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Cars of Summer: Saving Gas in the Kia Optima Hybrid

For most people, summer is driving season-- day trips, road trips, drives to the beach, festivals, fairs, visiting friends and commuting in the bright sunshine. This summer, U.S. News is putting the cars we test through their summer paces and giving you tips and advice for making the most of your summer driving. In this installment, the Kia Optima Hybrid fights high summer gas prices while commuting.

The eco gauge was the simplest and most effective tool for driving more efficiently.

Gas prices rise in the summer, and it seems like the media (us included) focus on what that means for summer road trippers. But the fact is, rising gas prices mean more to people who are commuting in the summer. After all, you can skip out on a week at the beach to save gas. Try telling your boss you’re going to skip a week of work to save on gas.

Commuters caught in summer’s web of high gas prices can fight back by driving more efficiently, and a lot of new cars on the market have tools that are supposed to train drivers to save gas. We checked out all the eco training tools on the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid to see if they worked, and which ones worked best.

There are three main efficient driving training tools on the Optima. An automatic readout gives you instant fuel economy ratings, which include a graphic of flowers growing on a tree branch combined with an overall “eco score”, and a simple gauge with a needle that moves from a green area to a red one as you use more gas.

For my test, I used one tool per day on my route to and from work. It’s a 38.8-mile roundtrip and is a good mix of city, highway and suburban roads. On the first day, I used the instant MPG gauge and averaged 31.9 mpg combined. Not shabby, but nowhere near the EPA-estimated 37 mpg combined. On day two, I used the flower graphic and got 32.8 mpg. Again, pretty disappointing. But on day three, when I used the eco gauge alone, I got 39 mpg, beating the EPA estimates and almost matching the Optima Hybrid’s highway fuel economy, even though I was doing mixed driving. On the fourth day, I didn’t pay attention to any of the eco tools and drove normally, getting an average of 28 mpg.

So, it looks like no matter which eco-training tool you use, each reminds you to take it easy on the gas. I wish I had the Optima Hybrid longer so I could test each tool again. It’s possible that by the third day, I had simply just gotten better at driving efficiently. That aside, having some sort of training tool on your car can save you gas. How much you save is up to you.

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