2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Launches in Chicago, Fills Gap Left By Outgoing Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

Following in the tire tracks of its sister company Hyundai and its recently-launched Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, South Korean automaker Kia Motors officially unveiled the 2017 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid at yesterday’s Chicago Auto Show.

Since the two cars share the same drivetrain, chassis and body, the new Kia-badged plug-in hybrid matches the Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid mile for mile and gallon for gallon in EPA test scores. Both have an EPA-approved all-electric range of 27 miles per charge of their 9.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery packs. Both have the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine and six-speed automatic transmission, and both have the same 50 kilowatt electric motor.

Kia's 2017 Optima Plug-in Hybrid will go on sale this fall.

Kia’s 2017 Optima Plug-in Hybrid will go on sale this fall.

But while plug-in purists may find the EPA-approved range a little disappointing, the Kia Optima plug-in hybrid (and the Hyundai Sonata PHEV by proxy) are entering the plug-in hybrid market at just the right time to attract customers’ attention. While neither can compete with the 53-mile range of the all-electric 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, we note that they seem to fill a rather conveniently-shaped gap left by the departure of the outgoing Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.

The Kia Optima PHEV looks like any other Kia Optima -- but has a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.

The Kia Optima PHEV looks like any other Kia Optima — but has a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.

That’s because while Toyota is busy promoting the all-new fourth-generation Toyota Prius hybrid, it won’t be bringing a plug-in hybrid variant to market until next year, meaning those who are confident they want a plug-in hybrid rather than an all-electric car or range-extended EV will need to look somewhere else. At an expected price point of somewhere between $35,000 and $37,000 before incentives when it goes on sale in the U.S. this fall, the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid should be available for between $25,000 and $30,000 after incentives, depending on market and specification.

While that’s more expensive than the 2017 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, it’s worth remembering that the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid will have a few extra miles of all-electric range over its closest rival. That extra range — thanks to a larger lithium-ion battery pack and an impressive coefficient of drag of just 0.24 made possible with a host of aerodynamic tweaks and an active grille shutter system — will no doubt sway the buying decisions of many.

Kia’s famous seven-year warranty will likely sway others.

Will it be a strong seller? While we’d like to see people behind the wheel of a plug-in hybrid rather than an internal combustion-engined vehicle — and we acknowledge that while a zero-emissions electric or hydrogen vehicle would be the preferred choice, not everyone is ready for that leap — we suspect the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid won’t be a large volume seller.

At the end of the day, while consumers are more than happy to buy a plug-in car if it means they can lower their gasoline bill, the customers this vehicle is aimed at — first time plug-in users — are less likely to find the extra money put on the Optima Plug-in Hybrid compared to the standard Optima a little too tough to justify.

Do you disagree? Do you think Kia will sell its Optimat Plug-in Hybrid in large volumes? Or do you think it’s a compliance car, built specifically to satisfy zero and partial zero-emission vehicle mandates?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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