2018 Kia Niro PHEV essentials: Another worthy plug-in contender
What is it: The Niro is Kia’s answer to the growing demand for electrification and zero-emission vehicles. This plug-in hybrid cousin to the Hyundai Ioniq gives city dwellers with short commutes the chance to run around exclusively on battery power, with the engine only kicking in when needed. This Niro EX Premium is the middle rung of Kia’s Niro line and comes with the only one option: carpeted floor mats.
Key Competitors: Toyota Rav4 Hybrid, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Ford C-Max Hybrid SE
Base Price: $34,440 As-Tested Price: $35,575
First Drive: 2018 Kia Niro PHEV first drive
Highlights:The Niro’s 26-mile all-electric range and 46 mpg combined fuel economy beyond that are obviously key selling points for the Niro PHEV. This Niro sports the EX Premium trim that puts it at the top of the PHEV heap -- hybrids don’t get the top Touring trim, The Niro also added Lane Keep Assist as an option on EX models, but this one is light on the options.
Our Opinion: With Chevrolet disrupting the disruptors with is popular Bolt EV and Volt hybrids, Audi branching into the all-electric world with the e-tron and Volkswagen stealing headlines with an all-electric Pikes Peak racer, electrification is getting more mainstream than ever. With that, the Niro sort of plays to the mainstreaming of electrification. If you look at the Niro PHEV, aside from the PHEV badging, it doesn’t jump out and scream that it’s packing a hybrid driveline -- that’s a good thing.
In electric mode, you’re moved around by a 60-hp electric motor. The electric mode is punchy and smooth, but it's tapped at 26 miles -- best-case scenario. If you’re driving aggressively, don’t expect to get all 26 miles of that range, either. Afterward, the 1.6-liter GDI gasoline engine kicks on. The transition from electric mode to a hybrid mode isn’t very smooth, with the engine’s noises and vibrations making their way into the cabin. Despite the somewhat jarring change from a smooth electric to a droning engine, the Niro still moves along well and delivers power smoothly and quickly gets you away from a stop.
The Niro is billed as a crossover, but it's more of a five-door hatchback with extra ground clearance. That means it’s small enough to actually use in the city without struggling to find parking, but it can still be referred to as your "crossover" if that's important to you. You can charge the Niro at home -- it'll take all night on a standard 110-volt outlet, but a level two charger makes quick work of the battery pack filling it in less than three hours. In cities with good infrastructure, that means you should be able to park and charge and refrain from the engine kicking on.
The interior of the Niro is less futuristic than even the Chevy Bolt, and that’s great news. The Niro feels like an honest attempt at bringing electric cars to people that otherwise wouldn’t be interested in them -- the nearly 50 mpg combined fuel economy shouldn’t hurt, either.
--Wes Wren, associate editor