I discovered the secret to winning Masters (over 40) Championships in the races I run: pick races that have very few other Masters in them. If you live in a city, this may mean long drives to remote areas. Also, pick hot days and hilly courses to keep the older folks with some sense away. For the trip, you’ll want a peaceful and relaxing ride. The 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid may be the perfect choice for that task. In this Kia, you can chill before you charge.
My most recent race was the “Dog Days 4.5 miler” in New Braunfels, Texas — about an hour drive from my home in Austin, a trip that showcased all the things the Optima Hybrid does well.
In case you haven’t heard, Kia has undergone a transformation, now producing cars of impressive quality. Inside, the Optima’s leather interior features impressive hand stitching throughout. The seats are comfortable and supportive, ideal for a stretch on I-35 headed south. They are also cooled — perfect race prep on a hot summer day.
The dash materials with leather accents have a premium, almost bespoke, feel. I loved the heft and design of the steering wheel — which even sported a heating element (not that I needed it). There touchscreen dominated the center stack, of course, big and bright, and like all hybrids and EVs these screens offer feedback about the car’s power systems. Kia’s version offers four screens on the performance of the hybrid system: Earth, Car, Energy Flow, Fuel Econ.
These screens offer the hybrid driver a fun alternative to measuring performance in terms of raw acceleration. They gamify the process in a way that engaged even my teenage son. He cheered when we added a final bar to the efficiency graph on the way back from a soccer practice. There is an overall playfulness to the graphics and sounds the car produces that compensates for life with a hybrid.
Not to say that this hybrid is without any performance. It accelerates more than adequately, especially when the default “ECO” mode is overridden with the touch of a button. The interchange between the gas and electric engines is very smooth, and the transmission gets the power where it belongs without drama. The brakes were particularly responsive for the regenerative variety, and the driving dynamics of the Optima are on the sporting side for this segment.
What I liked best about pulling into the park where my race was to start was the statement this car makes wherever it goes — I’m a hybrid driver, but I’m still fast. The Optima pairs the practicality of a fuel efficient power plant, with a look that is stylish and aggressive, and an interior that is top quality. The grill says — this ain’t no Prius.
It’s a dad’s hybrid.
The Optima Hybrid is not without it’s flaws. The otherwise friendly hybrid screen kept flashing a “Low Charge Warning,” which stumped me. I thought hybrids were supposed to take care of these things themselves. “Well then charge yourself, dude” I replied aloud to the car. Also the relatively small trunk was lined with such cheap materials that I was concerned about putting anything back there lest I damage my test car. It seemed like an oversight on such an otherwise beautifully executed $32,000 car.
So I arrived at my race after my long drive rested and relaxed. And despite a tough and hilly course, I brought home the hardware, winning the Masters Division. Back home, pulling into the driveway I noted that despite having driven the car halfway to San Antonio, on a weeks worth of commuting, errands and trips to practice, I never had to fill the car up.
I’ll let the hypermilers do the math to figure out if the hybrid system is worth the premium. But I will say this: like a well trained runner, this Optima seemed to never run out of gas.