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LA show: Green thumbs up for Kia’s eco Optima

Green thumb: Kia’s petrol-electric Optima can reportedly achieve highway economy of 5.8L/100km, but its 6.2L/100km combined average is a higher than Camry Hybrid, based on Australian figures.

Kia’s Optima Hybrid takes on Toyota’s Camry Hybrid in US as Australia fights for RHD

18 Nov 2010

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) has vowed to continue fighting for its South Korean parent to produce a right-hand drive version of the all-new Optima Hybrid, which made its world debut this week at the Los Angeles auto show ahead of its arrival in US showrooms early next year.

Joining sister brand Hyundai in threatening Toyota in the mid-size hybrid stakes, the petrol-electric Optima’s North American introduction comes as Kia’s Australian subsidiary prepares to launch the conventional-engine version of the all-new Optima in January next year – and pushes for further derivatives, including the hybrid. However, as GoAuto reported from South Korea earlier this month when we drove the hybrid version of Hyundai’s i45, which is mechanically identical to the Optima Hybrid, Hyundai-Kia has confirmed at the highest levels that there is currently no program in place to build either vehicle in right-hand drive.

“That is absolutely correct, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over or that we have given up on it,” said KMau spokesman Kevin Hepworth. “If there is one certainty, it is that nothing is certain.”

17 center imageKMAu chief operating officer Tony Barlow added that the Optima Hybrid was “certainly something we are considering closely as we move forward with Kia’s increasing exposure to alternate-fuel technology”.

“This is the sort of well-considered and developed technology that is now a cornerstone of Kia’s expanding model range,” he said.

Mechanical details for the Optima Hybrid closely resemble the i45/Sonata Hybrid already on sale in the US, with a 30kW/205Nm electric motor combining with an Atkinson-cycle port-injection version of the (124kW/209Nm) 2.4-litre direct-injection ‘Theta II’ four-cylinder petrol engine for a combined system output of 154kW of power and 265Nm of torque.

The two-mode hybrid drive system also employs an LG Chem-developed 270-volt lithium-polymer battery, while drive is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox is modified to accommodate the electric motor, an 8.5kW hybrid starter motor-generator and low-friction oil, which together eliminates the need for a traditional torque converter.

Kia claims class-leading fuel efficiency of 5.8L/100km for the Optima Hybrid on the highway, although the all-important combined-cycle figure comes in at 6.2L/100km – which is not as low as the 6.0L/100km its arch-rival, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, achieves on the Australian ADR 81/02 standard. The Optima Hybrid’s city consumption figure is rated at 6.5L/100km.

Other performance figures for Optima Hybrid are equally interesting, with Kia claiming the 1583kg vehicle – its first-ever hybrid for the North American market – can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds, on its way to a 195km/h top speed.

The lightweight 44kg lithium-polymer battery pack is said to be a key contributor to these performance benchmarks. According to Kia, this type of battery pack weighs 20 to 30 per cent less than a nickel-metal hydride pack (such as the one used in the Camry Hybrid), occupies 40 per cent less space (reducing intrusion into the boot and allowing a 280-litre volume) and is 10 per cent more efficient. It is also claimed to hold its charge for 25 per cent longer than a NiMH battery pack.

Further improving performance and economy, the Optima Hybrid’s chassis is lowered 5mm compared to the regular model, it employs an electric power steering system (rather than conventional hydraulic), and has a host of aerodynamic features including an ‘active air flap’ in the front grille, smooth underfloor panels, low-drag wheels and low-rolling-resistance tyres. Overall, the exterior changes reduce the Optima’s drag coefficient to 0.26Cd.

Inside, the instrument panel has an ‘ECO Guide’ to promote economical driving habits, while a standard Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS) plays a pre-recorded engine sound during electric-only operation to warn people outside the vehicle that it is approaching. Kia Motors Corporation vice-chairman Hyoung-Keun Lee said: “The new Optima Hybrid features a unique architecture and is packed with innovative technologies that demonstrate Kia’s ongoing commitment to investing in R&D, and to developing environmentally friendly vehicles for the future.

“Although these new technologies presented our engineers with a series of complex challenges to overcome, the resulting Optima Hybrid delivers a fully automatic, seamless and enjoyable drive, together with real-world benefits for our customers.”

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1st of January 1970

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