Mother Proof's view

With sporty styling and a sophisticated interior, the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill midsize sedan or even a hybrid for that matter.

The Optima Hybrid has a youthful, fresh style that’s a lot more fun than its sister sedan, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. It’s also an exciting change from the seriously played-out Toyota Prius.

I’m not a hybrid “hypermiler” and I don’t believe in locking gazes with the information screen that charts my mpgs. I drove the Optima Hybrid like I would any other car, and it responded like a real car would. Breaking the stereotype of hybrids being slow and not fun to drive, the Optima Hybrid has slightly more horsepower than the non-hybrid Optima. The turbo four-cylinder Optima has all of them beat, though.

During my test drive, I averaged 26 mpg in combined city/highway driving. That falls far short of the Optima Hybrid’s EPA-estimated 35/40 mpg city/highway. Maybe I should have tried hypermiling.

The Kia Optima Hybrid starts at $26,500, but my test car — equipped with the premium Technology Package — cost $32,420.

This midsize hybrid features details and styling that set it apart from a boring, traditional sedan. The optional black-glass panoramic moonroof paired with my test car’s Snow White Pearl body paint created a sharp contrast in the Optima Hybrid’s appearance. With added details like a bold black grille and interesting alloy-wheel design, the Optima Hybrid has the ability to make its competitors look downright frumpy.

Besides looking pretty, the Optima Hybrid also can handle family duty easily. There should be no issues entering or exiting for passengers big and small; the sedan’s low step-in height helps the kiddos out, and an average door height keeps groans at bay for taller adults who fear hitting their head on the frame.

A small gripe about the Optima Hybrid’s exterior would be directed toward the awfully low front bumper. I feared scraping it up (or worse, ripping it right off) in parking lots with lots of speed bumps. It was slightly nerve-racking, and I held my breath each time I attempted to clear one. Thankfully, the bumper made it through the week unscathed.

The Optima Hybrid isn’t exactly swimming in innovative storage solutions, but you can still bring along most anything you’d like for a ride. Just a heads up: The trunk size is small because of the lithium-polymer battery that’s mounted behind the rear seats. There is definitely less space when compared to the non-hybrid model, but rest assured that a stroller and grocery bags still fit in it. In the hybrid, the rear seats don’t fold down, but there is a pass-through to the cabin.

With a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine and a 30-kilowatt electric motor, the Optima Hybrid’s EPA-estimated 35/40 mpg seemed achievable. I never managed to get close to returning those mpgs. Of course, I never once had to visit the gas station during my busy week with the Optima Hybrid, which is no small feat in my book. When it is time to hit the gas station, the Optima Hybrid uses regular gas.

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

Kia went all out when it came to the Optima Hybrid’s interior. It has a sporty but upscale cabin with dual-zone air conditioning, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. Heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats are optional. Cloth seats are standard.

The Optima Hybrid’s graphics are particularly impressive. I was more than amused while watching green leaves flutter by an animated image of the car on the multimedia screen. In the instrument cluster, flowers “bloomed” the more efficiently I drove. It put those dot-matrix green graphics on another popular hybrid to shame.

Families will find the cabin to be roomy enough to comfortably accommodate child-safety seats or teens in the backseat. There are plenty of cupholders and storage spaces in this five-seat sedan, eliminating most backseat bickering.

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

The 2011 Optima Hybrid has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the backseat. Unfortunately, access to the anchors is a challenge because the seat cushions are stiff, making it difficult to reach them. There’s plenty of room in the backseat for a rear-facing child-safety seat.

The 2011 Optima Hybrid hasn’t been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA has crash-tested the 2012 Optima Hybrid and it received five out of five stars overall.

The 2011 Optima Hybrid has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, an electronic stability system with traction control, hill start assist and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. Optional safety features include auto-leveling headlights and a backup camera.

Get more safety information about the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid here.

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