If you were to chart Kia's growing popularity on a graph, it would probably look like the straight line of space shuttle launch. In terms of public perception, Kia automobiles have gone from bottom of the barrel to top of the heap in a remarkably short period of time. The Kia Sorento and Kia Soul are partially responsible for the trend, but if we had to bet our own money, we'd say it's the Kia Optima that almost singlehandedly shifted the fate of Kia in the US.

It's easy to see why, the new Optima is an incredibly good-looking car. We've even thrown around words like sexy, sleek and elegant to describe the new Optima. And now, there's a hybrid version - it's rated at 35 mpg city / 40 highway and 37 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

For about $26,000 the Optima Hybrid comes standard with features like a power driver's seat; tilt and telescoping steering wheel; keyless entry; satellite radio with 3 months free; Bluetooth; USB port; 16-inch alloy wheels; fog lights; LED taillights; traction control; and stability control.

We added a few options, notably the Hybrid Premium Technology Package ($5,350), which includes plenty of desirable features like leather seats; two-position memory for the driver's seat; a power passenger's seat; heated and cooled front seats; heated steering wheel; heated rear seats; a huge panoramic sunroof; navigation with Sirius Traffic info; back-up camera; Infinity 8-speaker audio system; lighted door plates; 17-inch wheels; and HID headlights. Our Optima Hybrid also has the optional convenience package, which includes Kia's UVO system. The UVO features HD radio and allows voice control over certain in-car features such as navigation and a connected iPod.

Including a few stand-alone options, the total asking price for our 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid is $32,850. The range of $26,000 to $33,000 is right in line with other hybrid sedans like the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid.

We've had the Optima for a few weeks now and, in general, we like the car. The back seat is roomy, the heated and cooled front seats are a nice touch and we constantly get compliments from random people on how great the car looks.

However, we're not sure what to make of the fuel economy yet. On a recent road trip from Atlanta to Asheville, North Carolina, our recorded fuel economy was 52.1 mpg for one 200-mile stretch. However, on a rather hilly section of I-85 we were getting only 27 mpg. We didn't rely on the car's on-board computer, but rather we recorded miles and gallons used between fill-ups. We should have a better idea of the car's real world fuel economy as we drive it in more normal circumstances.

We're all set to hit the road on another road trip in about 2 weeks, so check back and see if we get more consistent fuel economy numbers.

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Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. An automotive writer and presenter for more than 12 years, he's contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Edmunds.com, Fox Business, Speed TV and The Today Show.

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