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Florida Fun and 40MPG With 2012 Kia Rio and Optima Hybrid +VIDEO

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By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

April 2012 From Miami Beach to Key West is about 170 miles. Kia Motors America invited 28 auto writers to test their hypermiling skills making the drive down U.S. Highway 1 behind the wheels of the 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid, Rio sedan and Rio 5-door.

The Overseas Highway, the southernmost leg of U.S. Highway 1 and sometimes called the Highway That Goes to Sea is a modern wonder. The road, that follows a trail originally blazed in 1912 by Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad, stretches from Miami to Key West.

The railway ceased operation after severe damage to the infrastructure in a 1935 hurricane. Construction of the highway began in the late 1930s. Its foundation included some of the original railway spans as well as the coral bedrock of individual keys and specially constructed columns.

When it was completed in 1938, the highway marked the beginning of an incredible adventure for North American motorists who drive 113 miles of roadway and cross 42 bridges to travel from Miami to the southernmost point in Key West. In 1982, 37 bridges were replaced with wider spans, including the well-known Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon.

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The Optima Hybrid and the Rio are the most fuel-efficient and eco-friendly cars in Kia’s model line. The Optima Hybrid is a mid size, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan priced starting at $25,700 and EPA rated 40 highway mpg and 35 city mpg. I drove the Optima Hybrid last October and have also driven the other Optima models. You can read my most recent review HERE on The Auto Channel.

The Rio is a compact, 5-passenger offered as a 4-door sedan and a 5-door, a hatchback if you will. The Rio prices start at $13,400 for the 4-door and $13,600 for the 5-door.

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Both Rio models are EPA rated 40 mpg highway and 30 city mpg. I did a comprehensive drive and review of the Rio back in February. You can read that HERE on The Auto Channel

Take note that all three of our Miami-to-Key West Kia’s are rated 40mpg highway. Once we left the Shore Club Hotel in Miami Beach and completed our connection along Florida’s Interstate 95 on to the Overseas Highway posted speed limits were 55mph for the most part with many sections at 45 mph. There are some two-lane portions of road but most sections are single lane. We had been warned that we would see heavy police presence and that proved to be the case. We counted 13 police cruisers in the stretch from entering the Overseas Highway in Key Largo south to our Parrot Key Resort destination in Key West. None of us had any personal interaction with the police!

With little opportunity for both cruising above the speed limit and for passing, we jumped in to the challenge to hypermile. Kia’s PR team had offered some prizes for the best overall mpg, the best Rio mpg and the best Optima Hybrid mpg. We were paired up in two-person teams with a driver change occurring at our lunch stop at Pierre’s Restaurant in Islamorada. By the way, Pierre’s is very recommendable with a serene beach-front location and relaxing alfresco dining on a second story porch.

Watch the Kia Rio sedan promo video

My driving partner, George Peterson of AutoPacific, and I were in the Optima Hybrid for our trip south to Key West. Fortunately, we had light cloud cover and temps in the mid-70s to low-80s with moderate humidity, so we opted to not use the air conditioning. We kept the windows up at speeds above 35-40 mph to keep good aero. Using gentile acceleration from stop techniques, light throttle application, and looking far down the road to anticipate slow downs and stops we managed to achieve 45.0mpg. We thought we had done fairly well.

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At the end of our second day after having returned to the Miami area winners were announced. The best overall fuel economy from Miami Beach to Key West was achieved in a Rio at 51.0mpg. The best Optima Hybrid fuel economy was 48.7mpg. Our 45.0mpg was the 3rd overall best and 2nd best for an Optima.

Our Florida drive wrapped up with a visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway to view the Kia 200 and witness Kia Racing's Forte Koup road racing program. Kia Racing's return to Homestead-Miami Speedway was a positive one as Nic Jönsson and Andy Lally recorded a fourth-place finish at the Kia 200 and now hold the Street Tuner (ST) Driver and Team points lead as the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge moves into the middle portion of the schedule.

Lest you think Kia only has economy cars, if you want more performance check-out the 274HP Optima Turbo.

And remember, even though we got better than the EPA highway rating, your mileage may vary!

© Larry Nutson