Autovolt Magazine

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.