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Kia Hypermiles to Key West

I’m really not a hypermiling type of guy – I usually drive a twin-turbocharged V6.  When the opportunity to drive from Miami Beach to Key West came up, I admit the allure of Key West was more than the chance to get the maximum fuel economy out of a Kia Optima Hybrid and new Kia Rio.  Having grown up in Florida, the northern part, I had never been to Key West – got as far as the Everglades a couple of times.

Kia Optima Hybrid and Kia Rio

The cars did not disappoint and Kia threw in the chance to attend GRAND-AM Continental Tire/Kia200 Sports Car Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Raceway.  So how could I refuse?

Optima – Elegant Mid-Size Style With Maximum Fuel Economy The Optima is one of my favorite mid-size cars.  Its styling is great and interior is very easy to live with.  From my perspective, the Optima style is very sophisticated and European.  Coming from the “junior” Korean manufacturer, the Optima is much better looking than the swoopy Hyundai Sonata that has turned so many heads since its introduction in early 2010.  My guess is that the Optima style has more staying power than the Sonata which may age pretty quickly.

Adding the Hybrid model to the Optima lineup gives Kia a price-efficient, fuel-efficient combatant in the growing fuel economy battleground among mid-size cars.

All New Rio – Bottom-Feeder No More This was the first chance I have had to drive the all new Rio.  As the bottom entry in Kia’s lineup, the Rio has evolved from a cheap, cheap tin can to a very worthy small car.  Of course, it is not cheap, cheap any more, but it is reasonably priced.  The model we drove was priced a notch above $20,000 but had everything on it including a navigation system, sun roof and leather seats.  In previous generations, it would have been unheard of to have this level of equipment available in the lowest priced car from a mainstream brand.   With a front seat package rivaling a mid-size car in size, folks are no longer “sentenced” to drive a small car.

Miami Beach to Key West Without Air Conditioning: The drive from the Shore Club Hotel in Miami Beach to the Parrot Key Resort in Key West was the perfect choice to experience “fuel efficient” driving.  Usually, product evaluations include a lot of twisty, curvy, hilly roads and high speed driving.  That wasn’t an objective with this Kia evaluation.  The Overseas Highway is usually a single-lane road over the water to Key West.  The maximum speed was 55 at one point, but usually was 40mph to 45mph.  This is an optimal speed to achieve maximum fuel efficiency and the thirteen police cruisers we spied on the way down helped guarantee we didn’t get too enthusiastic.

We thought running with the air conditioning off would help (the “smell of fuel efficiency, you know), but now I learn that at 40mph and above running with the windows closed and A/C on is the way to go.  Having the windows closed at that speed helps aerodynamics more than the air conditioning saps fuel economy.

The Optima achieved 45mpg on this trip of about 140 miles.  Great for a relatively large car.  At speed, the Optima Hybrid would seamlessly shift from all electric mode to gas mode up to about 70mph.  This is substantially higher than most other hybrids.

Kia took a very cost effective approach to develop the Optima Hybrid.  It has a six-speed automatic transmission instead of the CVT (continuously variable transmission) found on many hybrid vehicles.  This means the car feels normal and doesn’t have the rubber band feeling acceleration you get with most CVTs.  The hybrid powertrain uses an Atkinson-cycle version of Kia’s 2.4L Theta 4-cylinder engine.  Using Optima’s lightweight platform with enhanced aerodynamics (0.26 Cd compared with 0.29 Cd on the non-hybrid Optima), the Optima Hybrid is rated at 40mpg on the highway and 35mpg in the city.  Remember, we beat this highway rating on our drive down to Key West.

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