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2012 Kia Optima Hybrid won AJAC award for best new Family Car over $30,000. (Kia)
2012 Kia Optima Hybrid won AJAC award for best new Family Car over $30,000. (Kia)

Family Car (Over $30,000) Kia Optima Hybrid

Optima leads a hybrid trifecta Add to ...

Kia Optima Hybrid

Base and as-tested price: $30,595

There was a little bit of AJAC and green history made with this group. No, it’s not the first time a hybrid family sedan has won this class, as the Toyota Camry Hybrid did it in 2007, and went on to win the overall Canadian Car of the Year title as well. But it is the first time that the top three finishers in any category have been electrified – and that includes in categories for alternative fuel and green vehicles, which were handed out between 2001 and 2006, before the decision was made to let hybrids and diesels compete with all vehicles on their own merits.

This year’s group of family car offerings over 30 large included four gas-electric vehicles out of six entries in total. Ironically, in this podium of green stars, the winning Kia Optima Hybrid was the least fuel-efficient of these electrically boosted gas misers. The battery hiding behind the rear seats also left the least amount of cargo space in the entire group, room that can’t be recouped thanks to those non-folding seats.

But like the regular Optima, the Optima Hybrid stood out for its exterior style and value. Kia also has made a strategically wise decision to enter the base model $30,595 Hybrid with no options, as it was the lowest-priced model in the group, and notably lower than the mechanically similar Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that finished second, which came in more fully loaded at its $34,499 as-tested price tag. The Optima’s 58-kg lighter weight also helped the Kia accelerate quicker and feel more nimble than the Sonata hybrid.

So the Optima Hybrid has some practicality tradeoffs, but it’s hard to argue against its impressive value for the dollar – unless, perhaps, you compare it with the standard Optima.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Base price: $29,999; as-tested price: $34,499

The Sonata Hybrid was perhaps the most disappointing of this bunch, garnering my lowest price-independent point total of the group, although its second-place finish suggests my colleagues thought otherwise. It looks sharp, but the engine felt rough when thrashed, which it needed often. But it does feature a cool dual sunroof and more cargo room than the Optima or Volt.

Chevrolet Volt

Base price: $41,545; as-tested: $44,700

The Chevrolet Volt was by far the most refined, futuristic and priciest model in this group, as well as the most fuel-efficient. It felt super smooth in either full electric mode, or when the engine was needed to recharge the battery, with its two high-definition screens helping electrify the interior. Though my runaway winner, the Volt’s final point tally didn’t reflect the $8,230 Ontario rebate or $7,769 tax credit in Quebec, while AJAC had to use an estimated emissions score, since Natural Resources Canada has not yet published the required figures.

Dodge Charger

Base price: $29,995; as-tested price: $38,720

Finishing fourth behind the trio of hybrids, the Brampton, Ont.-built Dodge Charger impressed greatly with its new interior and high-end eight-speed ZF automatic similar to the one in the much-pricier Audi A8. Sophisticated this transmission may be, but it’s still too easy to get Park when you want Reverse. But the 292-hp Pentastar V-6 it’s attached to helped it blast the quickest acceleration times of the bunch and, unsurprisingly, the highest fuel consumption, too.

Mini Countryman

Base price: $32,400; as-tested: $41,420

Tightly sprung and sized, this was the undisputed athlete of the group, although its 8.3-second 0-100 km/h time landed it behind the Charger’s 7.5-second average. The high seating position will be appreciated on this first Mini with four doors and available all-wheel-drive, but as a family vehicle, the rougher ride, increased engine noise and four-seat option of this one all seemed rather un-conducive to family peace.

Toyota Prius v

Base price: $27,200; as-tested price: $33,350

The Prius v scored the second-highest fuel efficiency score, and by far the most cargo room in this group, yet finished at the bottom of the list due to lacklustre design scores, both inside and out, and back-of-the-pack performance figures. I actually liked it, and rated it third behind the Volt and Charger, though it could really use the plug-in capability, an updated interior as well as a third row of seats.

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