CARS.COM — Plug-in hybrids are growing up, at least on paper. Some newer models appear to be able to put a real dent in your gasoline habit as well as offer enough utility to be a family’s first, or only, vehicle.
Many have enough range for daily commuting without gasoline; roughly two out of three Americans drive 15 miles or less one way, a 30-mile round-trip. And new batteries are lighter and smaller, allowing packaging that intrudes less on a vehicle’s space for passenger and cargo capabilities close to lighter non-plug-in siblings.
Earlier plug-in hybrids often compromised on one or the other. A 2013 Toyota Prius plug-in is rated for up to just 6 miles of all-electric range, and it gives up a little utility versus a regular Prius hybrid. A 2013 Chevrolet Volt offers up to 38 miles of electric-only range but is a tight, four-seat compact compared to a comparable gasoline-powered five-seat Cruze compact.
Kia’s new 2017 Optima Plug-in Hybrid looks to be progress. It’s a conventional mid-size sedan with five roomy seats and a family-size trunk that is rated for 29 electric-only miles and good mileage as a gas-electric hybrid. But does it deliver on that 29-mile promise in the real world?
I frankly doubted it, so I put it to the test in Washington, D.C., traffic, where good performance in my personal test cycle typically is 80 percent of the EPA’s city-cycle rating. The near-empty battery was topped up at a public 240-volt, Level 2 standard charging station (conveniently both free and located at my local supermarket). Kia says a full charge that way should take about 2 hours, 45 minutes, and it was accurate. Charging takes about nine hours from a regular household plug.