Fuel economy for the buck
This comparison test pits two cars that, between the pair of them, have garnered more awards and nominations than Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep combined. These are good cars in the best sense of the word.
Both have been on the receiving end of all these accolades for numerous reasons including styling and technology. Although both cars share many common aspects, both could not differ more in application.
Distinct German languages
The Volkswagen Passat, a dye-in-the-wool German family car, is subtle, clean and requires a moment of quiet reflection in order to appreciate its design. As Miranda put it so candidly in her review of the 2012 Passat 2.5L, the car's demure demeanour is what will win over fans and new-car shoppers alike. The Passat is truly a car destined to those looking to upgrade from their Impala, Lucerne, Taurus and this is not meant to be an insult.
On the other hand, you have the Kia Optima. This midsize sedan is one of our absolute favourites. It's dynamic, jazzy, young and quite the looker. Oddly enough, and as you may already know, this car was designed by a German. I was and am smitten by the car as I clearly communicated my thoughts on the car's styling in my review of the 2012 Optima EX. I even called the thing a knockout.
The science of style
The Kia's and the Volkwagen's cabins are on opposite ends of the visual impact spectrum. The Passat receives its occupants in a sombre and secure manner. Control layout is simple to the point of bordering on being plain. Despite that, functionality and luxuriousness are undeniable. In no time flat will the driver become accustomed to his or her surroundings and manage a perfect man-and-machine balance.
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is one of the roomiest cars in its segment. Rear-seat legroom is limo-like and the seats provide plenty of cushion-y comfort for all. The trunk is itself cavernous beyond comprehension, able to swallow the excess Von Trapp family members that end up without a seat.
The 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid puts on a show to make an Audi A4 blush. With the Premium Package, the Optima is as or better equipped than the average luxury car. Beyond that, the disposition and design of the various pods of controls are not only logical but highly operational.
The gauges are quite animated, the reason being that they indicate the hybrid system's multiple moods. The Passat, being a “regular” car, gives the user all the necessary fluff-less basic information.
On the topic of space, the Optima gives up little to the Passat. Rear legroom is less plentiful but still plentiful. The major differences lie in the seats and the trunk. The Kia's perches are firm and supportive whereas the Volkswagen's are soft and cuddly. The Hybrid loses out in the boot because of the location of the battery pack.
Where the two join in philosophy is in quality. Both makers deploy impressive efforts to make their cars stand out where fit and finish are concerned. Materials used are top-drawer; hell, the Optima's dash has stitched leather in some areas. The attention to details in either car makes the buyer feel that they got substance for their money.
The real money
This is where the real comparison takes place. The debate between hybrid and diesel is not an especially vocal one; however, it is a very real one. Those that swear by hybrids tend to shy away from diesel whereas makers that started off with diesel are now proposing hybrids. Time will tell which alternative source of motivation has more worth.
Here today, we have a 2.0L turbo diesel 4-pot from Volkswagen versus a 2.4L 4-cylinder with a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, aka a parallel two-mode hybrid system, from Kia.
Stats are as follows: The TDI puts out 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The hybrid, all totalled, generates 206 hp and 195 torques. Both carry 6-speed transmissions, the Kia's is a conventional automatic and the Volkswagen's, an automated manual well-known as the DSG.
In either case, power delivery is impressive. The TDI's oodles of low-end gusto greatly reward the driver's right foot. The Optima's system is surprisingly sophisticated and silky. Acceleration-wise, the Passat leaps forward sooner; however, the Optima's extra hp quickly put it ahead in a head-to-head drag race.
The interesting discovery is how two entirely different technologies manage to deliver pleasant and economical driving experiences.
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