Expert hypermilers Wayne Gerdes and Chris Bernius just set a new Guinness World Record for the lowest fuel consumption by a gasoline hybrid car traveling through all 48 contiguous US states.

The two drivers travelled 7,899 miles over two weeks in a Kia Optima Hybrid with no modifications or special equipment, achieving an astounding 64.55 miles per gallon average. Guinness World Records verified the attempt and presented the drivers with a certificate during a ceremony held Monday at Kia Motors' West Point, Ga., manufacturing facility.

Thomas Oh, Kia's Senior Executive Vice President & COO, said the Optima Hybrid "has been specifically designed to achieve maximum fuel economy in all driving conditions, not just in the city."

Gerdes remarked that the trip effectively tested the Optima Hybrid in a wide range of real-world conditions. The drivers maximized efficiency through careful driving in outside temperatures ranging from freezing to 118 degrees F (both in Nevada), elevations from sea level to 7300 feet (all in Flagstaff, AZ), and traffic conditions from light volume to heavy stop and go congestion (rush hour in Chicago and New York.)

Gerdes, founder of the popular site cleanmpg.com, coined the term "hypermiler" to describe "a driver who strives to exceed their vehicle's EPA fuel economy rating." The Optima Hybrid is rated at 40 mpg on the highway, an already impressive figure, which Gerdes and Bernius exceeded by over 60% in their record run. The team employed a host of hypermiling techniques to maximize fuel economy on their transcontinental journey, achieving as much as 68.5 mpg on one segment.

Gerdes does not expect that most drivers will achieve such high efficiency in Kia's first hybrid, but predicts they will typically exceed EPA estimates, even with normal driving habits.

He was particularly impressed that such high efficiency was possible in a vehicle large and comfortable enough to drive for 12 to 15 hours per day. "This is a mid-sized car. This isn't a compact car. This isn't a sub-compact car," he said at yesterday's event.
Gerdes, who has driven and reviewed dozens of hybrid, electric and conventional vehicles, considers the Optima Hybrid "more fuel efficient than anything else I've driven." Because this efficiency comes without the typical sacrifices of a small, bare-bones vehicle, Gerdes recommends the Kia Optima Hybrid as a top pick for new car buyers.

The conventionally powered Optima went on sale late last year, and has garnered praise for its features, value and styling. Continuing this trend, the well-appointed Optima Hybrid, expected to hit Kia dealers late this year, will start at just $26,500 with a list of standard equipment including features like dual-zone automatic climate control. For about $5,000 more, the upscale Hybrid Premium Technology Package adds premium features like navigation, a panoramic sunroof and heated and cooled front seats. All Optima Hybrid models benefit from Kia's generous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, one of the industry's best.

With their first hybrid arriving as a 2012 model, Kia comes to the hybrid game a bit late. But the manufacturer has surprised the automotive world before, not just with this record-setting cross-country trip, but also with impressive marketplace performance. The Optima Hybrid is likely to continue this success through excellent quality, competitive pricing and a high level of appeal that's uncommon for this segment.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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