Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

Kia Motors America’s ’12 Optima hybrid-electric sedan, revealed today at the Los Angeles auto show, is slated to hit U.S. showrooms in early 2011.

It is the auto maker’s first hybrid model and matches the fuel economy of sister-brand Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid, achieving 36/40 mpg (6.5-5.9 L/100 km) city/highway.

“With a stunning design, roomy interior and estimated 40-mpg class-leading fuel efficiency, Kia’s first-ever hybrid in the U.S. will attract those looking for a striking and well-equipped sedan that does not sacrifice style, comfort, performance or value for fuel efficiency,” the auto maker says in a statement.

While the Optima Hybrid boasts many of the same features as the Sonata Hybrid, such as a 2.4L I-4, a 270V lithium-ion battery, a 6-speed automatic transmission and an electric traction motor in lieu of a torque converter, Kia calls the Optima’s powertrain “Kia-developed.”

The total system horsepower for the Optima Hybrid matches the Sonata’s 206, but total torque is pegged at 195 lb.-ft. (264 Nm) vs. the Hyundai’s 193 lb.-ft. (262 Nm).

Like the Sonata Hybrid, the Optima can operate on electricity only, at speeds as high as 62 mph (100 km/h).

Changes made to the Optima for hybridization include aerodynamic refinements, a lowered ride height, low-rolling resistance tires and an active air flap hidden behind the grille that closes at higher speeds to reduce drag, Kia says.

The Optima Hybrid builds on the 2.4L naturally aspirated Optima’s LX model with an automatic transmission but adds an 8-way power driver’s seat, push-button start, automatic up/down front windows and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Outside appearance differences with the regular Optima include a different grille, 16-in. alloy wheels and uniquely styled headlamps and fog lamps. The hybrid also gets light-emitting-diode taillamps and heated outside mirrors.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com