2020 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid vs. 2020 Nissan Leaf

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has standard 911 Connect, which uses a global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver and a cellular system to send emergency personnel to the scene if any airbags deploy. The Leaf doesn’t offer a GPS response system, only a navigation computer with no live response for emergencies, so if you’re involved in an accident and you’re incapacitated help may not come as quickly.

Both the Optima Plug-In Hybrid and the Leaf have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver knee airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front wheel drive, height adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, crash mitigating brakes, lane departure warning systems, blind spot warning systems, rearview cameras, rear cross-path warning and available around view monitors.

For its top level performance in IIHS driver and passenger-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side impact, roof strength and head restraint tests, with its optional front crash prevention system, and its headlight’s “Good” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the Optima Plug-In Hybrid its highest rating: “Top Pick Plus” for 2019, a rating granted to only 59 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Leaf has not been tested, yet.

Warranty

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid comes with a full 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, which covers the entire car and includes 24-hour roadside assistance. The Leaf’s 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty expires 2 years and 24,000 miles sooner.

Kia’s powertrain warranty covers the Optima Plug-In Hybrid 5 years and 40,000 miles longer than Nissan covers the Leaf. Any repair needed on the engine, transmission, axles, joints or driveshafts is fully covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. Coverage on the Leaf ends after only 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Reliability

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A reliable vehicle saves its owner time, money and trouble. Nobody wants to be stranded or have to be without a vehicle while it’s being repaired. Consumer Reports rates the Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s reliability 15 points higher than the Leaf.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Kia vehicles are better in initial quality than Nissan vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Kia second in initial quality, above the industry average. With 16 more problems per 100 vehicles, Nissan is ranked 7th.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 survey of the owners of three-year-old vehicles provides the long-term dependability statistics that show that Kia vehicles are more reliable than Nissan vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Kia 10th in reliability, above the industry average. With 11 more problems per 100 vehicles, Nissan is ranked 15th.

From surveys of all its subscribers, Consumer Reports’ December 2019 Auto Issue reports that Kia vehicles are more reliable than Nissan vehicles. Consumer Reports ranks Kia 2 places higher in reliability than Nissan.

Engine

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s 2.0 DOHC 4-cylinder hybrid produces 55 more horsepower (202 vs. 147) and 40 lbs.-ft. more torque (276 vs. 236) than the Leaf’s standard electric motor. The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s 2.0 DOHC 4-cylinder hybrid produces 26 lbs.-ft. more torque (276 vs. 250) than the Leaf PLUS’ standard electric motor.

Fuel Economy and Range

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s maximum EPA estimated driving range on a full charge and a full tank of fuel is 666 miles, after which it can be refueled at any gas station in minutes. The Leaf’s range is only 226 miles, after which the minimum recharge time is 45 minutes for only an 80% charge at a specially configured quick charge station not available in most areas. A full recharge at a conventional charging station can take up to 53 hours and 40 minutes.

Brakes and Stopping

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For better stopping power the Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s front brake rotors are larger than those on the Leaf:

Optima

Leaf

Front Rotors

12 inches

11.1 inches

Tires and Wheels

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For better traction, the Optima Plug-In Hybrid has larger tires than the Leaf (215/55R17 vs. 205/55R16).

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the Optima Plug-In Hybrid has standard 17-inch wheels. Smaller 16-inch wheels are standard on the Leaf S.

Suspension and Handling

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For superior ride and handling, the Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid has fully independent front and rear suspensions. An independent suspension allows the wheels to follow the road at the best angle for gripping the pavement, without compromising ride comfort. The Nissan Leaf has a rear torsion beam axle, with a semi-independent rear suspension.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has standard front and rear gas-charged shocks for better control over choppy roads. The Leaf’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.

For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s wheelbase is 4.1 inches longer than on the Leaf (110.4 inches vs. 106.3 inches).

For better handling and stability, the track (width between the wheels) on the Optima Plug-In Hybrid is 2.7 inches wider in the front and 2.4 inches wider in the rear than the average track on the Leaf.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s front to rear weight distribution is more even (55% to 45%) than the Leaf’s (56.9% to 43.1%). This gives the Optima Plug-In Hybrid more stable handling and braking.

Chassis

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The design of the Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid amounts to more than styling. The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of .25 Cd. That is lower than the Leaf (.28) and many sports cars. A more efficient exterior helps keep the interior quieter and helps the Optima Plug-In Hybrid get better fuel mileage.

The front grille of the Optima Plug-In Hybrid uses electronically controlled shutters to close off airflow and reduce drag when less engine cooling is needed. This helps improve highway fuel economy. The Leaf doesn’t offer active grille shutters.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid uses computer-generated active noise cancellation to help remove annoying noise and vibration from the passenger compartment, especially at low frequencies. The Leaf doesn’t offer active noise cancellation.

Passenger Space

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has 12.4 cubic feet more passenger volume than the Leaf (104.8 vs. 92.4).

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has 3.4 inches more front legroom, 4.3 inches more front hip room, 3.8 inches more front shoulder room, .5 inches more rear headroom, 2.1 inches more rear legroom, 6 inches more rear hip room and 3.9 inches more rear shoulder room than the Leaf.

Cargo Capacity

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To make loading groceries and cargo easier when your hands are full, just waiting momentarily behind the back bumper can open the Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s trunk, leaving your hands completely free. The Leaf doesn’t offer a hands-free gesture to open its liftgate, forcing you to put cargo down if your hands are full.

Servicing Ease

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid uses gas struts to support the hood for easier service access. The Leaf uses a prop rod to support its heavy hood. It takes two hands to open the hood and set the prop rod, the prop rod gets in the way during maintenance and service, and the prop rod could be knocked out, causing the heavy hood to fall on the person maintaining or servicing the car.

Ergonomics

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To help each driver find a more comfortable driving position, the Optima Plug-In Hybrid has a telescoping steering wheel. Much better than just a tilt steering wheel or adjustable seat, this allows a short driver to sit further from the steering wheel while maintaining contact with the pedals. The Leaf doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel.

When two different drivers share the Optima Plug-In Hybrid, the memory seats and mirrors make it convenient for both. Each setting activates different, customized memories for the driver’s seat position and outside mirror angle. The Leaf doesn’t offer a memory system.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s standard easy entry system glides the driver’s seat back, making it easier for the driver to get in and out. The Leaf doesn’t offer an easy entry system.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s power parking brake sets with one touch and releases with one touch or automatically. The Leaf’s parking brake has to released manually.

The power windows standard on both the Optima Plug-In Hybrid and the Leaf have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Optima Plug-In Hybrid is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Leaf prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s front power windows open or close fully with one touch of the switches, making it more convenient at drive-up windows and toll booths, or when talking with someone outside the car. The Leaf’s passenger windows don’t open or close automatically.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s power window, power lock, power mirror and cruise control switches are lit from behind, making them plainly visible and easier to operate at night. The Leaf’s power lock and cruise control switches are unlit, making them difficult to find at night and operate safely.

To help drivers see further while navigating curves, the Optima Plug-In Hybrid offers optional adaptive headlights to illuminate around corners automatically by reading vehicle speed and steering wheel angle. The Leaf doesn’t offer cornering lights.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s standard outside mirrors include heating elements to clear off the mirrors for better visibility. Heated mirrors cost extra on the Leaf and aren’t offered on the Leaf S.

When the Optima Plug-In Hybrid is put in reverse, both rearview mirrors tilt from their original position. This gives the driver a better view of the curb during parallel parking maneuvers. Shifting out of reverse puts the mirrors into their original positions. The Leaf’s mirrors don’t automatically adjust for backing.

Optional air-conditioned seats in the Optima Plug-In Hybrid keep the driver and front passenger comfortable and take the sting out of hot seats in summer. The Leaf doesn’t offer air-conditioned seats.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has a standard heated steering wheel to take the chill out of steering on extremely cold winter days before the car heater warms up. A heated steering wheel costs extra on the Leaf.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid has a standard center folding armrest for the rear passengers. A center armrest helps make rear passengers more comfortable. The Leaf doesn’t offer a rear seat center armrest.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s standard dual zone air conditioning allows the driver and front passenger to choose two completely different temperatures so people with different temperature preferences won’t have to compromise. This makes both the driver and front passenger as comfortable as possible. The Leaf doesn’t offer dual zone air conditioning.

Both the Optima Plug-In Hybrid and the Leaf offer rear vents. For greater rear passenger comfort, the Optima Plug-In Hybrid has standard rear air conditioning vents to keep rear occupants cool in summer or warm in winter. The Leaf doesn’t offer rear air conditioning vents, only heat vents.

A built-in pollen filter removes pollen, exhaust fumes and other pollutants from the Optima Plug-In Hybrid’s passenger compartment. This helps prevent lung and/or sinus irritation, which can trigger allergies or asthma. The Leaf doesn’t offer a filtration system.

Economic Advantages

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The Optima Plug-In Hybrid will cost the buyer less in the long run because of its superior resale value. The IntelliChoice estimates that the Optima Plug-In Hybrid will retain 32.28% of its original price after five years, while the Leaf only retains 25.21% to 25.92%.

Recommendations

© 1999 - 2020 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved. This vehicle comparison and all of the content in it are provided only by license from Advanta-STAR Automotive Research Corporation of America. If you are not a legally licensed user of this vehicle comparison, it is against federal law to access it, copy it, forward it or use it in any manner whatsoever. Any unauthorized use of this vehicle comparison is a violation of U.S. and international law and is punishable criminally and civilly. 6IUEX-0KENZ 45.55.47.189 2020/02/29

Consumer Reports® recommends the Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid, based on reliability, safety and performance. The Nissan Leaf isn't recommended.

The Kia Optima outsold the Nissan Leaf by almost 8 to one during 2019.

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