Base Price: $25,700

Price as tested: $32,620

This week, we're driving the new 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid, which does battle with several other competitors including Toyota, Nissan, Chevy and Ford (to name the majors).

Kia thus enters the hybrid market with its most popular mid-size car, Optima, and then adds a hybrid system for a surprisingly low base price of just $25,700. Compared to a gas powered Optima's $21,200 entry, the extra money spent for its hybrid is not overwhelming and allows Kia to fare well when consumers do comparative price shopping.

In deciphering the Optima Hybrid, Kia utilizes a lightweight 1.4-kWh, 40-horsepower lithium polymer battery powered motor that combines with a 2.4-liter, 13 to 1 compression four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. It all results in a net horsepower output of 206 and torque rating of 185, which is more than many of the competing brands.

Similar to the other hybrids, Kia's Optima and cousin Hyundai Sonata Hybrid both deliver impressive results on the highway, with 35 city and 40 highway the listed EPA numbers. Depending on how you drive and road conditions (hilly, flat, winding road), expect Kia Hybrid to deliver 44 or more on a straight, flat, highway with a minimum of 33 on the tougher surface mountain roads.

As for procedure, Kia's Hybrid operates like most other gas/battery hybrids, although unlike Chevy Volt it does not need any "plug in" charging. Kia's battery pack rejuvenates via the 2.4 engine and also shuts the engine off when stopped. One feature I really like is the pedestrian and pet friendly "Virtual Engine Sound System," which plays a pre-recorded engine sound during electric-only operation.

Thus far, both Kia and Hyundai Hybrids are receiving good reviews from owners, consumer magazines and auto journalists. In addition to its Hybrid abilities, adding a 10-year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty certainly attracts attention, as does the lower price of operation, overall.

Although mechanical twins, Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata hybrids are very different looking. Optima Hybrid features specific aerodynamic highlights and a hidden to the eye rear exhaust. There's also a different headlight design and even an underbody "aero tuning" system that reduces drag and adds to its enhanced slipstream abilities.

Optima's cabin is well done, visibility is good and room for passengers better than average. Standard are dual zone air, SIRIUS stereo AM/FM/CD, MP3, USB, Bluetooth, cruise, push button start, floor mats, Homelink, power seats, and more. All Optimas feature fully independent suspensions, all the airbags, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, electronic brakeforce, stability control, traction control and hillstart assist. (There are many more standard features your Kia dealer will gladly explain).

Our tester came with a $5,350 technology package, which adds rear backup camera, Infinity audio system, panoramic sunroof, 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, leather trim, heated and cooled front and rear seats, and more. It also featured a $700 Hybrid Convenience package that adds a rear camera display (not the camera), power seats and "in vehicle info" system. Although I love the rear backup system, I'd opt to pocket the $6,050 it takes to have one and just go with the base model.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 110-inches, 3,490 lb. curb weight, 35/40 MPG EPA estimates, 17.2 gallon fuel tank and 9.89 cu. ft. of cargo space.

In summary, unlike our last Hybrid test of the Chevy Volt, where we recommended the gas powered Cruze Eco instead, Kia's new Optima Hybrid passes the "Test Drive" return on investment (ROI) test, as just $25,700 parks this mid-size, front-drive, gas saver in your driveway well-equipped. As for options, that's up to you and your pocketbook.

Likes: New hybrid, great ROI, hybrid specific exterior, nice cabin.

Dislikes: Quantities limited, no stand alone safety back up camera option.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist).