipping into petrol power, the fuel economy returned was more than 75mpg.

All that said, 51.9mpg on a 100-mile journey is still an impressive figure for a large 2.0-litre petrol car. Many diesels fare worse than this, for example my other half’s dad has a 2014-plate Passat 2.0-tdi… yep, it was affected by Dieselgate and yes, I did impress on him the benefits of a plug-in hybrid and electric car… and he gets 45mpg on average.

There’s no doubting then that the Kia is a fine plug-in hybrid and now that my mpg average now states 94.4mpg, I’m keen to spend more time dawdling about in EV mode along my 12-mile commute to increase it once again. That’s the purpose of these cars, to offer excellent economy on short journeys so that longer journeys don’t impact your average too much.

Wk5. A plug-in hybrid comparison

Wk5. A plug-in hybrid comparison

Another week, another improvement in fuel economy for the Kia Optima PHEV (‘Optima Prime’). Since the week before, plenty of short trips and warmer weather meant that electric-only mode has been deployed on pretty well every journey I’ve done in the last week. It’s the way the cookie crumbles, so to speak.

Part of the reason is that, like most motoring writers, I’ve had the use of another car this last week – the Mercedes E 350 e. Nonetheless, Optima Prime has proven itself to be the far superior plug-in hybrid and this is for several reasons.

Firstly; range. While the Mercedes officially can do 21-miles, it reports 16 when fully charged and only provides a real-world 8-miles. Whereas, the Kia officially does 32, reports 31 and actually achieves 31-real-world-miles. That’s a marked and impressive difference, especially considering the two cars both work using similar technology; i.e. the electric motor drives through the gearbox. The Kia has a 10kWh battery, while the Merc has just 6.2kWh. Real-world miles/kWh works out as 3.1miles/kWh for the Kia and a pitiful 1.29miles/kWh for the Mercedes-Benz.

Unfortunately, this also means that it is actually more expensive to drive electric than petrol miles in the Mercedes-Benz. A little maths, for those who’re interested… 16 pence per unit electricity fills the Merc’s 6.2kWh battery for £0.99 and you can travel 8-miles (12 pence/mile). At 44mpg (the average obtained over a week of varied driving) translates as 1-litre of fuel you can travel 9.69-miles, which currently costs £1.12 at my local forecourt. So, to travel 8-petrol miles that’s 92 pence (11 pence/mile).

That’s right, it is cheaper to run on petrol than electricity in the Mercedes. And that’s a huge shame.

Kia Optima PHEV and Mercedes E 350 e

Returning to the Kia and applying the same mathematical logic, electric miles cost 5 pence/mile and petrol miles – so far – have cost 6.8 pence/mile. While that doesn’t seem like a huge difference, the Kia is more than half the price of the Mercedes to run in electric mode. Those same 8-miles in the Kia cost 41 pence compared to 99 in the Merc.

However, in fairness to both cars they’re not really designed to be run in these linear modes, ‘petrol or electric’ and should instead be, ‘petrol AND electric’. But this is all the more easy in the Optima PHEV, which can run 387.5% further on electric power.

Nevertheless, regarding how they drive the Optima PHEV offers by far the superior electric experience. Whereas the Mercedes feels heavy and slow off the mark, the Kia is keen to shoot forwards like a rocket from the get-go, which makes it less tiring and more predictable to drive in traffic. Likewise, the Mercedes – despite its haptic feedback throttle pedal – is all-too keen to start its petrol engine, whereas the Kia stubbornly sticks in EV-Mode unless you really stamp the throttle.

They’re chalk and cheese in many ways and of course, these two cars don’t compete against each other and purport to offer different things to different customers, but in terms of their plug-in hybrid abilities, the Kia is superior without question.

And I still have half a tank of petrol remaining.

Wk4. Addicted to electric driving

Wk4. Addicted to electric driving

Following the previous week’s petrol journeys I was keen this week to improve on fuel consumption. While in most non-plug-in cars (including other non-plug-in hybrids) this would necessitate driving like James May; throttling back at every opportunity and crawling along the road 50% slower than the speed limit, in the Optima PHEV this isn’t the case at all.

Instead, a complete and utterly ignorant driver is capable of improving their fuel economy by simply remembering to plug-in the car to keep the battery topped up as frequently as possible. This week was helped that I didn’t have too many long drives to complete too, meaning I have been firmly sticking to the 31-mile electric range provided by the car.

Kia Optima PHEV

And I’m impressed. Rather than noticing the electric drive or having to activate it at start, the Optima PHEV is turned on in EV mode automatically. There’s no requirement to search among the driver options or buttons to to activate it and this default setting makes the PHEV all the more EV to live with in practice.

So my fuel consumption has improved from an already excellent 88.1mpg to a pleasing 95.3mpg. And it could have been better, were it not for the cooler weather experienced this week that has meant using the petrol engine to provide cabin heating. Sadly, this kicks the 2.0-litre petrol unit into life to provide a trickle of heat, although this simultaneously aids keeping the thing in good working order.

As with all plug-in hybrids if the petrol unit feels neglected the car will run for a short time to ensure fuel doesn’t go stagnant and that oils continue to keep metal from metal. Nevertheless, in the Optima PHEV it’s a small price to pay for the convenience of being able to hop into a car that can drive for hundreds of miles without the inconvenience of recharging. Today, while EV charging infrastructure is arguably still in its infancy, a plug-in hybrid such as this is an ideal no-thinking-necessary solution.

During the past week a couple of quibbles have mildly upset the experience. First and foremost, the brakes. Stopping ‘Optima Prime’ (as I’ve affectionately named it) is like stopping an ocean liner. It’s a heavy thing that requires a certain amount of skill to halt with any sort of elegance. Part of the problem is the regenerative braking, which offers mild-mannered braking before the hydraulics are employed.The regen can be uneven too, as when the car is fully charged there’s no regen to be had – nowhere for the energy to be stored. But once the battery has depleted a little, the regen is more fierce.

Secondly, the gears change down sequentially when braking having the effect of lurching to a stop rather than being smooth. These factors can make braking slightly unnerving, which to be fair, is something inherent in almost every plug-in hybrid on the market. It is easy to get used to, but it’s inconsistent nature must be noted and anticipated.

All in all, not a bad first month with Optima Prime. Not a huge number of many miles covered, due in part to having to test drive other cars, but 578-miles for about £5 electricity and no visits to the petrol station plus half a tank of fuel remaining… amazing.

Wk3. Electrifying sound

Wk3. Electrifying sound

One of the many advantages of driving under electric power is enhanced sound. What I mean by this is that as a driver, I’m better able to hear my surroundings. While many still believe electric cars to be silent, the reality is their quieter drive mechanicals make it possible to hear tyres squealing, brakes squeezing and ambulances arriving. This greater sense of awareness is definitely a good thing. You can even hear a bicycle bell, for example when in traffic and so long as other cars, lorries and buses around you aren’t making too much noise.

There are multiple points to make here. Firstly, this increased awareness makes driving electric safer. It also makes it calmer, as there’s no engine note to spur you on your progress or excite your inner race-driver. In addition, the car’s own sound system can be better appreciated. If you’re a petrol/diesel car driver and enjoy music, you’ll likely have gotten used to the constant hum that accompanies your preferred listening choice. The volume needs to be turned up and any subtle nuances in the background are mostly lost.

Kia Optima PHEV

In an electric driven vehicle, however, you can hear everything. In my long-term Kia Optima PHEV (affectionately known as ‘Optima Prime’), the Harman/Kardon speaker system is something to behold. It might not have one hundred speakers, tweaters or multiple sub woofers, but what it lacks in hardware it more than compensates in quality. And, being a plug-in hybrid, I’ve been enjoying all sorts of music as it was meant to be listened to thanks to the interior’s ample sound insulation and quiet drive.

As an added bonus, I’ve found the Optima PHEV to be well-sprung with a reasonably soft (but not overly so) suspension setup, that means going over lumps and bumps in the road or even ‘slow down’ rumble strips before entering a town or junction are smoothened out and don’t interfere with the audio either. It means that traffic update you might be listening to can be better heard, or that music track you’re enjoying isn’t interrupted with a loud PPPRRTTT PPPRRTTT PPPRRRTTT (that’s my best attempt at a description of going over bumps, in the written word).

Kia Optima PHEV

And this improves my image too. Inside the car there’s no need for maxing-out the volume and so you don’t look like some plonker bass-thumper trying to listen to the latest dance club track over a deafening exhaust note from a ’98 Honda Civic while ‘disturbing the peace’. There are no scornful glances, no cyclists tutting and no babies awoken – all positive things.

And just because there’s still this myth about electric cars being silent on the outside, they’re not. Just yesterday I was walking to the car in a large car park when a Nissan Qashquai pulled out unexpectedly without much of a murmur and nobody was injured. It was a non event, but I didn’t hear their engine. Likewise, in Optima Prime, I pulled away in EV mode without crashing into every pedestrian around. Car parks are about the only situation when an EV might be better off making some kind of artificial noise, but when on the move – i.e. anything more than 20mph, the air compression from the tyres is just the same as for any other vehicle. So no, sorry, they don’t have a stealth mode.

Wk2. Economy versus weight

Wk2. Economy versus weight

Kia Optima PHEVWhen talking economy, a car’s weight is important. The lighter the car, the less energy required to move it. Simple. And so, engineers take great efforts to reduce weight where they can. Of course, it’s always a battle with the accountants who will want to use cheaper and potentially heavier materials for a job than the engineers dream of. A good example of this is the body. Most are steel, which is heavier than – for example – aluminium, but steel is cheaper.

All this is well and good but the one thing this doesn’t factor in is the weight of passengers. When I was ten years old, a friend of mine raced me on identical go-karts in Spain and, me being the lighter, more athletic build, ran rings around him, much to his disappointment.

What does all this have to do with Optima Prime? Recently my partner and I whose combined weight is around 130kg had a pair of passengers in the car whose combined weight easily exceeded 200 kilos. These were heavy people, the type who need to be asked not to use the roof handles to haul themselves out of the car, as they’ll simply snap off. Our total passenger weight was therefore roughly 330kg, which is a lot. To put this into perspective, the Kia soul EV’s 27kWh lithium-ion battery pack weighs 274.5 kilos.
Laden with all this additional weight, naturally I expected the Optima PHEV to be affected. Acceleration shouldn’t be quite as responsive and neither should economy. Tasked with an 80-mile round trip, the Optima PHEV was fully charged and off we went. Firstly, acceleration seemed almost unaffected. Like a cart horse plodding along up a hill, the Optima took it in its stride. Electric range chirpily reported the same 31-miles it did before and it seemed to hold up for that distance too. Once the battery had depleted, happily, the petrol engine didn’t seem strained either, helped along by the electric torque in hybrid mode despite an empty battery. So, all in all it was a very uneventful trip. And the economy? 99.6mpg average. ‘nough said.

Wk1. Optima Prime arrives

Wk1. Optima Prime arrives

I’ve always loved Transformers. Ever since I was a kid, there was an allure to anything that could perform more than one function. Swiss Army knives, the spork, collander helmets and the like were all satisfying ways to use an item for something else – even better if the designers had never conceived of this use.

Transformers (robots in disguise) were the ultimate example of this, in a weird way. A robot that transforms into a car is awesome. Full stop. And to a large extent, I feel the same about plug-in hybrid vehicles. On the outside, they’re just a car. Most aren’t trying too hard to be different and in my mind, this is a good thing. They blend seemlessly into the surrounding traffic, as though they’d always been about.

People are surprised when you pull up to an electric car charge point in a plug-in hybrid, probably thinking to themselves, “here come’s another ****pot to block an ‘ICE’ an electric-car-only space.” Then you plug-in and walk away, leaving their often gobsmacked faces in awe. “What is that?” the aggression quickly turns to intrigue. And I love that. It’s oh-so-satisfying to drive a car that does everything. But, it has to do it well.

On a warm errr. spring (I think) day, the Kia Optima PHEV arrives at my door. The Kia delivery chap tells me he owns a Jag but is really impressed with the Kia – he’d not driven a plug-in hybrid version before. Immediately, he tells me of how impressed he is with its fuel consumption. That’s not usually a good opener for conversation, but in this case it’s clear to see he’s impressed with the frugality the plug-in powertrain has delivered.

I jump in to take him to the station and immediately see the mpg rate is around 74mpg. Not bad considering the car’s just travelled a couple hundred miles and the battery is completely flat.

My first impressions of the immediately named ‘Optima Prime’ (I don’t go for car names like ‘Ken’, or ‘Rosemarie’) are positive. It’s a luxurious car to be in. Comforting and cossetting – just how I remember after spending a week with one last year.

Returning home largely on electric power despite the depleted battery and thanks to heavy traffic – the car still operates as a regular hybrid once the 10kWh has depleted – I plug it in.

A few hours later, I head off to the shops. This time with the battery full. I’ve got 31-miles electric range showing and I can believe it. Kia has consistently been accurate with their range predictions in this and the Soul EV and this reassures me with confidence.

The Optimate drives its electric motor throught he regular transmission, meaning it has gear changes despite being electric. This does take a little bit of getting used to, but it’s no problem. The auto-box is smooth and you hardly notice the gear changes apart from when coming to a stop.

After my trip to the shops, I get a call to pick someone up from the station. After that I have to run an errand to another local town 5-miles away. After all these local trips, amounting to 22-miles total, I return home having used no petrol at all and ‘Optima Prime’ still has 9-miles remaining electric range.

So far so good, but there is one small annoyance. The fuel consumption reading only goes as high as 99.9mpg and it appears to be stuck there. I’d love for it to read one more hundredth, but the 99.9mpg emblazoned on the dash is a constant reminder that it’s never using any fuel. Most of my journeys, like many people, are local. Commuting is generally the longest regular journey of many and if the Optima PHEV can cover all your local journeys and some of your commute – if beyond 30-miles round trip – then it will instantly save you a small fortune.

And that brings me back to why I love plug-in hybrids so much. This isn’t just a “PHEV”, it’s an electric car. It’s a hybrid car. It’s economical. It’s sporting (combining the electric and petrol drive together). It’s all of the above.

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