2018 Kia Niro PHEV Test Drive Review: Electrified Simplicity

OCT 3 2018 BY MOTOR1 10

Extraordinary efficiency is the name of the game with this plug-in crossover SUV.

VERDICT – 5.9 / 10

Upon initial inspection, the Kia Niro PHEV (short for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) appears to be an unassuming member of the rapidly growing compact crossover SUV segment. But little details such as the extra fuel door on the front fender and the “electric” blue exterior trim pieces give away what this car is hiding: A fuel-efficient gasoline-electric powertrain that can be plugged in and charged to allow up to 26 miles of all-electric driving.

Real world SUV practicality, blended with an intelligent powertrain and delightfully frugal gas consumption makes the Niro PHEV a worthy contender to challenge the segment-leading Prius Prime PHEV.

Pricing         5/10

Buying the PHEV version of the Niro is a $4,000 commitment over the regular hybrid model which starts at $23,340. PHEV prices start at $28,840 (including a $940 destination charge) for the base LX, though our top-trim EX Premium tester came in at $35,575, including destination and some carpeted floor mats.

The added features found in the EX Premium bring the Niro PHEV to a higher price bracket. But compared to rival vehicles like the Toyota Prius Prime and Chevrolet Volt, the Niro PHEV’s pricing fits in just fine. Kia was also sure to pack in a decent amount of equipment with each trim-level upgrade, making the EX Premium’s higher price tag a worthy consideration.

Design & Exterior         6/10

If you’re looking for an extra pinch of spice in the Niro PHEV recipe, then don’t look at this plug-in’s mug. Some electrified vehicles have the ability to turn heads on the road (take the BMW i3, for example), but the Niro is not one of them. The design follows the compact crossover playbook rather closely, with minimal coloring outside the lines. The Niro is small, too, without much of a height advantage over a standard sedan.

The Stinger is certainly the looker in the Kia family, and you can see Kia tries its hardest to bring some of the four-door coupe’s style to the front-end of the Niro. Where Kia perhaps falls short is in the small details. No major character lines grace the Niro’s body panels, and the rear hatch is as flat as a stack of pancakes. The Niro PHEV may be functional, but it’s certainly not memorable.

Interior & Comfort         6/10

The Niro’s grab-and-go interior is a nice contrast to the usual alien touches that come with so many electric vehicles (like the odd shift selectors in the Prius and the Leaf). In the Niro, you shift straight down to “D” and drive – no space-age design to overcome, here. The gauge cluster and center stack buttons are equally pedestrian and easy to use, and little touches like the “driver only” air conditioning option are pleasant reminders this is an eco-friendly crossover.

Our test car came equipped with EX Premium goodies such as heated and cooled leather seats, which held their own in the hot Florida sun. The seats were supportive and offered adjustability in all the right places. While I couldn’t find a volunteer willing to test the heated steering wheel, I’m certain it does its job just fine.

Front occupants have plenty of room in all directions, but those seated in the back have less liberty to move about. Both legroom and headroom are tight, but this is no surprise considering the overall size of the Niro. Leave the seats upright, and the Niro offers 19.4 cubic feet of cargo space to work with – 54.5 cubic feet if the rear seats are folded down. Plenty of room for a small family on the move.

If there is a knock against the interior, it’s undoubtedly the massive pieces of plastic overtaking the dash and side panels. Plastic is no stranger to this segment, but at $35,000, some alternative choices could liven things up a bit.

Technology & Connectivity         7/10

Spend a few moments with the Niro PHEV’s 8.0-inch UVO touchscreen infotainment system and you will see just how much of a strongpoint it is. Though the menu layouts are odd, UVO’s functionality won’t make you want to pull your hair out. If you’re not a fan of the Kia’s navigation system, then CarPlay and Android Auto are there to help as standard equipment.

Scrolling between UVO’s menus is a breeze with very little lag or hesitation. Baked into the car’s settings is a fun tree-shaped display that shows just how efficiently you’re driving. In most cases, this was a happy progress report for us behind the wheel. Though too many highway on -ramps or acceleration bursts quickly kills the tree graphic and revokes your eco-driving accolades.
The optional Harman Kardon audio system leads you to believe you’re sitting in something more expensive than a $35,000 Kia. UVO’s interface and sound system join in sweet harmony to make the Niro’s interior a very nice place to hypermile on the highway.

Performance & Handling         5/10

With this vehicle segment, any extra power or torque is more than appreciated without compromising efficiency. And, luckily, the Niro PHEV has electricity on its side to accommodate both. The powertrain is made up of two main components: a 104-horsepower 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and a 60-horsepower AC electric motor. Combined output is 139 hp, though the 195 lb-ft of torque is what you appreciate most.

Getting off the line is no chore, thanks mostly to the plug-in’s bigger electric motor. While the Niro PHEV is by no means quick, you never feel like you’re being penalized for buying an economical car while driving it. Thankfully, the ride is not compromised by the car’s extra battery weight. The suspension is just soft enough to soak up blemishes on the road – of which Florida has many – without compromising too much on handling ability.

In mixed highway/city driving, the electric motor takes over when, and for as long as, it can. But press moderately on the throttle and you’ll feel the gas engine come in to save the day. The transition between gas and electric driving modes occurs rather seamlessly and almost undetectably. Sport mode kicks in when the gear selector is bumped over to manual mode. This is where the Niro does its best impression of a sportier car, complete with a glowing orange tachometer in front of the diver. Sport mode is always there if needed, but, with the Niro PHEV, your thrills will be found at the pump, not behind the wheel.

Safety Features         7/10

Kia earns praise with advanced safety tech, both as standard and optional equipment. Every trim level comes equipped with autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Both are still features you may pay extra for, even in more expensive vehicles.

The radar-guided cruise system did just fine on highways, slowing appropriately to accommodate traffic, as well as last-second lane changes from surrounding vehicles. Blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert come with the middle-tiered trim level.

Our EX Premium car came equipped with every available safety feature, and the standout hero was without question the rear cross-traffic alert system. It makes backing out of any parking space that much easier thanks to its subtle-but-purposeful beep that announces the detection of a a passing car. You will be thanking yourself in the mall parking lot on Black Friday for ticking that option box.

Running Costs & Fuel Economy         9/10

Fuel economy and electric range is where the Niro PHEV has to make its strongest argument against the cheaper, and still efficient, Niro Hybrid. Again, is it worth the $4,000 premium over the regular hybrid model to gain plug-in capability?

For those with a quick commute to the office, the plug-in feature may indeed justify the extra dough. A full charge is achieved in two to three hours, and the Niro can travel on electric power alone for an EPA-rated 26 miles. This number bests the Prius Prime’s 25-mile EV range, but falls far short of the Chevy Volt’s 53 miles. Once the juice runs out, the EPA reports that owners can expect a combined 46 miles per gallon – exactly what the Niro’s on-board computer said we averaged during our week with the car. Compared to the Chevy Volt’s combined 42 combined MPG and the Prius Prime’s 54, the Niro PHEV sits right in the middle.

***See all test drive images here

Source: Motor1

Categories: Kia, Test Drives

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10 Comments on "2018 Kia Niro PHEV Test Drive Review: Electrified Simplicity"

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With the EV version doing ~250 miles, why bother with the PHEV? Education about the reality of EV should see people jump over this model to the pure EV.

It’s the ‘EV weirdness factor”. Most people buying any car with a plug today are doing so for the first time. And while many of them understand there are significant benefits to an EV or PHEV, they’re also a little uneasy about going full-tilt BEV. (All those different plugs, figuring out where and how to charge when away from home, range anxiety for long distance trips, etc.)

I’ve been driving BEVs since early 2013, and I regularly have to remind myself of how newcomers look at any plug-in vehicle when I’m trying to sell someone on the idea. For the non-plugheads of the world (i.e. not us) it’s a learning curve/comfort zone issue.

e-Niro availability is very low, and it will probably cost about $10-13k more.

Don’t care

Just kip the PHEV and go straight EV

marshallwa2000@gmail.com

With no electric cabin heater and an over complicated transmission setup between the gas engine and electric motor, what’s the point in making this vehicle? Hybrid OK, PHEV no way!

And what could possibly make the hybrid better than the PHEV? Why bother schlepping a battery around with you if you can’t charge it from a plug? “Ooh, look, I drove 300m in electric mode, then the engine came on and charged the battery back up again!” I can think of better ways to get around.

Traditional hybrids sucks… they are so 1997.

This PHEV rocks, not as hard as the e-Niro but the difference in price and availability makes it rock harder when looking at total fleet and sales.

Good review overall, but the reviewer fails to mention that the Kia Niro PHEV is eligible for a $4,543 federal tax credit. I bought a PHEV Niro in August, and I really wanted to get Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Automatic Emergency Braking. To get those on a regular Niro, the sticker would be just over $26,000, whereas with the PHEV the base Niro is just over $29,000. Subtract the federal tax credit, and for $1,500 less than the regular hybrid I’m getting PHEV with a 26- mile electric range. I get free charging at work, which adds ~70 free miles per week. It was a no-brainer purchase for me. I had considered a Prius Prime, or a Volt (I had two Volts on lease until last year), but the cramped back seat/humps put those out of contention because I sometimes drive for Uber and Lyft. Contrary to the author’s statement that “legroom and headroom are tight”, I’ve only heard people tell me how much room there is in back. Maybe the author was thinking of the Niro’s cousin – the Hyundai Ionic – which has a much more cramped back seat.

Will it be available in canada?