THERE’S a kind of automotive alchemy to hybrid-powered cars, a magical mix as electric power smoothly segues to petrol or diesel propulsion and back again, as the road-going circumstances demand.

If you are getting behind the wheel of a hybrid for the first time, the anticipation of the experience may have you a tad nervous. But the truth is the driving experience is easy-peasy. And you soon get used to the sound of silence on start-up (there’s a audible alert), as the car prepares to pull away on electric power. Then there’s the sweet swoosh as the leccy-drive gets you underway until the point where the fossil fuel engine kicks in.

Weekend Wheels’ latest foray into the world of hybrids came with a week in the spacious Kia Optima Sportswagon PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle).

It is the South Korean manufacturer’s fourth alternative-powertrain car in the UK and second PHEV, with up to 38 miles of all-electric range, CO2 emissions of 33g/km, fuel economy of more than 200mpg in the official combined test (manufacturer’s figures).

The Sportswagon PHEV joins the Optima saloon PHEV, all-electric Soul EV, Niro hybrid crossover and Niro PHEV in the range. The Sportswagon PHEV combines a 154bhp 2-litre petrol engine with a 50kW (67bhp) electric motor and auto transmission.

And the big estate floats off the line eagerly thanks to the electric motor and then comes the clever bit. The petrol engine kicks in and you wouldn’t even know. The smooth ride just continues.

Accelerate up to motorway speeds and the smoothness is accentuated with hardly any noise inside the cabin and a beautifully damped ride.

Distinguishing features of the PHEV are blue-tinted headlights and chrome enhancements with a metallic blue finish on the lower front air grille, the ‘tiger-nose’ main grille and the side sills. There are ‘ECO plug-in’ badges on the front wings, while the recharging port for the batteries is housed in the left front wing.

The car has a number of technological innovations to help it use the power in its battery pack in the most efficient way and top up its batteries on the move. These include regenerative braking, a driving style guide, a system featuring a ‘drive mode select button’ so that drivers can personalise the powertrain’s dynamics, and an hybrid electric vehicle select switch.

It also has an intelligent heating, ventilation and air con to save battery power. Price: £32,645 after government plug-in grant.