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by Tim Beissmann

The all-new 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid sedan has been unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show ahead of its US launch early next year.

Kia Motors Australia is launching the standard, non-hybrid Optima in January 2011, and chief operating officer Tony Barlow said the marque is keeping a close eye on the Hybrid model.

“It is certainly something we are considering closely as we move forward with Kia’s increasing exposure to alternate fuel technology,” Mr Barlow said.

Kia describes the Optima Hybrid’s drive system as a “parallel hybrid system”. The 124kW/209Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder Theta II petrol engine is mated to a 30kW/205Nm electric motor for a combined maximum output of 154kW of power and 265Nm of torque.

Performance is impressive enough, with acceleration of 9.2 seconds 0-100km/h and a top speed of 195 km/h. But the fuel economy numbers are the ones that really count, and they look even better. At 6.2 litres/100km combined, Kia says the Optima Hybrid is 40.7 percent more efficient than the standard vehicle.

The Optima sets off in electric mode and as the speed rises the Hybrid Starter motor/Generator (HSG) kicks the petrol engine into action (Kia says under certain circumstances the Hybrid Optima can be operated in full-electric, zero-emissions mode from standstill to 100km/h). The electric motor then acts as a secondary engine to assist with hill climbs and full acceleration as well as recharging the lithium-ion battery pack.

Regenerative braking allows the Optima Hybrid to recover kinetic energy to further increase overall efficiency, while stop/start technology is also employed to shut off the engine when the vehicle is at rest for more than a few second.

To optimize the Hybrid’s effectiveness, the six-speed automatic transmission has been tweaked, with the traditional torque converter replaced by an electric motor and a high-efficiency oil pump.

The Hybrid is also 5mm lower than the standard car and features low rolling resistance tyres, low-drag wheels, smooth underfloor panels and an active air flap in the front grille. Inside, the instrument panel features an “ECO guide” to aid economical driving.

Overall dimensions (4845mm long, 1830mm wide, 1450mm high) make the Optima Hybrid a serious large car contender, but boot space (280 litres) nudges it back a class.




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