Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LA Show 2010: KIA Launches Optima Hybrid, Returns 40 mpg Highway

With everyone riding the "green wave" these days, it's no surprise that KIA launched its first-ever hybrid for the U.S. market, the Optima Hybrid. Combining the standard model's good looks with several technological innovations, the newest member of the Optima family returns a frugal 40 mpg (5.88 lt/100 km) on the highway.

"By adding our first-ever hybrid in the U.S. to the Optima lineup we are providing consumers with three powerful and fuel-efficient powertrain choices, and continuing KIA's philosophy of offering stylish, value-packed vehicles with outstanding fuel efficiency" said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing & communications, KMA.

The Optima Hybrid uses a full parallel hybrid system and can be driven in full-electric mode at speeds up to 62 mph (100 km/h). It also has a stop/start function, which eliminates idle fuel consumption and reduces overall emissions.

Compared to other hybrids on the market, the Optima doesn't use a nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion battery, but a more advanced lithium-polymer solution, capable of holding a larger charge (30 kW) for up to 25% longer. Another plus is the reduced weight, as the lithium-polymer battery tips the scales at 95.9 pounds (43 kg), or 28 pounds (13 kg) less than the Toyota Camry Hybrid's battery pack.

Most competitors use a power-split hybrid system, like Ford and Toyota, but KIA is following a different path once again opting for a Transmission-Mounted-Electric-Drive (TMED) layout with the electric motor separated from the transmission gear-set.

The advantages of this setup are that it needs a lot less space and can be combined with off-the-shelf parts, like the conventional Optima's six-speed automatic transmission. It also costs less.

The electric motor is coupled to the transmission and it incorporates a permanent magnet synchronous electric traction motor. In full electric mode it delivers 40 hp (30 kW) and 151 lb-ft (205 Nm) of torque and when the 2.4-liter Atkinson Cycle gasoline unit kicks in, combined output is 206 hp and 195 lb-ft (264 Nm).

Alongside the traction motor, there's also the 8.5 kW belt-driven Hybrid-Starter-Generator (HSG), which cannot drive the wheels, but it starts the engine and recharges the battery.

As other modern hybrids, the Optima Hybrid can recover energy lost during braking as well, just like the Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion, for instance.

When the brakes are applied, the engine is decoupled from the traction motor and used to charge the battery.

Design-wise, the Koreans made sure that the hybrid Optima stands out fitting it with redesigned front grille and headlamps, lower front and rear spoilers, plus side skirts, LED tail lamps and unique 16-inch alloys.

The Optima Hybrid also features the Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS), meaning that it plays a pre-recorded engine sound during electric only operation to attract people's attention that a vehicle is approaching.

KIA didn't release the pricing or detailed specifications, but it did confirm that the car will hit U.S. showrooms early next year.

By Csaba Daradics


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