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Officially unveiled at the LA Auto Show, the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid is the final piece in an impressive transformation saga that began last spring with the introduction of its new-gen conventional 2011 Optima siblings at the New York Auto Show. Kia's first-ever hybrid offering in the U.S. embellishes all of the impressive visual and functional elements that constitute the new Optima formula with an eco-oriented variation the automaker expects will deliver a class-leading 40 mpg EPA highway number along with a Kia-style value story.

>See more new cars unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Motivation for the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid comes from a specially modified version of the firm's 2.4-liter/200-horsepower Theta II direct-injected four-cylinder gasoline engine that uses Atkinson cycle valve timing to help boost fuel efficiency by 10 per cent and a lightweight motor/generator energized by an equally lightweight and compact 30kW lithium-polymer battery pack developed by LG Chem. The motor/generator develops 40 horses and adds 151 lb-ft of torque, which yields a combined system output of 206 ponies and 195 lb-ft of twist and permits the Kia Optima Hybrid to hit speeds of up to 62 mph in pure electric mode.

In addition to its bag of conventional mileage-maxing tricks -- electric power-assist steering, electrically driven air conditioning compressor, highly-efficient regenerative braking and a belt-driven start/stop system -- the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid uses a dedicated variation of the six-speed, step-ratio automatic transmission found in the conventional Optima rather than a CVT alternative used by many other manufacturers. It employs a unique modular Transmission-Mounted-Electric-Drive (TMED) layout that replaces the conventional torque converter with a dedicated wet clutch pack, a feature that permits the electric motor to be completely separated from the transmission gear-set. Kia says TMED improves efficiency and makes for better packaging while opening up the possibility of fitting other possible hybrid permutations/combinations in the future.

To set this Hybrid variant apart from other 2011 Kia Optima models, it boasts a unique grille insert and front/rear lamp treatments, custom bumper extensions and side sills, a rear decklid spoiler lip and low-drag 16-inch alloy wheels that mount low-rolling-resistance tires. Less obvious wind-cheating touches include a lower ride height, an active air flap system and underbody aero fairings, changes that help reduce its drag coefficient to a most impressive 0.26.

As for creature comforts, the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid builds on the fairly lengthy roster of standards found on an autoshifted Optima LX by adding things like an eight-way power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, push-button start with smart key and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Kia also fitted it with a Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS) that uses pre-recorded engine sounds when the car is in EV mode as a sonic warning to alert pedestrians of its approach.

The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid will go on sale early next year. Pricing will be announced closer to its on-sale date.

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