American entrepreneur Elon Musk£€™s Tesla company has shown the traditional car industry the way with electric only cars, the so-called £€˜end game£€™ in motoring propulsion. But in the shorter term cars with electric assistance £€“ hybrids – are needed to meet exhaust pollution laws.
Korean car company Kia predicts hybrid sales will top 700,000 a year across Britain and Europe within four years and is now introducing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) Optima saloon.
It£€™s pricey at £31,495, but Volkswagen£€™s rival Passat GTE is a stinging £6,000 more. As usually is the case the Optima makes most sense company car users, reducing their 2016-17 benefit in kind tax to just seven per cent.
The Optima is a good looking car as Kias are these days with some neat styling touches. To make the car slip through the air more easily and save fuel an active air flap radiator grille closes automatically when less engine cooling is needed.
Distinguishing the PHEV are blue-tinted headlights and a metallic blue finish on the radiator grille, lower front air grille and side sills. Boot space has dropped by 15 litres because of the battery pack and there£€™s no spare wheel, only a can of spray and hope sealant.
Because electric power arrives instantly the PHEV is faster away from the lights than the 138bhp 1.7 litre diesel Optimas. Total power is 201bhp but the 66bhp of the electric motor means a weight penalty of 200kg which is like carrying around two and half adults.
Acceleration to 60mph takes a reasonable 9.1 seconds in hybrid mode with the 154bhp 2-litre petrol engine also doing its thing. Around town the Optima is smooth because it has a conventional automatic transmission rather than a continuously variable one (CVT) as fitted in some cars including the Toyota Prius.
That means you don£€™t get the annoying whirring and the sense the engine is revving its head off with little happening. The Kia prefers the motorway to twisty roads and through bends you can feel the weight of the batteries working the tyres harder and trying to pull you off course.
Up to middling speeds the ride is firm as the suspension has been tuned to cope with the extra weight. The brakes have also been made more powerful. At higher speeds the ride was accommodating.
The cabin is spacious and the front seats in black cloth and faux leather comfortable. The driver£€™s seat has electric four-way lumbar adjustment and the steering wheel and gear selector are leather trimmed.
The main left hand instrument dial is an economy and power meter rather than a rev counter. This tells you how the performance is being used and when the battery pack is charging. You can choose between economy or normal power settings.
An 8in touch screen shows electric power driving range, energy use, battery status and locations of charging stations. Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and headlights, remote control central locking and cameras to give a bird£€™s eye view round the car when parking.
Other kit includes dual zone air conditioning, a ten-speaker 590 watt Harman Kardon stereo, cruise control with speed limiter, wireless phone charging and remote central locking.
We averaged between 28.7mpg and 47.9mpg but other drivers had used the car though the battery was still near three-quarters charge. The official test allows hybrids to start with full batteries and run them flat resulting in an impossible in real life 176.6mpg.
Kia claims the Optima is capable of 33 miles with zero exhaust emissions running solely on electricity. Carbon dioxide emissions of 37g/km means no road tax is payable. Also consider: Lexus GT 200H, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Passat.
Verdict Good news for the company car driver and the environment.