Comparison: Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid vs. Ford Fusion Energi

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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Looking for an affordable and comforting way to try electric vehicle (EV) ownership? Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) allow you to test the EV-ownership waters without inviting range anxiety into your life.

Providing enough electric driving range for the average American commute, and then operating as a gas-electric hybrid to give you hundreds of miles of total driving range, a PHEV makes great sense for lots of people. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and at various price points from basic commuter pods to luxurious sports cars.

Two of the more practical examples include the Ford Fusion Energi and the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid. Each is a midsize sedan offering seating for five people and a conventional trunk. Both are well equipped right out of the box. These combatants also offer similar levels of equipment.

But only one earns our nod as a winner in this contest.

Ford Fusion Energi vs Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Dashboards
In addition to black, both the Fusion Energi (top) and the Optima Plug-in (bottom, Optima SX shown) offer appealing alternative interior colors. A dark brown is available for the Ford, and white is available for the Kia. (Photo: Ford and Kia)

The best things about the Ford Fusion Energi

Ford introduced the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid for the 2013 model year. Since then, the company has upgraded the car’s powertrain and infotainment technology, but otherwise, the Fusion Energi is much the same as it was when it first went on sale.

Equipped with Ford’s top-shelf Titanium trim and priced at $35,995, the Fusion Energi provides an estimated 26 miles of electric driving range. The total driving range is 614 miles based on the car’s 42-mpg EPA fuel economy rating in city and highway conditions.

Priced lower than the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid, supplying better fuel economy when driven as a hybrid, and offering six additional miles of range, the Fusion Energi showcases three of its primary benefits over its Korean rival. Additionally, the Fusion Energi is, in my opinion, better looking than the Kia. And it comes in more paint color choices.

Otherwise, however, the aging Fusion Energi merely matches or falls behind the Optima Plug-in Hybrid.

Ford Fusion Energi vs Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Rear Views
If trunk space is important to you, you’ll want the Optima Plug-in Hybrid. It offers 9.9 cubic feet of room compared to the Fusion Energi’s 8.2 cu.-ft. trunk. (Photo: Ford and Kia)

The best things about the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid

Kia’s Optima Plug-in Hybrid costs $1,025 more than the Fusion Energi, and its 40-mpg fuel economy rating in combined driving doesn’t quite match the Ford. The total driving range is 608 miles, shy of the Fusion Energi by six whole miles. In these areas, the Kia misses the mark, but just barely.

In nearly every other way, the Optima Plug-in Hybrid is the better midsize PHEV sedan. At 28 miles, it offers more EV driving range, which is the point in the first place. At 9.9 cubic feet, it has a bigger trunk, making it more practical. The Kia is also 187 pounds lighter, makes more total horsepower at 202 hp, and uses a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission instead of a droning continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Tack on much better standard and powertrain warranties, and consider that the standard Optima gets better crash-test ratings than the standard Fusion, and it’s clear that Kia provides a substantial list of benefits in exchange for its slightly higher base price.

Ford Fusion Energi vs Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid Front Quarter Views
No doubt, the Ford Fusion Energi is a stylish PHEV. But the good looks don’t make it the better PHEV. (Photo: Ford and Kia)

Ford Fusion Energi vs. Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid. Which is better?

In this contest, there is no contest.

The Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid provides more electric driving range, greater trunk space, is based on a vehicle that gets top safety scores, and offers a more favorable power-to-weight ratio combined with a more satisfying transmission. And in the areas where the Fusion Energi pulls ahead, the gap between the two cars isn’t significant enough to tilt the scales in Ford’s favor.

Even without the superior warranty, the Kia would be the more compelling choice over the Ford.

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About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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