Rain or shine no one can deny that it is always a fun and exciting time in South Florida; and during my recent 4-day visit, I happened to encounter both sides of the weather spectrum. Yet, with gorgeous beaches, non-stop entertainment and electrifying energy from Miami Beach Polo, fashion shows and food and wine festivals, the State’s most alluring attraction routinely keeps visitors and residents fully occupied. But of course you need a set of wheels when’re you’re in town. Especially if a trip to the Florida Keys and Homestead-Miami Speedway is on your agenda. No worries, Kia took care of that with their 2012 Optima Hybrid.
Upon arrival to Miami International Airport on a direct United Airlines flight from Washington Dulles, I was escorted to the infamous Shore Club Hotel in South Beach, Miami. Of course many of my colleagues, including my father, were poolside enjoying fruity drinks and the postcard scenery. I passed on this activity to get some work done, which included studying up on the Optima Hybrid in preparation for our 4-hour drive to Key West, Florida – the southernmost point of the U.S.
After my study session I changed clothes and headed for the gym to keep in tune with my 2012 health and fitness goals. I was quite surprised that the diminutive Shore Club exercise area was the size of two walk-in closets. No matter, I made it work. Afterwards we had dinner at the Raleigh Hotel which was playing host to the 2012 Miami Beach Polo matches. Dinner was light for me consisting of a leafy green and avocado salad and quinoa.
The next morning we proceeded from the Shore Club to Key West on a relaxing drive, while achieving hyper-mileage in the Kia Optima Hybrid. Some may not equate the Miami lifestyle with Kia vehicles, since you typically witness Bentleys, Benzes, Lambos and Ferraris cruising the town. However, the Optima is one fine vehicular specimen, both aesthetically and technologically. Without a badge it wouldn’t be hard to mistake the sporty-mid-size Optima for a model from Lexus. Its strong physique, chiseled panels, iconic wheels and masculine grille mystifies and encourages newcomers to the brand. I don’t think NBA standout Blake Griffin would have connected with the Korean automaker as their global brand ambassador if they didn’t have sustenance. He is involved in an array of comical commercials, marketing engagements, public appearances, charitable efforts and ad campaigns for Kia. The relationship has also propelled them into NBA activities such as one of the Official Automotive Partner of NBA All-Star Weekend and the presenting partner of the NBA Draft, allowing unparalleled access to NBA fans, players, coaches, and sports media. Did I also mention that they are an Official Automotive Partner of the NBA as well?
Back on the road, I partnered with my Dad for the drive down to the Keys. The goal was to achieve 40 mpg or more in the Optima Hybrid Challenge during our time with the vehicle. Although alternative fuel vehicles such as electric vehicles, hybrids, and diesels represent less than 3% of overall vehicles sales, every automaker needs to enter the field to gain consumers’ piece of mind when it comes to fuel economy and to meet CAFE fuel standards. But the sad thing is that people still don’t understand this niche of vehicles and are only comfortable buying what they are familiar with. Consequently, the market still has a long uphill battle. My bets are on diesel-powered vehicles though, since you can typically achieve 600 miles per tank. Impressive, right?
I took the first leg and drove just as normally as I would a conventional gasoline vehicle. With Bluetooth, Sirius, iPod integration, touchscreen navigation, steering wheel controls, and start/stop ignition, the Optima Hybrid did not diminish my expectations of what a road trip vehicle needs to provide for modern day convenience and connectivity. The Optima was also outfitted with a rear backup camera, which is typically only found in high-end luxury vehicles. Three trim levels are offered for the Optima, including: the LX; EX; and SX, with all the aforementioned amenities being a part of our SX test model. The Hybrid’s base price is $25,700 while a base or introductory Optima starts at $19,500.
The air was fresh, the breeze was chill and the sun was keen. Pop and I chatted about various subjects in life like fathers and sons do. Our main topic of discussion touched upon the harmony between a sustainable vehicle and a sustainable lifestyle. Eating healthy organic foods, thinking positive, and staying active is the perfect equation. For example, I am a vegan and work out five to six days a week. Everything I ingest or put in my body needs to have a life-fulfilling purpose. Father raised my sisters and I as vegetarians (but eats meat today) and now understands why I chose the vegan path. In fact, I am teaching him how to get back on track nutritionally. The same goes with the principles of a hybrid vehicle. Eco-friendly is its theme song. The commingling of gasoline acceleration and coasting on electrical energy is why the Optima Hybrid is so sustainable. We averaged about 37 mpg both city and highway. The greatest efficiency comes when you turn off the AC, roll up the windows and accelerate gently. The Optima’s LCD screen graphically depicts everything the hybrid drive system is doing so you can optimize your driving proficiency.
Once we rolled into town, the vehicle’s intelligent navigation system led us to several healthy food stores and restaurants. It was unbelievable how many vegan places Key West had to offer. Of course we tried all of them before heading out! The Sugar Apple was our favorite. We spent a full day and night in Key West while taking in the serene landscape and fresh, energizing environment. That night consisted of a lovely dinner by the water and dancing at a few eclectic spots. Again, dancing burns calories so I was all for it.
The next morning I was up at 6 a.m. for a run before our next leg to Homestead for the Kia 200 GRAND-AM. Yes, Kia puts rubber to the pavement with their Forte models and yes they win! On this segment of the trip we focused on the Optima’s power. Three engines are available within the Optima family: a 2.4-liter GDI four-cylinder, a 2.0-liter GDI turbo or a 2.4-liter hybrid. I found the power transfer from gas to electric mode very smooth and linear but was not so optimistic about its passing capabilities. So I went back to focusing on the Optima’s interior features, large cabin and stylish profile. A Panoramic sunroof let in more than ample sunlight for Vitamin D accumulation, while the premium Infinity sound system was pleasurable to the ears, especially since the majority of my tunes were conscious lyrics from the great Robert Nesta Marley.
We made it to the race in rainy conditions and enjoyed our track experience VIP style in the Kia hospitality suite. Next up was a short drive back to South Beach for another night at the Shore Club. The Miami Heat were playing the visiting New York Nicks for their playoff series so many of my sports friends were in town. It was another good night!